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Bohemia: An Historical Sketch/Preface to the First Edition

< Bohemia: An Historical Sketch





Many English visitors to my Bohemian home have remarked to me on the absence of any history of my country in the English language. German and Bohemian (Cech) historians are numerous, and include many who have written in the present century, since freedom of writing and of research into archives have existed in Austria. Most of these are valuable and trustworthy; but I think I may lay claim to having compiled the first narrative or sketch of Bohemian history in English from original and other authorities.

My little work professes to be no more than a sketch, and I have purposely selected this title for the volume.

I have, therefore, though briefly noticing the earliest records of Bohemia, devoted most of my attention to the period of the Hussite wars and of Bohemian independence. Bohemia as an independent State practically ceased to exist after the battle of the White Mountain (often, I think, called the battle of Prague by English writers) in 1620; and at this point my sketch of Bohemian history ceases.

But up to that date, the annals of Bohemia are full of picturesque incident, and have considerable bearing on the general development of Europe. In King John Bohemia gives us the embodiment of mediæval chivalry, and its most remarkable crowned representative. The religious questions that afterwards convulsed Europe were first thrashed out in Bohemia, and John Hus and his followers maintained and developed there the ideas that were first broached by Wycliffe in England, but for the time found little support in that reformer's native country. These points are, I think, clearly brought out. Political liberty and democratic principles, unsuccessfully contended for as they were, receive some of their earliest illustrations from Bohemian history. The art of war also was early developed by the genius of leaders such as Žižka and the two Prokops.

I have little space in my "Sketch" to deal with these matters, and I leave my readers and critics to draw such conclusions from the facts narrated as they think justified. Every effort has been made to reduce the bulk of my narrative; only those of my friends who know the enormous mass of material in German, Latin, and Bohemian to which I have had recourse, will be able to gauge the labour involved in limiting the growth of the book. The interest to me has grown as the work has progressed, for the history of Bohemia, so little known to English readers, may be regarded as a drama, and even perhaps as a tragedy.

Though Bohemia has—undoubtedly to its ultimate advantage—long formed part of the vast Empire now known as Austria-Hungary, the country still retains a language, a literature, and a history of its own. To outline within the limits of a sketch some of these elements of its interest is my sole object. Though I have the materials, I have not the time nor opportunity to write a history of Bohemia in English; I only ask my readers to judge of my book as being what it is—a sketch of a great country's history.

My principal authorities are the numerous works published during the present century in German and Bohemian by Palacký, Jungmann, Tomek, Tieftrunk, Helfert, Höfler, Rezek, Bilek, Goll, Gindely and many others. I have endeavoured, by means of references and notes, to mention as far as possible the authors to whom I am indebted. An enumeration of all the works consulted, which would of course include the older authorities also, would have unduly lengthened the book. Many points of Bohemian history being still contested, I have been obliged to give in my footnotes longer and more numerous quotations than might perhaps appear necessary. Readers who omit them will yet be able to follow the general outline of the narrative. Besides the modern writers mentioned above, I have availed myself of the information contained in the "Journal of the Bohemian Museum" (Časopis Musea Ceskeho), so rightly described by Mr. Morfill as "a mine of Slavonic lore."

The historians of the present century, who have had access to many formerly unknown sources of information, have to a considerable extent reconstructed the history of Bohemia; and many of the older writers have to be studied with great caution. I have, however, not entirely neglected to consult the old chroniclers, such as Cosmas, Weitmil, Pulkava, Hajek, and many others. The latter historians, Habernfeld, Skála and Slavata, are still of the greatest value for the history of Bohemia, and I have carefully studied their works. I have given a short notice of some of the old historians of Bohemia in the eighth chapter, which deals with the literature of the country.

Though the purpose and scope of my book almost appear to exclude original research, I was very glad of the opportunity afforded me during a visit to Venice, at the beginning of the year 1895, of examining some of the documents referring to Bohemia preserved in the State Archives at Sta. Maria de' Frari. I take this occasion to thank Commendatore Stefani, Director of these Archives, for his great attention, and I have been able in several passages to refer to some of the more interesting documents which I examined. I also wish to express my thanks to the Hon. Madame Wiel, who has very kindly assisted me in correcting the proofs of this book, and to Messrs. Chapman & Hall, to whom I am indebted for the two sketch-maps.[1]

In Chapter VIII I have included a few notes on matters that occurred to me in the course of a rather extensive study of the old Bohemian writers, both in Čech and in Latin. These notes have, of course, no pretension to be considered as a history of ancient Bohemian literature. I should in no case consider myself as competent to undertake such a work, nor would, I think, a large book on this subject be of much interest to English readers. In the chapter of his work on Slavonic Literature which treats of Bohemia, Mr. Morfill has given a short but lucid and trustworthy notice of all the more important Bohemian writers, from the earliest period to the decline of the language after the battle of the White Mountain. To this book I can confidently refer my readers. Of other recent English works on Bohemian literature, the Native Literature of Bohemia in the Fourteenth Century, and John Hus, both by the late Rev. A. H. Wratislaw, must be mentioned as the best. Bohemia is justly proud of her history, and I think her recent historians, whether using the native or the German language, have done credit to her greatness; but to write even a sketch of Bohemian history requires a thorough knowledge not only of the Bohemian, but also of the English language. I am deeply conscious of my shortcomings on this point. I am not writing in my own language, and constant study of German and Bohemian books has left its impress on my use of English in writing. To numerous lapses from the most approved methods of English writing I must beg my readers' indulgence; and this I do not without hope, seeing that to some at least of them I am known personally, while all will alike recognize the difficulties to which I thus refer. I trust at all events that my meaning is clear, even when I have had to struggle with the difficulty of making it so.

I have added a chronological table giving the names of the rulers (princes, afterwards kings) of Bohemia, with the dates of their accessions and deaths.

The spelling of Bohemian (Slav) names presents considerable difficulty, and even Cech writers are not agreed on this matter. Though complete uniformity is perhaps impossible, I have generally adopted the spelling now in use. Names of towns, and especially of families, have sometimes retained an older form of spelling, which I have followed where I believed it to be in more general use. Some towns also, where the nationality of the population has varied at different times, possess German and Bohemian names, both of which are still in use. In all these cases I have without pedantry adopted the designation that seemed to me the most intelligible to English readers.

I must add one remark, which is only intended for readers who are my countrymen, in the unlikely case that this little book should come into their hands. In no country has the habit of using the events of the past as examples or arguments applicable to the political dissensions of the present day prevailed so extensively as in Bohemia. Nothing is to my mind more unscientific, and indeed more reprehensible. I have exercised special care in avoiding any remark which might have even the appearance of an allusion to the religious or political controversies in Bohemia at the present time.

December 1895.


The following is the list of Count Lützow's works:—

Bohemia, an Historical Sketch, 1st edition, 1896; A History of Bohemian Literature, 1st edition, 1899, 2nd edition, 1907; Prague (Mediæval Towns series), 1st edition, 1902, 2nd edition, 1907; "The Labyrinth of the World," by Komenský (Comenius), Translated and Edited by Count Lützow, 1st edition, 1900, 2nd edition, 1902; The Historians of Bohemia (being the Ilchester lectures for 1904), 1905; The Life and Times of Master John Hus, 1909; and various articles and reviews in English and Czech.

  1. As these sketch-maps did not in my opinion add to the value of my book, they have not been reproduced in the present edition.