National Geographic Magazine/Volume 31/Number 2/Bohemia and the Czechs


By Aleš Hrdlička

Curator of Physical Anthropology in the U. S. National Museum

IN THEIR memorable answer to the President of the United States on the conditions under which they would conclude peace with Germany, the Allies announced, as one of these conditions, the liberation of the Czecho-Slovaks from Austria-Hungary.

This introduces on the international forum a most interesting new factor, of which relatively little has been heard during the war and which in consequence has largely escaped, in this country at least, the attention which it deserves.

The same natural law of preservation that rules over individuals rules also over nations—only the strongest survive the struggle for existence. Not the strongest in numbers, nor even physically, but the richest in that healthy virginal life-current which suffers under defeat, but is never crushed ; which may be suppressed to the limit, yet wells up again stronger and fresher than ever, the moment the pressure relaxes.

One such nation is surely, it seems, that of the Czechs or Bohemians. A 1,500-year-long life-and-death struggle with the race who surround it from the north, west, and south, with a near-burial within the Austrian Empire for the last three centuries, have failed to destroy the little nation or break its spirit.

As President Wilson has said: "At least two among these many races [of Austria], moreover, are strenuously, restlessly, persistently devoted to independence. No lapse of time, no defeat of hopes, seems sufficient to reconcile the Czechs of Bohemia to incorporation with Austria. Pride of race and the memories of a notable and distinguished history keep them always at odds with the Germans within their gates and with the government set over their heads. They desire at least the same degree of autonomy that has been granted to Hungary."[1]

The Czechs are now more numerous, more accomplished, more patriotic than ever before, and the day is inevitably approaching when the shackles will fall and the nation take its place again at the council of free nations.


The Czechs[2] are the westernmost branch of the Slavs, their name being derived, according to tradition, from that of a noted ancestral chief. The term Bohemia was applied to the country probably during the Roman times and was derived, like that of Bavaria, from the Boii, who for some time before the Christian era occupied or claimed parts of these regions.

Nature has favored Bohemia perhaps more than any other part of Europe. Its soil is so fertile and climate so favorable that more than half of the country is cultivated and produces richly. In its mountains almost every useful metal and mineral, except salt, is to be found. It is the geographical center of the European continent, equally distant from the Baltic, Adriatic, and North seas, and, though inclosed by mountains, is so easily accessible, because of the valleys of the Danube and the Elbe rivers, that it served, since known in history as the avenue of many armies.

Beside Bohemia, the Czechs occupy Moravia and adjacent territory in Silesia. The Slovaks, who show merely dialectic differences from the Czechs, extend from Moravia eastward over most of northern Hungary.[3]

The advent of the Czechs is lost in antiquity; it is known, however, that they cremated their dead, and cremation burials in northeastern Bohemia and in Moravia antedate 500 B. C. Their invasions or spread southwestward, so far as
The famous astronomical clock of the Old Town Hall of Prague, dating from 1490 A. D.
The famous astronomical clock of the Old Town Hall of Prague, dating from 1490 A. D.

Photograph from Francis P. Marchant


In front of the town hall, during the fierce reprisals of Ferdinand II, after the heroic efforts of the Bohemians had been foiled at the battle of White Mountain, forty-eight prominent nobles and citizens of Prague met torture and the block with great fortitude. The astronomical clock at the entrance, with figures of our Lord and the Apostles, is one of the oldest in Europe. Inside the building are the dungeons where the patriots were confined before execution.

recorded in tradition or history, were of a peaceful nature, following the desolation and abandonment of the land through wars.

Like all people at a corresponding stage of development, they were subdivided into numerous tribes which settled different parts of the country, and the names of some of these clans, with remnants of dialectic, dress, and other characteristic differences, persist even to this day.

Their documentary history begins in the seventh century, at which time they already extend as far south as the Danube. They are agricultural and pastoral people, of patriarchal organization. Their government is almost republican, under a chief, elected by an assembly of representatives of the main classes of the people. Later this office develops into that of hereditary kings, whose assumption of the throne must nevertheless be in every instance ratified by the national diet. The nation possesses a code of formal supreme laws, and the people are noted for their physical prowess, free spirit, love of poetry, and passionate jealousy of independence.


