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Birth of the Intelligentsia – 1750–1831

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

Series:

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 4: In the service of the State (1807-1830)

Extract

The creation by Napoleon of the Duchy of Warsaw in 1807, territorially based on the central Polish lands, was indeed an event that made history (this hackneyed phrase is certainly a good match here). The new, small state was composed of the areas occupied by Prussia in the course of the first and second partitions; in 1809, the territory annexed by Austria in 1795 was re-conquered from this country (including Krakow and Lublin). The Duchy’s symbols referred to the former Commonwealth (while the state’s name was novel, owing to its international station). Frederick August, King of Saxony, was made the Duchy’s head, which could be interpreted as a nod towards the 3rd of May Constitution, which provided that once King Stanislaus Augustus died childless, the Saxon Wettin monarchs would come to the Polish throne. Because of this, many Poles perceived the Duchy as a step on the way to complete independence.

The Romantics’ generation is responsible for the fact that the Napoleonic epoch is colloquially associated for Poles primarily with wars. The period, however, is worth looking at from a completely different angle: instead of an epoch of romantic wartime adventures, a follow-up to the Polish Enlightenment calls for our attention there. Let us then take a closer look at how that small state was being built, in which labour the tone was set by the Stanislaus-Augustus-generation veterans. One would not be grossly mistaken to assume that their generational experience was the conviction that the nobility’s anarchy was...

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