Magdalen (Machar)/Introductory note


THE Bohemians have been the torchbearers in the Slavic revival which has awakened the dormant national consciousness of the minor Slavic peoples, and which had indirectly brought Russian literature to its fullest fruition. This task was accomplished by the great Čech philologists and historians of the first half of the nineteenth century, but the Čechs have also contributed substantially to the great and growing Slavic literature, which bids fair te occupy the foremost rank in the near future.

Bohemia is particularly rich in its poetic output. Until the appearance of J. S. Machar, Jaroslav Vrchlický, the Čech Longfellow, was considered the leading poet, even as he was the most voluminous. Machar himself, who was born at Kolin in 1864 of poor artisans and for the last twenty years has been a bank official at Vienna, began his literary career in Vrchlický’s style, but he showed from the very start a strong tendency to neglect mere form and to treat reality in a straightforward and sober way, hence his poems lose little by being rendered in prose form. In his earnestness of purpose he is not unlike Tolstoy, from whom he differs by his advocacy of a life full of vigor, and not of asceticism. With Tolstoy, however, he shares a hatred of all shams; hence, though an ardent patriot, he despises the banality of the demagogues and of political charlatanism. This attitude is expressed most trenchantly in his “Tristium Vindobona,” considered by his countrymen as having killed jingoism and the high-sounding patriotic phrase in Bohemia.

In 1894 appeared his “Magdalen,” in which he mercilessly attacked those provincial philistines who would block the fervent endeavors of a fallen woman to be restored to a life of decency. Of his later poems probably the most remarkable is “Golgotha,” in which he glorifies Christ, as he appeared to him to have been in reality, and not in St. Paul’s philosophic transmutation.

The pronunciation of the Čech names should cause no difficulty. The stress accent is always on the first syllable. The vowels have the Italian values, those with an accent being the corresponding long ones, and e sounding as ye. J sounds as y, c as ts, ch as kh; č, š, ž, ř are respectively ch, sh, zh, rzh. Thus Jiří sounds Yeer’-zhee, Machar is Mah’-khar, Vrchlický is Virkh’-lits-kee, etc.