In the ninth century the pagan Czechs accept Christianity, with Slav liturgy, which becomes at once one of their most cherished endowments, as well as a source of much future hostility from Rome. The various tribes become united under the Premysl Dynasty, begun by the national heroine Libussa, with her plowman husband, and lasting in the male line until the first part of the fourteenth century.

Under their kings the Czechs reach an important position among the European nations. They rule, in turn, over large parts of what are now Austrian provinces, and briefly even over Hungary, Poland, and Galicia. But their fortune varies. From the time of Charlemagne they struggle, often for their very existence, with their neighbors, irritated by their presence, their racial diversity, and their riches. The first recorded war with the Germans dates from 630, when the Frank Dagobert endeavors by force of arms to impose vassalage on the Czechs, but suffers defeat; and from this time on the Bohemian history is replete with records of fighting with the Germans. How the nation escaped annihilation must remain a marvel of history. It is sometimes reduced to almost a German vassal; yet it is never entirely overcome, and rises again and again to assert its individuality and independence.


Some of the Bohemian kings, under political and other influences, permit, and even invite, settlements of Germans on the outskirts of Bohemia. This is the origin of the German population of the country, which has played and still plays such a large part in its politics.

The latter part of the thirteenth century is a most critical period of Bohemia. Under Otakar II, one of its ablest kings, the country has readied the acme of its power. It extends from Saxony to the Adriatic, and Vienna is its second capital. Many of the German principalities are its allies and the king comes near to being called to head the Holy Empire.

But Rudolph of Habsburg is elected to this office, and from the moment of the advent of the house of Habsburg commence Bohemia's greatest misfortunes. The only offense of the Bohemian king is that he is Slav, but that, with the jealousy of his power, the democratic institutions, and the wealth of his country, which contains the richest mines of silver in Europe, is sufficient. Great armies, German and Hungarian, are raised against him; finally he is treacherously slain in battle, his kingdom torn apart, and Bohemia is ravished and reduced almost to a "possession" or a fief of the Empire.

Yet the wound is not mortal, the nation is too strong; it rises again, and within a few decades, under Otakar's son, regains its independence and much of its former power. In 1306, however, the last Bohemian king of the great Premysl family is slain by an assassin, and there begins a long period of dynastic difficulties, which become in time the main cause of Bohemia's downfall.

The Royal Palace of Hradčany, at Prague, Bohemia
The Royal Palace of Hradčany, at Prague, Bohemia

Photograph from R. D. Szalatnay


On the 23d of May, 1618, the assembled nobles threw from the windows of the council room two of the councillors who were convicted of treason to the Bohemian cause. This was the initial act of those that led to The Thirty Years' War, which devastated Central Europe, 1618–1648, resulting in the death of millions and almost in the depopulation of Bohemia, Bavaria, Saxony, etc.


The next Bohemian ruler of some note is John of Luxembourg, married to Elizabeth, the last princess of the Premysl house, and killed, fighting for France, at the battle of Crecy, on the Somme (1346). The knightly John does little for Bohemia, but he gives it Karel (Charles IV), his and Elizabeth's son, who proved a god-send to the country.

In Bohemian history he is known as "the father of his country." Under his long, wholesome, patriotic, and peaceful reign (1347–1378) the whole nation revives and strengthens. Independence of the country, except for the honorable connection with the Roman Empire, is fully reestablished. Education, art, and architecture thrive. The University of Prague is founded (1348) on the basis of the high seat of learning established a century before by Otakar. The medicinal waters of Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) are discovered and the city of the same name rises on the site; and Prague, as well as other cities, are beautified.

Charles is elected Emperor of the Romans in 1348, and Bohemia stands "first in the world in power, wealth, progress, and liberty." The excellent relations of the country with England culminate in 1382 in the marriage of Richard II with Anne of Bohemia.


But Charles is succeeded by a weak son, and it is not long before Bohemia suffers again from its old enemies.

A great national and religious leader arises in the person of John Huss. But Rome excommunicates John Huss and accuses him of heresy. He is called to report to the Council at Constance and leaves with a written guarantee of safe conduct from Sigismund, the king and emperor, which, however, proves a "scrap of paper." Huss is not permitted to adequately defend the truth, nor to return; he is thrown in prison; his teachings are condemned; and July 6, 1415, he is martyred by being burnt at the stake. The very ashes are ordered collected and cast into the Rhine, lest even they become dangerous.

