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At the Crossroads: 1865–1918

A History of the Polish Intelligentsia – Part 3, Edited by Jerzy Jedlicki


Magdalena Micińska

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. The third part deals with the period between 1865 and 1918. It is the period of numerical growth of the intelligentsia, growth of its self-consciousness and at the same time of growing struggles and rivalries of various political streams. The study concludes with the moment when Poland regained the independence that had been lost in 1795. 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.


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Introduction: The Black Gown


Schowaj, matko, suknie moje, Keep away from me, mother, Perły, wieńce z róż: My frocks, rose wreaths, pearls; Jasne szaty, świetne stroje – Lucid robes now fit some other: To nie dla mnie już! No more frolics, swirls! Niegdyś jam stroje, róże lubiła, Once, about roses, apparels I raved, Gdy nam nadziei wytrysknął zdrój; As a spring of our hope gushed; Lecz gdy do grobu Polska zstąpiła, But now, that Poland descends to her grave, Jeden mi tylko przystoi strój: That’s my costume, and all things lush: Czarna sukienka! The black, black gown! Mourning gowns, pall ribbons, or jewellery featuring apparent patriotic- eschatological symbolism was made obligatory by the populace of Warsaw in 1861, the time of demonstrations preceding the January Insurrection� Clearly enough, this gloomy atmosphere intensified as the uprising fell� Characteristi- cally, the crushing defeat experience was initially described in a romanticist style, well-known and acknowledged at the time, but sounding naive today� The little poem quoted above, Czarna sukienka [‘The Black Gown’] by Kon- stanty Gaszyński (d� 1866), refers to Adam Mickiewicz’s ballads written a few dozen years earlier� In the face of the horrible disaster, metaphors of this kind and equally simple rhymes were in use among almost all the romanticist epigones� However, this trivial ditty perfectly renders the mood that overwhelmed Poles – at least, the educated individuals, completely formed in terms of national awareness, deeply concerned about the present and future condition of the en- tire nation,...

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