2676061Cheskian Anthology1832John Bowring


"IF," says W. Wotton, in his 'Reflections on Ancient and Modern Learning,' "Homer and Virgil had been Polanders, or High Dutch, they would never, in all probability, have thought it worth their while to attempt the writing of heroic poems." Expressions like these are frequently employed by men who scorn all instruction but that which flows from classic sources, and such expressions are too often only the exhibition of proud ignorance and idleness. It is easy to despise what we do not comprehend; and to contemn an unknown language and literature is a lighter task than to study them.

To treat with an affectation of disdain the subjects respecting which we are too vain, or too cowardly to confess our want of information, is an error as old as it is grievous. Procopius, in speaking of the slavonian language, dismisses it as ἀτεχνῶς βαρβαρος; and the συλα βηνοι returned the compliment by attaching to the words Cžud (foreigner), or Wlach (gaul), all the associations of contempt.

There are many pharisees in literature as well as in religion, wrapped up in the garments of self-idolatry, and making their very deficiencies the ground of their highest complacency. There are many blind wanderers through unbounded fields of instruction, who can discover nothing but nakedness—nothing but barrenness around them. Fertility itself offers no attractions to them—how much less can they understand the power of that benign principle which makes the waters gush forth, fresh, pure, and sparkling, from the very rocks of the desert.

If one purpose more than another has been ever present to my mind, in the attempts I have made to glean some stalks among the foreign harvests of literature, it has been, to extend the circle of benevolence and of generous affections. I know, for instance, how strong, how ancient, the antipathies between the slavonian and teutonic races, and some allowance must be made for the feelings of the one, whose political independence has been so often sacrificed to the domineering influence of the other. But I would minister to no hostile sentiments. If men were as prone to look for what is good, in order to encourage charity, as they are to discover what is evil, in order to foster prejudice, the sum of evil would be wonderfully diminished, and the sum of good prodigiously increased. The place of our birth is accidental, and uncertain is the history of our ancestry; but in human improvement and happiness we have each and all of us a common interest and heritage. From the moment that nationality intrudes upon the general weal, it is pernicious, and unless closely watched, may become profligate. To the emotions and the exertions which embrace the widest field of generous thought and action, I desire to bring another contribution. What is narrow or exclusive in benevolence I would widen; all that is selfish I would fain control. The virtues become more intellectual—the intellect becomes more virtuous, by sometimes travelling beyond the little limits of family, and tribe, and nation. It is most delightful and most improving to feel concerned in the well-being of those who are removed from us—to hail them as part of the great family of man. To influence their felicity is the lot of but few—to rejoice in it and so to share it, might be the privilege of all.

It would have been very gratifying to me had I found leisure enough to have presented a complete picture of the whole literature of Bohemia. I desired to have spoken of the admirable translation of Winařicky, and to have traced the influence of others on the Cheskian people. That intention must be deferred to another occasion, if, indeed, it be not swept away in that whirlwind of cares, vicissitudes, disappointments, doubts, and vexations; which leaves in the deeds of our futute existence so few traces of the promises of the past.