The shock of the death of Huss and of his fellow-reformer, Jeronym, burnt a little later, fire Bohemia with religious and patriotic zeal and lead to one of the most wonderful chapters in its and the world's history, the Hussite Wars. A military genius arises in Jan Zizka, and after him another in Prokop Holy; a new system of warfare is developed, including the use of some frightful weapons and of movable fortifications formed of armored cars; and for fifteen years wave after wave of armies and crusaders from all Europe, operating under the direction of Rome, Germany, Austria, and Hungary, are broken and destroyed, until religious and national freedom seem more secure.

As an eventual result and after many serious internal difficulties of religious nature, another glorious period follows for Bohemia, both politically and culturally, under the king George Podiebrad (1458–1471). One of their enemies of this period, Pope Pius II (Æneas Sylvius) cannot help but say of them: "The Bohemians have in our times by themselves gained more victories than many other nations have been able to win in all their history." And their many other enemies find but little more against them.

No Inquisition, no evil of humanity, has ever originated in Bohemia. The utmost reproach they receive, outside of the honorable "heretic," is "the hard heads" and "peasants." Few nations can boast of as clean a record.


The fateful period for Bohemia comes in the sixteenth century. The people are weakened by wars, by internal religious strifes. A fearful new danger threatens central Europe—the Turks. In 1526 the Bohemian king, Ludvik, is killed in a battle with the Turks, assisting Hungary; and as there is no male descendant, the elective diet at Prague is influenced to offer the crown of Bohemia, under strict guarantees of all its rights, to the husband of Ludvik's daughter, Ferdinand of Habsburg, archduke of Austria.

Hungary, too, joins the union, and the beginning of the eventual empire of
A Slovak bride and groom

Photograph by Erdelyi


Some peasant women wear huge boots like the Wellington pattern, doubtless comfortable and protective against weather, but lacking in the grace traditionally expected in feminine footgear.

Powder Tower, at Prague, Bohemia
Powder Tower, at Prague, Bohemia

Photograph from Edgar K. Frank


There was a time when Shakespeare's shipwreck on the shores of Bohemia, described in "Winter's Tale," was a possibility, as the dominions of King Premysl Ottokar were washed by the Baltic and the Adriatic seas. A stone thrown at Prague, it has often been said, carries a fragment of history (see page 165).

General view of Prague from the Petrin Hill
General view of Prague from the Petrin Hill

Photograph by D. W. Iddings, Keystone View Co.


Austria has been effected. Continuous wars with the Turks and a terrible plague further weaken the Czechs.

Ferdinand proves a scourge. Religious persecution and then general oppression of Bohemia follow. The freely chosen king becomes tyrant and before long the greatest enemy of Bohemia. Backed by the rest of his dominion, by Rome and Spain, he tramples over the privileges of Bohemia; depletes its man-power as well as treasury; by subterfuge or treachery occupies Prague and other cities, and follows with bloody reprisals and confiscations, which lead to an era of ruthlessness and suffering such as the country has not experienced in its history. The weakened state of the country allows of no effective protest, and of its former allies or friends none are strong enough to offer effective help.


Yet even worse was to come from the Habsburgs, the association with whom for Bohemia was from the beginning of the greatest misfortune. During the reign of Ferdinand's immediate successors there is a breathing spell for the Czechs; but in 1616 another Habsburg, Ferdinand II, again under force of circumstances, is elected king of Bohemia, only to prove its greatest tyrant. Within two years the Bohemians are in open revolt, and in another year the king is deposed.

A Bohemian peasant girl working on a piece of embroidery
A Bohemian peasant girl working on a piece of embroidery

Photograph from R. D. Szalatnay


Many of the Czech as well as Slovak embroideries are ethnological documents as well as most interesting works of art.

