The Vicious Circle 1832–1864

A History of the Polish Intelligentsia – Part 2

by Jerzy Jedlicki (Volume editor)
©2015 Monographs 350 Pages
Open Access


The three-part work provides a first synthetic account of the history of the Polish intelligentsia from the days of its formation to World War I. Part two (1832-1864) analyses the growing importance of the intelligentsia in the epoch marked by the triumph of the Polish romanticism. The stress is put on the debates of the position of intelligentsia in the society, as well as on tensions between great romantic ideas and realities of everyday life. A substantial part deals with the genesis, outbreak and defeat as well as the consequences of the national uprising in 1863, whose preparation was to a high degree the work of the intelligentsia. The work combines social and intellectual history, tracing both the formation of the intelligentsia as a social stratum and the forms of engagement of the intelligentsia in the public discourse. Thus, it offers a broad view of the group’s transformations which immensely influenced the course of the Polish history.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • Table of Contents
  • Chapter 1: In lands foreign In exile, 1832-1845
  • 1. The exodus
  • 2. Parties
  • 3. Poetry and politics
  • 4. Years have passed
  • 5. The Nation and Europe
  • 6. Messianism
  • Chapter 2: Inheritors At home, 1832-1845
  • 1. The defeat’s aftermath: repressive measures
  • 2. The social situation of the intelligentsia
  • 3. The strategy to adapt
  • 4. Men-of-the-quill
  • 5. The Poznań revival
  • 6. Conspirators
  • Chapter 3: Crisis The Poznań Province and Galicia, 1846-1857
  • 1. A terrible year, or two
  • 2. The intelligentsia’s revolution
  • 3. Daily grind
  • 4. Doing something of use
  • Chapter 4: The End of Tsar Nicholas’s epoch The Kingdom and the Lithuanian-Ruthenian guberniyas, 1846-1856
  • 1. Off to Siberia!
  • 2. Professional environments
  • 3. Life, private and social
  • 4. The visible horizon
  • Chapter 5: The struggle for primacy At home and in exile, 1857-1862
  • 1. Latency
  • 2. In diaspora
  • 3. The Poznań arrhythmia
  • 4. The intelligentsia in the Polish sense
  • Chapter 6: Jump into an abyss Warsaw and the country-at-large, 1862-1864
  • 1. Impatience
  • 2. Rising and falling
  • Index

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Chapter 1: In lands foreign

In exile, 1832-1845

1.The exodus

Wanderers, exiles, pilgrims: so they would call themselves, but the collective term ‘émigrés’ or ‘immigrants’ was most frequently in use. Some of them found their errant destinyto be a must: the tsarist amnesty did not extend to the conspiracy members who commenced the uprising; similarly, to parliamentary deputies who had advocated at the sejm that Nicholas be dethroned; National Government or Patriotic Society members; those who had participated in the Warsaw mob-law incidents; military officers that had not laid down their arms after Warsaw surrendered (unless they had their loyalty oath to the Tsar renewed); and, volunteers from the guberniyas1 incorporated earlier on in the Empire. All of them could be certain to be taken to a criminal court, in case they would turn up within the Kingdom or Lithuania. Others could come back to be at the tsar’s mercy, albeit no-one knew what the price could be in each individual case. All those formally covered by the amnesty, particularly if one was a simple soldier or non-commissioned officer, were urged to return – brutally, in many cases, by the Prussian and Austrian authorities, who had provided them with temporary shelter; only if resisting efficiently, would they eventually be dispatched to the West. For many an Insurrection participant, interned once they crossed the frontier, refusal to submit a request for the tsar’s mercy was a matter of honour. They would rather emigrate, which they did – hoping it would not last long.

They felt humiliated through the defeat of the Polish expectations, but still intoxicated by the grandeur of the moments they had just experienced. The worse their situation was, the more they needed to be reassured that they had risen to the challenge. The last Commander-in-Chief pathetically summoned, in his last order-of-the-day, that anything that the war veterans could do should be correspondent with the glory of the Polish name: “The world has its eyes turned ←9 | 10→upon us […], every step we make is history”.2 This was the anointment they set off with – and off they went to France, the country whose government did not help the Insurrection and thus all the more felt obliged to provide shelter to its veterans, to assist and support them.

Fame has shrouded the transit of the subsequent groups of Polish émigrés across the central and southern German states – Saxony, Thuringia, Hesse, Württemberg, Baden, and Palatinate. The bourgeoisie, universities, daily newspapers animated by a liberal spirit welcomed the Poles with the warmest affection, sympathy and admiration, as soldiers of freedom, as heroes who dared to challenge a mighty despotic power, the pillar of the Holy Alliance. These émigrés would later on describe, in dozens of memoirs, the convivial and elevated climate of those German salutations, receptions, and farewells, which seemed to raise them up on the wings of a legend.

