The present translation of Pan Tadeusz is based on the editions of Biegeleisen (Lemberg, 1893) and Kallenbach (Brody, 1911). I have had constantly by me the German translation by Lipiner (ed. 2, Leipzig, 1898) and the French translation by Ostrowski (ed. 4, Paris, 1859), and am deeply indebted to them. The English translation by Miss Maude Ashurst Biggs (Master Thaddeus; or, The Last Foray in Lithuania: London, 1885) I did not have at hand until my own version was nearly complete; after that I consulted it only very rarely. I do not think that I am under obligation to it in more than a half-dozen scattered lines of my text. (Perhaps, however, my use of foray as a translation of zajazd is due to an unconscious recollection of the title of Miss Biggs’s volumes, which I looked over several years ago, before I had even formed the plan of my own work.) In my notes, however, my debt to Miss Biggs and her collaborators in her commentary on Pan Tadeusz is important; I have striven to indicate it distinctly, and I thank Miss Biggs heartily for her kind permission to make use of her work.
To my friend Miss Mary Helen Sznyter I am grateful for aid and advice in the rendering of several puzzling passages. But my greatest debt I owe to my wife, whose name, if justice were done, should be added to my own as joint translator of the volume. Though she is entirely unacquainted with the Polish language, nearly every page of the book in its phrasing bears traces of her correcting hand. The preparation of the volume for the press and the reading of the proof have been made easy by her skilful help.
December 9, 1916.
“No European nation of our day has such an epic as Pan Tadeusz. In it Don Quixote has been fused with the Iliad. The poet stood on the border line between a vanishing generation and our own. Before they died, he had seen them; but now they are no more. That is precisely the epic point of view. Mickiewicz has performed his task with a master’s hand; he has made immortal a dead generation, which now will never pass away.… Pan Tadeusz is a true epic. No more can be said or need be said.”
This verdict upon the great masterpiece of all Slavic poetry, written a few years after its appearance, by Zygmunt Krasinski, one of Mickiewicz’s two great successors in the field of Polish letters, has been confirmed by the judgment of posterity. For the chapter on Pan Tadeusz by George Brandes, than whom there have been few more competent judges of modern European literature, is little more than an expansion of Krasinski’s pithy sentences. The cosmopolitan critic echoes the patriotic Pole when he writes: “In Pan Tadeusz Poland possesses the only successful epic our century has produced.”
Still more important than the praises of the finest literary critics is the enthusiastic affection cherished for Pan Tadeasz by the great body of the Polish people. Perhaps no poem of any other European nation is so truly national and in the best sense of the word popular. Almost every Pole who has read anything more than the newspaper is familiar with the contents of Pan Tadeusz. No play of Shakespeare, no long poem of Milton or Wordsworth or Tennyson, is so well known or so well beloved by the English people as is Pan Tadeusz by the Poles. To find a work equally well known one might turn to Defoe’s prosaic tale of adventure, Robinson Crusoe; to find a work so beloved would be hardly possible.
Pan Tadeasz is so clear and straightforward in its appeal that but few words of explanation in regard to its origin are required. Its author, Adam Mickiewicz, was born in 1798, near Nowogrodek in Lithuania. His father, a member of the poorer gentry of the district, was a lawyer by profession, so that the boy was brought up among just such types as he describes with so rare a humour in the Judge, the Assessor, the Notary, and the Apparitor. The young Mickiewicz was sent to the University of Wilno (1815-19), where he received a good classical education, and, largely through his own independent reading, became well acquainted with French, German, and Russian — even with English literature. On leaving the university he obtained a position as teacher in the gymnasium at Kowno (1819-23). Though even as a boy he had written verses, his real literary career began with the publication in 1822 of a volume of ballads, which was followed the next year by a second book of poems, containing fragments of a fantastic drama, The Forefathers, and a short historical poem, Grazyna. These volumes reflect the romantic movement then prevalent in Europe, of which they are the first powerful expression in Poland. They were in large part inspired by the poet’s love for a young woman of somewhat higher station than his own, who, though she returned his affection, was forced by her family to marry another suitor.
In 1833 Mickiewicz was arrested as a political criminal, his offence being membership in a students’ club at the University of Wilno that had cherished nationalistic aspirations. With several others, he was banished from his beloved Lithuanian home to the interior of Russia; the following years, until 1829, he spent in St. Petersburg, Odessa, and Moscow. During this honourable exile he became intimate with many of the most eminent men of letters in Russia, and continued his own literary work by publishing his sonnets, beyond comparison the finest ever written in Polish, and a romantic poem, Konrad Wallenrod, based on the stubborn resistance of the Lithuanian folk in the fourteenth century to their German foes, the Knights of the Cross, and showing in its style marked Byronic influence. The poem unfortunately admitted, or rather invited, an application to the resistance of the Poles to the Russians; Mickiewicz, fearing with reason the anger of the Russian authorities, succeeded in obtaining, just in time to save himself from serious consequences, a passport permitting him to leave the country.
Arriving in Germany in 1829, Mickiewicz travelled through Switzerland to Italy. His residence in Rome, with its sacred associations, and the meeting with new friends of a deeply religious temperament, brought about within him a new birth of Catholic faith that strongly affected bis later writings, notably Pan Tadeusz. In Rome also he became intimate with the family of the rich Count Ankwicz, for whose daughter Eva he conceived an affection that is reflected in the passion of Jacek Soplica for the Pantler’s only child. On the outbreak of the insurrection in Warsaw, at the end of the year 1830, the poet meditated returning home to join the national forces; but he delayed his departure, and never came nearer the scene of action than Posen and its vicinity. The grief and discouragement caused by the failure of the insurrection, instead of crippling Mickiewicz’s powers, seemed to spur him on to new activity. During 1833 he wrote a continuation of The Forefathers, in an entirely different tone from that of his youthful poem of ten years before. The action is based on the persecution by the Russian authorities of the Polish students in Wilno; the lovelorn Gustaw of the earlier poem is transformed into the patriotic martyr Konrad. In this same year he settled in Paris, along with many other Polish exiles or “emigrants,” who were made homeless by the downfall of the national cause, and who, if the truth be said, were split up into bitterly hostile factions. Mickiewicz was now beginning to assume the role of prophet and seer. For the reproof and instruction of his fellow-countrymen he composed his Books of the Polish Nation and of the Polish Pilgrimage, a mystical work, written in biblical prose, and intended to bring comfort and harmony to the distracted exiles. In Paris also, in the course of about fourteen months (1832-34), he wrote Pan Tadeusz, his greatest poem — and (with insignificant exceptions) his last.
The story of Mickiewicz’s closing years may be passed over very briefly. In 1834 he married; his wife was subject to attacks of insanity, and all his later life was saddened by the struggle with misfortune and poverty. In 1840 he was called to a newly founded professorship of Slavic literature at the Collège de France. His lectures as holder of this chair are the only literary work of great importance that he produced during this last period of his life. Soon after the completion of Pan Tadeusz he had become absorbed by a religious mysticism that caused him to turn entirely aside from poetry. In 1841 he fell under the influence of Andrzej Towianski, a teacher who announced himself as the prophet of a new religion. His acceptance and promulgation of a doctrine which was pronounced heretical by the Catholic Church, and which inculcated a religious reverence for Napoleonic traditions, made it impossible for the French government to retain his services in a government institution, and in 1844 he was deprived of his professorship. The accession to power of Napoleon III. filled him with new hopes. In 1855 he journeyed to Constantinople, wishing to aid in the war against Russia, and there he died of the cholera. His remains, first laid to rest in Paris, were transferred in 1890 to the cathedral at Cracow.