Prague, the "Rose of Europe," a city of gardens: one of the Palace Gardens on the Hradčany
Prague, the "Rose of Europe," a city of gardens: one of the Palace Gardens on the Hradčany

Photograph from Francis P. Marchant


A bridge tower in the old part of Prague
A bridge tower in the old part of Prague

Photograph from R. D. Szalatnay


Group of Czech children of the poorest classes
Group of Czech children of the poorest classes

Photograph by A. W. Cutler


The stranger elected in his place, Frederick of the Palatinate, son-in-law of the King of England, however, proves an incompetent weakling. The Czech armies are disorganized, and November 8, 1620, the main force of 20,000 is defeated at Bila Hora, near Prague, by an army of Germans, Spaniards, Walloons, Poles, Cossacks, and Bavarians.

The following part of the Bohemian history should be read in detail by all its friends—by all friends of humanity.It is a most instructive, though most gruesome, part of the history, not merely of Bohemia, but of Europe, of civilization. In Bohemia itself it is a period of concentrated fiendishness under the banner of religion, and of suffering, of thirty years duration. Beginning with wholesale executions, it progresses to the forced exile of over 30,000 of the best families of the country, with confiscation of their property, and to orgies of destruction of property and life.

Under the leadership of fanatics, every house, every nook, is searched for books and writings, and these are burned in the public squares "to eradicate the devil" of reformation. Rapine reigns, until there is nothing more to burn, nothing to take, and until three-quarters of the population have gone or perished—a dreary monument to the Habsburg dynasty, to the status of mankind in the 17th century. Had not Germany itself been ravaged by the religious wars thus kindled, this period would probably have been the last of the Czechs; as it was, there were not enough Germans left for colonizing other countries. Yet many came in the course of time, as settlers. German becomes the language of commerce, of courts, of all public transactions; the university is German, and in schools the native tongue finds barely space in the lowest grades.

Books have been burnt, educated patriotic men and women driven from the country, memories perverted. It would surely seem that the light of the nation would now, if ever, become extinct. And it becomes obscured for generations—yet is not extinguished. The roots of the stock prove too strong and healthy. The people sleep for 150 years, but it is a sleep of rest, not death—a sleep healing wounds and allowing of a slow gathering of new forces.


Toward the end of the eighteenth century the Czech language is almost wholly that of the untutored peasant. But the time of quickening approaches. First one cell, one nerve, one limb of the prostrate body revives; then others. The history of the nation is resurrected and proves an elixir of life; to learn it is to a Czech enough for a complete awakening. But the awakening period becomes one of constant struggle against all the old forces that would keep him down; yet step by step he advances, over prisons and gallows.

Literature, science, art arise again; journalism begins to develop. The university is regained; Prague, the "mother" of Bohemian cities, is regained, and others follow. Education reaches a higher level ultimately than anywhere else in Austria. A great national society of Sokols ("falcons") is formed to elevate the people physically, intellectually, and morally.

Bohemian literature, music, art, science come against all obstacles to occupy again an honorable position among those of other nations.

Agricultural and technical training progresses until the country is once more the richest part of the empire. Finally journalism has developed until, just before the war, there are hundreds of Czech periodicals. The Czech language is again heard in the courts, in high circles, in the Austrian Reichstag itself; and, though still crippled, there is again a Bohemian Diet.

Where after the Thirty Years' War there were but a few hundred thousands of Czechs left, there are now in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia alone seven millions; besides which there are over two million Slovaks in the adjacent area under Hungary.

Such is the very brief and imperfect abstract of the history of the Czech people, who see once more before them the dawn of liberty which they so long cherished.


It may be well to quote on this subject a paragraph from an American author, Robert H. Vickers (History of Bohemia, 8°, Chicago, 1894, p. 319):[4] "The fixed rights, the firm institutions, and the unfailing gallantry of Bohemia during eight hundred years had constituted a strong barrier against the anarchy of the darkest ages. The manly independence and the solicitude for individual political rights always exhibited by the Bohemian people have rendered them the teachers of nations; and their principles and parliamentary constitution have gradually penetrated into every country under heaven.

"They protected and preserved the rights of men during long ages when those rights were elsewhere unknown or trampled down. Bohemia has been the birthplace and the shelter of the modern politics of freedom."

But Bohemia has also been for centuries the culture center of central Europe. Its university, founded in 1348, at once for the Czechs, Poles, and Germans, not only antedated all those in Germany and Austria, but up to the Hussite wars was, with that of Paris, the most important of the continent. In 1409, when the German contingent of the university, failing in its efforts at controlling the institution, left Prague to found a true German university at Leipzig, the estimates of the number of students, instructors, and attendants who departed average over 10,000.