As they entered French territory, however, they faced the prose of life: getting registered, and then delegated to establishments (so-called dépots) in Besançon, Avignon, or elsewhere; collecting meagre government-granted allowances (which they would call soldier’s pay, to buoy themselves up); establishing themselves at military barracks or temporary lodgings – all in an alien country, without knowing its language or habits, for the most part.

How many of them there were, is hard to exactly determine today, as it would depend on the moment the calculation would have been made. The movement was two-way, really: some would move up, for any reason; others joined late. Finally, the French Government’s care extended to an estimated six thousand Polish political immigrants, as of 1832; much less sizeable groups also settled down in England, Belgium, Switzerland and, with a delay, in the United States of America. A definite majority of émigrés, regardless of their earlier status or possessions, saw themselves without a subsistence of their own, at least initially – unless their families remaining at home had managed to protect their property from confiscation and find a way to send funds to the outlawed exulants – that is, exiles. In most cases, however, the exile condition would level the estate or possession-related differences. Equality, unthought-ofat home, appeared prevalent at the dépots.

Emigration/immigration was not a phenomenon unknown to Europe. Religious or political persecution caused from time to time exoduses of people put ←10 | 11→under threat or unwilling to come to terms with the order-of-things prevailing in their respective countries. Naturally, those were usually defiant spirits, stubbornly persistent with their faith, beliefs, or convictions. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Huguenots from France, and Arians from Poland are all at-hand examples of the occurrence of proactive religious, or confessional, immigrations which made their contributions especially to the development of theological thought in Europe. The United States offered a haven to a number of confessional communities that did not feel safe in the Old Continent or could not overtly pursue their cults. The late eighteenth century marks the start of an epoch of migration triggered by fear of political repression: these would most often include refugees that impatiently awaited the day they would return in glory as winners, if not avengers. The royalists emigrating from France overwhelmed by the Revolution provide the best-known and most massive example.

Expulsion from one’s home country, or flight from persecution, has been the shared lot of writers, artists, and philosophers across the ages – just to mention Ovid, Dante, Mme de Staël, Victor Hugo, and many, many others, until our very day. Interestingly, so many of them gained a powerful creative inspiration in their sorrowful outcast exile condition.

Refugees from Poland appeared in the Westduring the Confederation of Bar (1768-72) and after its fall; thereafter, subsequently, following the Second and Third Partition (1793-5), expecting to find – for instance, together with the Polish Legions within Bonaparte’s army – a way back from the lands foreign into the, reborn, home country. The Hellenic immigrants in Russia and France at the same time raised the idea of liberating Greece from the Turkish yoke. Hoping to see Italy unified and independent, Mazzini’s republicans would be plotting for long decades, scattered around Europe. The condition of exiles and refugees, upon whom the necessity to replace their settled model of life, their ancestors’ graves, the hearth in their mother country, with a homeless freedom, many a time turned out, historically, to be greatly fertile for the development of political thought, as well as for poetry and arts.

The Polish November-Insurrection immigrants stood out against this background, all the same, with their numerical force and composition. Military men of various ranks were predominant among them – primarily, officers, from the old Polish-Army regiments; also the 1831 volunteers, with numerous Lithuanian uprising partisans. There were many people with political or oratorical experience gained under the revolutionary conditions: with the Sejm, national government, insurgent press, or patriotic club. The immigrants were almost exclusively males, the percentage of women being inconsiderable. As for age structure, the community consisted of a handful of seniors (the poet J.U. Niemcewicz was ←11 | 12→seventy-four in 1831; General Karol Kniaziewicz was sixty-nine; Prince Adam Czartoryski – sixty-one), but young men, aged between twenty and thirty, definitely prevailed. Bachelors were the most common among them; those who had managed to set up a family had naturally more reasons to try and return home after the defeat, if it was feasible.

These immigrants had a rather considerable educational background, given the context of the period. Although not quite as many of them had managed to complete their university studies; still less had qualified professionally before the Insurrection. Instead, there were many students (then called academics), particularly from Wilno; having a secondary education, completed or not, was an ordinary status to that group. In sum, the immigrant community prevalently consisted, so to put it, of a pauperised young intelligentsia – not yet so named, and completely unprepared to live in exile, and confident that this exile status was temporary, the moment they would return, arms in their hands, to their home country’s liberationbecoming ever nearer.

