(The following is a post by Regina Frackowiak, reference specialist, European Division.)
This year, Poland celebrates the 100th anniversary of regaining its independence. From 1795 to 1918, Poland ceased to exist, having been partitioned between Austria-Hungary, Prussia, and Russia. Poland returned to the map of Europe in 1918 as a result of post-World War I agreements. While the country was not a political entity during those years, the Polish language and literature played a crucial role in maintaining a spirit of patriotism and keeping alive the hope for freedom. One of the most important and inspiring Polish literary works from that time is “Pan Tadeusz” by Adam Mickiewicz. Considered the national epic of Poland, it is required reading in Polish schools, and well known to every Polish citizen.
Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855) is considered one of the greatest Polish poets, and a lifelong apostle of national freedom. Born near Nowogródek (now Navahrudak, Belarus), he studied at the University of Wilno (now Vilnius, Lithuania) between 1815 and 1819. In 1817 he joined a secret patriotic student society, was arrested in 1823, and deported to Russia for illegal nationalistic activities. Following his first volume of poems, published in 1822, his numerous works contain hidden symbolism and metaphorical content referring to the political situation of the scattered Polish population.
In 1829, Mickiewicz was allowed to leave Russia due to illness, and in 1832 he chose to settle in Paris, where he continued his writing. In 1839, he was appointed professor of Latin literature at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), but resigned a year later to teach Slavic literature at the Collège de France. He remained there until 1844, when Napoleon III appointed him librarian at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal. Four years later, he traveled to Rome to persuade the new pope to support the cause of Polish national freedom. His tireless patriotic activism led him, in 1855, to Turkey, where he organized Poles preparing to fight alongside the Allies in the Crimean War. He died the same year of cholera in Constantinople (now Istanbul). His remains were moved and reburied in 1890 in the vault of Wawel Cathedral in Kraków (Cracow), where many Polish kings are laid to rest.
While in Paris, Mickiewicz began writing a poem “Pan Tadeusz, czyli ostatni zajazd na Litwie. Historia szlachecka z roku 1811 i 1812 we dwunastu ksiegach wierszem,” which has been translated into English in a number of different ways, but most closely perhaps as “Sir Tadeusz, or the last foray into Lithuania: a story of life among Polish gentry in the years 1811 and 1812, in twelve books of verse.” He intended to write a short story, in the style of “Hermann und Dorothea” by the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. However, the poem, published in 1834, grew to an impressive length, consisting of 12 parts, and soon assumed the status of a masterpiece. “Pan Tadeusz” describes life among the Polish upper class in the early 19th century, through fictional accounts of a feud between two Polish noble families.
The Library of Congress has a number of versions of “Pan Tadeusz” in Polish and other languages, as well as hundreds of titles by and about Mickiewicz. The original “Pan Tadeusz” manuscript is in Poland, however, and is considered of foremost importance in the collections of the Ossolineum Library in Wroclaw. The history of the manuscript is almost an epic in itself.
During his lifetime, Mickiewicz sold the manuscript to a friend, who then sold it to another friend, who in turn gifted it back to Mickiewicz—all in effort to support the author financially. After Mickiewicz’s death, the manuscript was treated as a national treasure, and was passed on to his eldest son Wladyslaw, a poet, who in 1871 sold it to Stanislaw Tarnowski, a professor of literature at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków.
In 1873, at the owner’s request, Józef Brzostowski, a wood-carver, created a special ebony chest —decorated with ivory carvings—to keep the manuscript safe. The carvings on the sides of the chest are based on drawings by a well-known Polish artist, Juliusz Kossak, and depict scenes taken from the poem. A relief of Adam Mickiewicz, based on a medallion by David d‘Angers, decorates the lid. The small statuettes that adorned the corners of the chest disappeared during WWII. After Professor Tarnowski’s death in 1917, the manuscript remained in the hands of his son, Hieronim, until 1929, when he sold it to his uncle, Zdzislaw, who kept it in the family castle in Dzików in southeastern Poland.
In the first days of World War II, the owners deposited the manuscript, together with some other valuable objects, in the Library of the Ossolinski Institute (Ossolineum) in Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine), hoping it would be safe until the end of the hostilities. During the turbulent war years, Lwów was occupied first by the Soviets in 1939, and then the Germans in 1941, and then the Soviets again, in 1944. The name of the city where “Pan Tadeusz” was held thus changed from Lwów to Lviv, from Lviv to Lemberg, and back to Lviv. During this time the repository was variously called the Ossolinski Institute, the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences Library, and Staatsbibliothek Lemberg.
During the Soviet offensive of 1944, it was widely understood that Lwów would not be part of Poland after the war. Because of that, the Ossolineum director, in an agreement with German authorities, decided to move the most valuable collections, including the “Pan Tadeusz” manuscript, to Kraków. The Germans, however, planned to take these treasures to Germany, but the cargo was abandoned in Adelsdorf, Lower Silesia, where it was found in 1945, partially damaged. In 1947, Polish authorities decided to transfer the manuscript to the relocated Ossolineum Library in Wroclaw.
In 2006 the Ossolineum National Institute bought a beautiful building in the old town center, near the Library, and established a museum devoted to Pan Tadeusz. Opened to the public in 2016, this unique, modern museum tells the story of an extraordinary book—perhaps the last one known and memorized by nearly all Poles.
In 2014 the manuscript of “Pan Tadeusz” was included in the UNESCO Memory of the World list as one of the most treasured relics of Polish national culture.
Polish editions of “Pan Tadeusz” in the Library of Congress include the years 1834, 1860, 1920, 1921, as well as many published later. Worth mention is the 150th-anniversary edition of 1984, a joint effort between Polish and French publishers.
English translations of “Pan Tadeusz” in the collections of the Library of Congress include editions from 1917, 1930, and 1962, with about half a dozen more through 2009.
In 1859 a Belarusian writer-dramatist, Vintsent Dunin-Martsinkevich, published the first translation of “Pan Tadeusz” into another Slavic language. Because of pressure from Russian Imperial authorities, he succeeded only in publishing the first two chapters of the poem. The Library of Congress has two editions of Mickiewicz’s collected works containing these two translated chapters, published in 1958 and 1984. Other translations of “Pan Tadeusz” include Russian (1882), Esperanto (1918), French (1934), German (1955), Czech (1969), Lithuanian (1974), and Kashubian—a West Slavic minority language—in Poland (2010).
The Library of Congress also possesses a DVD and videotape of the 1999 film, “Pan Tadeusz,” directed by Andrzej Wajda, the prominent Polish filmmaker. Interest in the work is ongoing; the latest English translation was published this year.