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Bohemia: An Historical Sketch/Preface

< Bohemia: An Historical Sketch



It is to me a subject of great satisfaction that a new edition of my Bohemia: An Historical Sketch—first published in 1896—should be required. The study of Bohemian history is very important, as that history is closely connected with the present political situation of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and with the demand for autonomy raised by the Bohemian people at the present time. Without at least a slight knowledge of Bohemian history it is impossible to understand the foundation of this demand, and the contemptuous silence with which it is often treated in Western Europe is largely founded on ignorance.

Of late years historical study has made rapid progress in Bohemia, and a considerable number of statements and appreciations contained in the first edition of this work have had to be altered. All interested in Bohemian history are greatly indebted to the valuable studies published in the Česky Casopis Historicky (Bohemian Historical Review), which is so ably edited by Professors Goll and Pekář. Though much new light has been thrown on the past of Bohemia, no new history of the country superseding Palacký's monumental work has appeared. Recent research had indeed proved that the work of Palacký—to whom many now accessible documents were unknown—is not free from mistakes, yet it still remains precious. Professor Rezek's plan of continuing Palacký's history, which ends in 1526, up to 1620, and perhaps even further, remained unfulfilled in consequence of the illness and subsequent death of that brilliant historian. Professor Bachmann[1] has recently published a history of Bohemia. Written in German, it is more accessible to English readers than books written in the national language of Bohemia. The work is, however, imbued with a fierce hostility to the Bohemian nation, and should be read with great caution. While I have been able to introduce considerable alterations and, I hope, improvements into this new edition of my book, I have also made two important changes in the structure of my work. In the first edition of Bohemia: An Historical Sketch, the last chapter contained a brief account of Bohemian literature. I had not, fourteen years ago, given to that interesting subject the amount of study which I have devoted to it of late years. The result of these studies is contained in my History of Bohemian Literature.[2] This work can be considered as superseding the last chapter of the first edition of Bohemia: An Historical Sketch, and that chapter has therefore been omitted.

On the other hand, I have been frequently told that a history of Bohemia which ends in 1620 must necessarily appear disappointing to many readers. It is true that the year of the battle of the White Mountain was long considered as the date which marks the end of Bohemian independence and of the ancient constitution. Yet, as Professor Rezek has ably pointed out, it was only the treaty of Westphalia which rendered the results of the battle of the White Mountain final. During the Thirty Years' War it sometimes—for instance, during the Saxon invasion in 1631—appeared probable that the Bohemians would again obtain autonomy and religious freedom. In 1648 only did the Bohemians abandon all hope. Then only did Komenský (Comenius), the greatest exile and the greatest man of Bohemia, address the Chancellor Oxenstierna in the despairing words: "If there is no help from man, there will be help from God, whose aid is wont to begin where that of men endeth."

It is also worthy of notice that the results of the battle of the White Mountain have not in every way proved as final as they would have appeared to one writing a century, or even fifty years, ago. It has always been an axiom of the Bohemian patriots that "as long as the language lives the nation is not dead." In this respect at least the future of Bohemia is assured, for never has the literature of the country been as extensive and as valuable as at the present moment. The political position of Bohemia also for a time seemed more satisfactory; a certain amount of autonomy was obtained; little more than thirty years ago an imperial decree promised the Bohemians the restoration of their ancient constitution in a modified form.

The fact that the outlook for Bohemia is at the present moment darker than it has been for many a year, does not therefore deter me from devoting the last chapter of this work to a brief outline of the history of Bohemia from the year 1620 up to the present day. This has often been a matter of considerable difficulty, as it is frequently not easy to fix the boundary between those matters that belong to the general history of Austria and Germany, and those that specially concern Bohemia.

October 1909.

  1. I have briefly reviewed Professor Bachmann's work in the English Historical Review for July 1906.
  2. 1st ed. 1899, 2nd ed. 1907.