Such a composition, and disposition, of the Polish emigration augured ill to the French government. Several thousand people to care for, most of whom possessed nothing or were of no useful trade, was a burden to the state treasury; but that was not the end of the story. Once the amount of allowance granted was made determinable by the military rank or the office the beneficiary held in Poland, the related patents or declarations had to be verified. This was not an easy task, far from it: the volunteers, especially those from Lithuania, had not served with a regular army, and many officers ostentatiously demonstrated their disrespect toward them. Keeping order and peace within the crowded dépots, or supervising the young men overcharged with energy but doomed to idleness, called for increased administrative and police surveillance, all the more that the apparently-liberal government of Louis-Philippe did not want the not-overlytrusted aliens to wander across the country as they would be willing to do; in particular, they were not welcome to gather in Paris.

Political trouble did add to the picture. Any public manifestation of émigrés, appeal or proclamation to the nations of Europe, or, at times, merely an article published in a French newspaper, readily provoked protests from the Russian embassy which the French government had to apologise for and calm down. When, to top it all, smaller or larger huddles of Polish people sneaked out stealthily to instigate or support new insurgent attempts in their own country or some half-baked revolution in Frankfurt, Bern or Savoy, expulsions or bans imposed on return to the promoters of such expeditions followed as the consequence. Polish politically radical groups were necessarily related with the French republican opposition or with clandestine ‘Carbonaries’ organisations which strove for a ←12 | 13→revolutionary upheaval in the European states: no wonder that such contacts were kept track of by the police and could give the exiles a bad time – even if not too gruesome, then all the same they contaminated their relations with the French government.


The need to maintain a relationship with the authorities and to intervene, in case of trouble, with a ministry or office, was the first reason for the attempts to develop a body which would represent the immigrant community as a whole. The other reason for such endeavour was the need to reconcile and declare the political purpose behind the emigration, its historical mission, and horizon of hopes and expectations. There followed quite a number of attempts at unification and appointment of some legally valid representative authority. Bonawentura Niemojowski, the last President of the National Government, made such efforts; so did, several times, Joachim Lelewel, a historian of authority, who was nonetheless too-unambiguously assignable to the Insurrection left-wing to win the trust of the emigration community at large. Some leaders of the 1831 sejm undertook such a project too, believing that reactivation of a sejm assembly in exile, be it a truncated one, would serve as the plainest act of legitimation of the émigré community’s mission. General Dwernicki undertook such attempts, counting to this end on his personal prestige as a soldier not entangled in the political dispute. None of those attempts successfully led to its intended purpose. Each subsequent committee ended up creating one more organisation which, instead of unifying the Polish exiles-‘at-large’, merely contributed to their division into separate confessions of a political faith.

It was, therefore, not the establishment of a committee, or issuance of a manifesto, but rather, the preaching of a peculiar gospel that Adam Mickiewicz had in his mind while writing the Księgi narodu polskiego i pielgrzymstwa polskiego [‘Books of the Polish Nation and of the Polish Pilgrimage’], published in Paris in late 1832 – having voluntarily joined the émigré circles (as he was not an insurgent himself). The central idea to which this poet remained loyal till the end of his days was contempt for any politics and policies driven by an egoistic ‘interest’ – whether dynastic, party-bound, or even national. The Old Testament of interest was juxtaposed in this work against a New Testament of Christian dedication and sacrifice: this is to be workable at home, where the upper classes, animated by the spirit of devotion, would willingly admit people to proprietorship and citizenship rights, and, all the more, with inter-national relations, each nation would fight for the freedom of the other(s). Since the Poles are found to be the most ←13 | 14→inclined to devotion among all the nations, the mission to initiate, under the new rules, the construction of a European federation of peoples should therefore fall to them as their lot. Polish pilgrims in Europe are meant to feel like apostles carrying the idolaters of interest a gospel of sacrifice and freedom. This shall not last long, whatever the case, because the entire structure of legitimistic and mercenary Europe is trembling at its foundations; all its institutions – the thrones, ministries, parliaments, and tribunals – have lost their authority, becoming a ‘rabble’s mockery’. This structure is just about to fall into ruins; its rubble shall be swept out by a “universal war for Liberty of Nations”.