Sigismund, the emperor and deposed king of Bohemia, in writing of it, in 1416, to the Council of Constance, says "That splendid University of Prague was counted among the rarest jewels of our realm. . . . Into it flowed, from all parts of Germany, youths and men of mature years alike, through love of virtue and study, who, seeking the treasures of knowledge and philosophy, found them there in abundance."

Last, but not least, Bohemia led in the great struggle for freedom of thought, religious reformation. Encouraged by the writings of Wycliffe, in England, and by such meager sympathy from continental Europe as they could obtain in those dark times, the Czech puritans, regardless of the dire consequences which they knew must follow, rose in open, bold opposition to the intellectual slavery in which nearly the whole of Europe was then held. They paid for this with their blood, and almost with the existence of the nation; but Luther and a thousand other reformers arose in other lands to continue on the road of liberation.

For a small nation, not without the usual human faults, and distracted by unending struggles for its very existence, the above contributions to the world during the dark age of its rising civilization, would seem sufficient for an honorable place in history.


As to the modern achievements of the nation, they follow largely in the footsteps of the old. Notwithstanding the most bitter struggle for every right of their own, the Czechs have extended a helpful hand to all other branches of the Slavs, in whose intellectual advance and solidarity they see the best guarantee of a peaceful future. They have extended their great organization Sokol, which stands for national discipline, with physical and mental soundness, among all the Slavic nations, and they are sending freely their teachers over the Slav world, and this while still under the Habsburgs.

To attempt to define the characteristics of a whole people is a matter of difficulty and serious responsibility even for one descended from and well acquainted with that people. Moreover, under modern conditions of intercourse of men and nations, with the inevitable admixtures of blood, the characteristics of individual groups or strains of the race tend to become weaker and obscured.

Thus the Czech of today is not wholly the Czech of the fifteenth century, and to a casual observer may appear to differ but little from his neighbors. Yet he differs, and under modern polish and the more or less perceptible effects of
The Týn Church of Prague
The Týn Church of Prague

Photograph from Francis P. Marchant


Prague is also known as "the city of hundred towers (or steeples)"; but the towers are now lifeless; their great sonorous bells have been confiscated for Austrian cannon

Slovaks at Postyen attending a celebration of mass on Sunday morning
Slovaks at Postyen attending a celebration of mass on Sunday morning

Photograph from A. W. Cutler


There being no room in the church, these devout people take part in the services outside; even when the ground is wet and muddy they kneel thereon

turies of oppression, is still in a large measure the Czech of the old.

He is kind and with a stock of native humor. He is musical, loves songs, poetry, art, nature, fellowship, the other sex. He is an intent thinker and restlessseeker of truth, of learning, but no apt schemer. He is ambitious, and covetous of freedom in the broadest sense, but tendencies to domineering, oppression, power by force over others, are foreign to his nature. He ardently searches for God and is inclined to be deeply religious, but is impatient of dogma, as of all other undue restraint.

He may be opinionated, stubborn, but is happy to accept facts and recognize true superiority. He is easily hurt and does not forget the injury; will fight, but is not lastingly revengeful or vicious. He is not cold, calculating, thin-lipped, nor again as inflammable as the Pole or the southern Slav, but is sympathetic and full of trust, and through this often open to imposition.

His endurance and bravery in war for a cause which he approved were proverbial, as was also his hospitality in peace.

He is often highly capable in languages, science, literary and technical education, and is inventive, as well as industrial, but not commercial. Imaginative, artistic, creative, rather than frigidly practical. Inclined at times to melancholy, brooding, pessimism, he is yet deep at heart for ever buoyant, optimistic, hopeful—hopeful not of possessions or power, but of human happiness, and of the freedom and future golden age of not merely his own, but all people.


Every nation has its local heroes, local geniuses, but these mean little for the rest of the world. Bohemia had a due share of such among its kings, reformers, generals, and especially writers; but it also gave the world many a son whose work was of importance for humanity in general and whose fame is international. Not a few of these were exiles or emigrants from the country of their birth, who, having settled permanently abroad, are only too readily credited to the country that gave them asylum. Germany and Austria, as the nearest geographically and with a language that the Czech youth were forced to learn, received most of such accessions; but some reached Holland, France, England, and even America.

