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Birth of the Intelligentsia – 1750–1831

A History of the Polish Intelligentsia – Part 1, edited by Jerzy Jedlicki


Maciej Janowski

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 one (1750–1831) traces the formation of the intelligentsia as a social class in the epoch of Enlightenment. It stresses the importance of the birth of bureaucratic institutions that created the demand for the educated stratum. It analyses the results of the collapse of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795 – the ominous event that transformed the political geography of East Central Europe. 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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Chapter 3: “Some new Trojans…” (1795-1807)


How did Poles, educated Poles, to be sure, respond to the third partition and the resulting disappearance of the Commonwealth?

The reactions were varied, as is usual in such cases. The situation was novel and there was no one to be absolutely sure what it could actually mean that the name of Poland had been erased. It was often said that Poland “has ceased to be among the nations”133, but did it mean what we should understand by this phrase today? Did those people indeed believe that a political decline of the state would entail a fading of the language and culture, or was the notion of nation comprehended in a political sense only? With regard to the nation’s decline, was there basically the same thing meant by it as the fall of the state? In each of the three partitioned areas, the nobility paid liege homage to the new rulers with no enthusiasm, but without attempting to resist, either. Did they do so just out of fear? Or perhaps, as is usual in such situations, the hectic activity and subsequent collapse of great expectations had to entail a few years of torpor? Or – one more option – was it not so that the feudal system and the nobility’s mentality offered no room for anyone outside of the hierarchy, so the place left empty by the Polish king had to be taken over by another suzerain?

The resulting decentralised structure of what had been the Commonwealth...

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