The Mickiewicz prophecy, moreover comprising an extended messianic parabola, not only reassured the emigrants with a hope of a forthcoming return but also boosted their self-esteem with the conviction of a mission that was to be assigned to them in the spiritual and political transformation of Europe. What is more, a natural reflex of anguish and rejection, usual to the émigrés’ reaction to their first confrontation with Western bourgeois civilisation, so alien to them, apparently turned out to be evidence of their ethical superiority. No surprise, then, that these Books enjoyed considerable success, becoming a sacrosanct text of the emigrants’ self-knowledge for years to come. However, they proved completely unable to unify the exiles around a shared sacred purpose and order of values. To bring this about, the work was too lofty, and it too ostentatiously scorned party-related emotions that burst the immigrant community.

Those castaways who had to simultaneously bereave themselves of their homeland, home, family, locality and neighbourhood, and social position, wanted primarily to understand who was to blame for their hopes, awoken a mere two years before, smashed. Such feverish settlements are done after every defeat, dashing any calls for unity. The judgements getting crystallised of a recent unexpired past were accompanied by the overthrowing and creating of men-of-authority, formation, in the fire of polemics, of coteries, parties and their political slogans.

The émigré community was outright, from the very outset, divided by two counteracting impulses. The radical impulse insisted on having the national history revised; the guilty of the recent disaster identified and stigmatised; and, on initiating a social change in the home country that would the very next time unavoidably warrant a success. The conservative impulse urged to do tenacious work to preserve nationality and ensure a continuity of the nation’s historical and leadership class. As a matter of course, these impulses differently formed the personalities of emigrants subject to them.

Joachim Lelewel initially figured out that the Polish National Committee that he had set up would represent the entire exile community in France; but this could not happen. Lelewel’s position was not easy. The conservatives perceived ←14 | 15→him as a dangerous leader of democratic radicals; the latter, in turn, charged him with nothaving distinctive enough political views. No-one would call his great knowledge and scholarly merits into question. Lelewel was indeed the first Polish intellectual of his calibre, since Kołłątaj’s time, to have risked his authority as an academic for politics, with variable luck. The more widespread a vision the enlightened politics had, the scarcer the funds were for its pursuit. The renown of his name enabled Lelewel to easily establish contacts with the republican opposition and conspirers almost across Europe. He wrote or inspired pompous proclamations to the Germans, Italians, French, Hungarians, or Americans, encouraging all of them to demonstrate solidarity with the Polish exiles’ cause and to undermine the foundations of the Holy Alliance. A Committee’s appeal to the Russians, contributed to by Mickiewicz and summoning Slavic solidarity of the nations oppressed by the tsarist regime, implied a response from the Russian embassy, accelerating the otherwise inevitable expulsion of Lelewelfrom France.

Inevitable it was, since proclamations or appeals were not the final point. The Polish democrats, particularly Lelewel’s people, willingly joined Masonic lodges as well asCarbonari’s ‘marquees’, revolutionary by design, and modelled after lodges; established secret or semi-overt societies such as People’s Revenge, Young Poland, and others, which were setting up international agreements under inspiration from Giuseppe Mazzini, Europe’s best-known plotter. Moreover, Lelewel lent his hand to inspiring armed expeditions aimed at bringing forth a new insurgent movement in Poland, or supporting the anti-legitimistic revolt in Frankfurt or Savoy. Such ventures could not, clearly enough, be planned or deliberated upon at bustling assemblies; hence, Lelewel was keen to make use of personal contacts: he pursued an enormous correspondence, encouraged and instructed people, collected confidential information and gossip, and built a network of trusted informers and assistants. This style did not arouse trust in the émigré hubs, provoking instead wicked calumnies and lampoons, with tightening police supervision on the government’s side; all this eventually led to the writ ordering him, in 1834, to leave France due to having abused the country’s hospitality. Lelewel wandered off to Brussels, where he would remain far away from the main Polish foreign-lands centre; consequently, his political activity weakened, offering him more time to deal with his beloved scholarly work. All the same, he would never cease to influence the émigré coterie staying loyal to him, resuming attempts at unifying the emigration. Yet, it turned out soon after that it was not so much his political labours, not quite efficient as they were, but his views and opinions on the history of Poland that exerted a stronger impact on the history of Poland and, broader still, on the nature of historical progress.

←15 |

The former ‘clubbists’, that is, members of the Patriotic Society, habitually, in the year-1831 Warsaw, took part in stormy deliberations and rough criticisms of the national government and Insurrection commanders, and immediately contributed with their accusatorial rhetoric to the Paris assemblies of the Polish Ogół [‘Assemblage’] orthe Komitet [‘Committee’] organisations, which naturally soon ended up in a cleavage. The radicals left Lelewel’s Komitet, deeming it ideologically indeterminate, and established their own party, named the Polish Democratic Society [Towarzystwo Demokratyczne Polskie; abbr. ‘TDP’], which was meant to become, for a long time, one of the two centres around which political and social ideas were getting crystallised in exile.