One of the most honored names in the universal history of pedagogy is that of the Czech patriot and exile, Jan Amos Komensky, or Comenius (1592–1671), the last bishop of the Bohemian Brethren.

Driven away, in 1624, after all his books and manuscripts were taken and burnt, he settles for a time in Poland, then in Holland. His pedagogical writings constitute the foundations of modern education. His best-known works in this connection are Janua linguarum reserata (1631), Labyrinth of the World (1631), Opera didactica magna (1657), and Orbis pictus (1658). This latter work is the first children's picture-book. He condemns the system of mere memorizing in school, then in use, and urges that the scholar be taught to think. Teaching should be, as far as possible, demonstrative, directed to nature, and develop habits of individual observation.

All children, without exception—rich or poor, noble or common—should receive schooling, and all should learn to the limits of their possibilities. "They should learn to observe all things of importance, to reflect on the cause of their being as they are, and on their interrelations and utility; for the children are destined to be not merely spectators in this world, but active participants."

"Languages should be taught, like the mother tongue, by conversation on ordinary topics; pictures, object lessons, should be used; teaching should go hand in hand with a happy life. In his course he included singing, economy, politics, world history, geography, and the arts and handicrafts. He was one of the first to advocate teaching science in schools."

The child should "learn to do by doing." Education should be made pleasant; the parents should be friends of the teachers; the school-room should be spacious, and each school should have a good place for play and recreation.

A public school in Prague, Bohemia
A public school in Prague, Bohemia


The Czech philosopher Comenius, who lived during the seventeenth century, the bloodiest of all centuries excepting our own, urged that all children, rich and poor, should be taught to read and write. His teachings were in part responsible for the compulsory education of all American children enforced by American colonists (see pages 179 and 184)

General view of the old city of Prague and the river Vltava
General view of the old city of Prague and the river Vltava

Photographs from R. D. Szalatnay


The hundered-towered Prague
The hundered-towered Prague

Photograph from Francis P. Marchant


Besides Prague, other notable cities of Bohemia and Moravia are: Carlsbad, whose healthful springs, magnificent pine forests, and picturesque setting have delighted thousands of Americans; Pilsen (Plzen), Budweis (Budějovice), Brünn (Brno), and Olomoric.

Such were, during one of the darkest periods of European history and when schooling was so debased, the notions of this great exile whose life-long desire was to return to Bohemia; he was not permitted to do so and died at Amsterdam, Holland, predicting the fall of the Habsburgs and the future freedom of his country.

For a century and a half following the débacle of Bila Hora (see page 175) the exhausted, ravaged nation produces no men of more than local reputation; but in 1773 there is some reform of schools, and the development of a whole series of eminent men, not a few of whom reach international reputation, promptly follows.


The year 1798 sees the birth of the greatest Bohemian historian, František Palacký (1798–1876). Writing in Czech, as well as German, he edits the Bohemian Archives, publishes what has been saved
The Charles IV Bridge at Prague, Bohemia
The Charles IV Bridge at Prague, Bohemia

Photograph by Edgar K. Frank


The buttresses of the bridge are adorned with twenty-eight statues and groups of saints. A slab of marble on the bridge between the sixth and seventh pillars marks the spot where St. John Nepomuc, the patron saint of Bohemia, is said to have been flung from the bridge by order of Wenceslaus IV for refusing to betray what the Empress had confided to him in the confessional. The bridge is 1,650 feet long, has 16 arches, and was built 550 years ago.

in Europe from the old Bohemian historians. His historical works, as well as his statesmanship and other important activities, bring him the name of the "father of the nation." He is regarded as the foremost Bohemian of the nineteenth century; and his monument in Prague is one of the most remarkable works of art in Europe.

In the line of invention this earlier period gives Prokop Diviš (1696–1765), the discoverer of the lightning rod (1754), and Josef Ressl (1793–1857), the inventor of the screw propeller.

In science and medicine there stand foremost Jan Evang. Purkinje (1787–1869), founder of the first physiological institute in Germany and father of experimental physiology; Karel Rokytanski (1804–1878), the most deserving pioneer of pathological anatomy; Josef Škoda (1805–1881), the founder of modern methods of physical diagnosis of disease; Edward Albert (1841–1912), the great surgeon of the Vienna University; Ant. Frič (1832–1913), the noted paleontologist.


