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Ignatius Krasicki





Born in 1735; died at Berlin, 1801. He took orders in early youth, and soon after became a canon, travelled abroad, preached the coronation sermon for King Stanislaus Poniatowski, by whose favour he shortly got a bishopric in what was soon to become Prussian Poland. Frederick II then made his acquaintance, and it was to amuse this king, they say, that Krasicki wrote his "Monachomachia". In 1775, there appeared a heroicomic poem, "Myszeis" (The Mousiad), a purposely entangled allegory on the state of Poland. "Monachomachia" is clear enough, but a bishop ought rather to have made an effort to reform the monks than to have laughed at them, and to have written it for a Protestant king's amusement was a greater blunder if the charges were true: as a Catholic, as well as a Pole, he could not be the friend of the Prussian king. Krasicki felt this, and wrote his "Anti-Monachomachia" to destroy the bad impression made. In 1770 he published "Doswiadczynski" a novel written under the influence of contemporary English fiction - partly a clever satirical and lifelike sketch of character, partly describing an ideal community, and imitating Johnson's "Rasselas". The latter part is so much feebler in its description of an impossible Utopia that it mars the other.

The best part of Krasicki's poetry is his "Satires" (1778) and his "Fables". The former, witty, soberly ironical, without gall, exaggeration, or malice, and perfect in form, remind us of Horace: they are historically important as pictures of the state of Poland and are very patriotic in tendency. The national faults and aberrations are pointed out wittily always and sometimes with sorrowful eloquence. "Pan Podstoli", though in form a prose novel, has a like aim. The tale diverts us, but its moral is the essential thing and both are excellent. From the highest duties to the meanest particulars of religious, family, and social life, all is pointed out in the best and noblest way. Surely, if a book could have regenerated Poland, "Podstoli" would have done so.

The "Fables" (1779) are, like all others at that time in Europe, imitations of Lafontaine, but none were so like their model as Krasicki's. Like Lafontaine's, Krasicki's are amongst the best ever written, while in colour they are distinctly original, because Polish. Though clear and artistlic the "War of Chocim" (1780), an heroic poem written in order to give an epos to Polish literature, is a failure, though far superior to Voltaire's famous "Henriade".

But it is impossible even to name all his works - "Epistles" in verse, comedies some not without merit, lives of great men, novels, and notes. Let us mention his "Poetic Art", "Gardens", and his "Translation of Ossian". He died in 1801 at Berlin, seven years after his elevation to the Archbishopric of Gnesen, a man much like Horace, witty, sensible, kind, lacking in passion and creative power, but not in good will. As the regenerator of Polish poetry, he has forever deserved his countrymen's gratitude.

S. Tarnowski.








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