The Society initially featured no commonly reputable names. The best-known clubbist, Maurycy Mochnacki (born 1803), of whom more will be said as we go on, did not join the organisation; he kept back from Paris and the radical circles. The excelling figure was Tadeusz Krępowiecki (b. 1798), a brilliant though demagogic oratorand an ambitious and unruly politician. Beside him acted Adam Gurowski (b. 1805), scion of a wealthy landowning family, a philosophically trained and original mind, astonishing with unexpected turns of his lifeline. There was Jan-Nepomucen Janowski (b. 1803), the period’sextremely rare example of a peasant’s son with a university diploma as a lawyer and the experience behind him of being secretary to the Warsaw Society of the Friends of Learning and editor of an Insurrection newspaper. The Reverend Kazimierz Pułaski (b. 1800), a Piarist friar, preacher, leftist campaigner during the Insurrection, and eternal radical was visible and audible there too. Those most conspicuous individuals, and the others, increasingly numerous, following their path, had made up – still before their exodus from Poland – a new formation of people of varied classes and a tolerable educational background, at that time, for whom the Insurrection became a school of public activity, stimulating their aspirations to create history. They contributed to the emigration’s life an inexhaustible energy and the belief that the world was governed by ideas. They put much passion into clothing the ideas they believed in with words apt and thrilling. Together with it, they built an organisation that was meant to be democratically self-governing, submitting each draft for discussion and voting; yet, their individualities were often bursting the statutory framework they had established. And really, the first TDP founders soon dropped out by themselves, in their never-ending severances and splits, quarrelling over the principia, programme wordings, and over the significance to potentially be allotted to the individuals in the Society’s actions.

Krępowiecki gained special publicity after he delivered a grand speech in French, at the celebration of the Insurrection’s second anniversary at the Saint-Germain Abbey in Paris, totally accusing the Polish nobility of estate-based egoism ←16 | 17→of the privileged, which he deemed responsible for throwing away Polish strivings for freedom. The speaker opposed the slogan to unify the emigration above the ideological splits: “May the Providence”, he cried, “protect the peoples against unity and trust! Those are the two bastardic and stultifying virtues that have accelerated our fall. […] Poland has perished because of those who had caught power whilst proving unable to conceive any great idea, or revolutionary thought.”3

A piece of rhetoric so aggressive was not to the liking of his democrat colleagues, let alone the more moderate milieus, for which a criticism of Polish systemic arrangements and national history before a foreign auditorium was scandalous in itself. Krępowiecki, Pułaski, and a few other zealots had consequently to part with the just-established Society. This organisation wanted to see itself radical in thinking but wary in behaviour, so as not to alienate the emigration mass from provincial establishments, and to avoid exposing itself to police repression betimes.

This tactics started yielding fruit. Although gnawed with hassles and apostasies, the Society became gradually solidified, multiplying the number of its members (up to some 1,500); it reinforced the organisational bonds between the fragmented clusters of Polish people in France (and outside it), and the authority of the correspondence-elected Centralisation (since 1835). At the same time, it elaborated its own programmatic thought and means of agitation. This labour revealed the journalistic talent of Wiktor Heltman (b. 1796), in his late thirties, who had been active since 1818 with clandestine associations in the Kingdom; he was distinct with an ability to put the programmes and slogans of the ripening democratic thought into an attractive language vestment. Jan-Nepomucen Janowski, already mentioned, bravely kept up with him. Janowski was the only Society founder who stayed loyal to TDP till the end, proving capable of wedding lasting rules with flexibility in matters of secondary importance. There were others too, who shaped up their views and sharpened up their quills on the Society disputes and writings. Efforts were mutually taken to preserve democratic forms in the Society’s internal business, preventing anyone from attempts at coming to individual leadership; this practice benefited collective polishing-up of the worldview. In this respect, the Society’s intellectual and writing output from the 1830s is impressive – particularly if we take into account the poverty its activists were to spend their lives in.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2014 (November)
soziale Schichten Kulturgeschichte Parteipolitik
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 350 pp., 1 b/w fig.

Biographical notes

Jerzy Jedlicki (Volume editor)

Jerzy Jedlicki is Professor emeritus at the Institute of History at the Polish Academy of Sciences where he was head of the research group for the history of intelligentsia. He also was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C.


Title: The Vicious Circle 1832–1864
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352 pages