The Bohemian pantheon is particularly rich in composers and musicians. Of the former one of the best known to the world is Bedřich Smetana (1824–1884), the founder of the modern school of Bohemian music and the composer, among many other exquisite works, of the "Prodaná Nevěsta" (The Bartered Bride), a national opera which has appeared repeatedly within the last few years at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York. The great cycle, "My Country," with the "Libuše" and "Dalibor," are a few other of his compositions.

Anton Dvořák (1841–1904) was admittedly the greatest composer of his time. His "Slavonic Dances" and his symphonies are known everywhere. Invited to this country, he was for several years director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, during which time he made an effort to develop purely American music based on native, and especially Indian, motives.

Among musicians the name of Jan Kubelik (1880–. . . .) and Kocian are too well known in this country to need any introduction, and the same is true of the operatic stars Slezák and Emmy Destin.

Of poets the two greatest are Svatopluk Čech (1846–1910) and Jaroslav Vrchlický (1853–1912). They are not as well known in foreign lands as the Bohemian composers and musicians only because of the almost unsurmountable difficulties which attend the translation of their works. In novelists and other writers, of both sexes, Bohemia is rich, but as yet translations of their works are few in number and they remain comparatively unknown to the world at large.

The above brief notes, which do but meager justice to the subject, would be incomplete without a brief reference to a few of the most noted Bohemian journalists and statesmen of more than local renown. Of the former at least two need to be mentioned—Karel Havliček (1821–1856), martyred by Austria, and Julius Gréger (1831–1896), the founder of the Národní Listy, the most influential of Bohemian journals.

The most prominent modern statesmen of Bohemia are Karel Kramář (1860–. . . .), since the beginning of the war in Austrian prison, and Thos. G. Masaryk (1850–. . . .), since the war a fugitive from Austrian persecution, now at Oxford University, England. The sister of the latter is well known in this country and her recent liberation from a prison in Vienna was in no small measure due to the intervention of her American friends.[5]


It seems a far cry from Bohemia to this country, yet their relations are both of some import and ancient. The man who made the first maps of Maryland and Virginia, introduced the cultivation of tobacco into the latter State, and for these and other services became the lord of the "Bohemia Manor" in Maryland, was the
A Slovak peasant family in every-day dress
A Slovak peasant family in every-day dress

Photograph from A. W. Cutler


Note the Norman arch; it is typical of Slovak homes. Note the fringe at bottom of trousers, which are pretty wide when compared with English or American trousers, but positively skin-tight in comparison with the trousers of a Hungarian peasant. They are a highly respectable, hard-working community and may be seen in large numbers throughout the Vag Valley.

exiled Bohemian Jan Heřman, as were the parents of Philip, lord of the Philip's Manor on the Hudson, one of whose descendants came so near becoming the bride of Washington. Not a few of the Czechs came into this country with the Moravian brethren; and Comenius (see page 179) was once invited to become the President of Harvard University.[6]

The immigration of the Czechs into this country dates very largely from near the middle of the last century, when, following the revolutionary movements of 1848, from which Bohemia was not spared, persecution drove many into foreign lands. During our Civil War many Czechs fought bravely in the armies of the North.

The total number of Czechs now living, exclusive of Slovaks, is estimated at 9,000,000, of whom 7,000,000 are under Austria-Hungary; in the United States
Young Slovak beaux
Young Slovak beaux

Photograph by Erdelyi


In the background are highland cottages. Note the embroidered trousers and shoes.

there are about 500,000, of whom onehalf were born in this country. They are found in practically every State of the Union, though the majority live in the Central States. Many are independent farmers or artisans, and it is only fair to say that they are everywhere regarded as desirable citizens. They take active part in the political and public life of the country. Two United States Congressmen, a number of members of State legislatures, and numerous other public officials are of Czech descent.


In American science the names of men like Novy (Ann Arbor), Shimek (Iowa University), or Zeleny (University of Minnesota) are well known and honored, while the number of university students
Slovak mother and child, showing quaint cradles used
Slovak mother and child, showing quaint cradles used

Photograph by A. W. Cutler


Granny, who stands behind, is wearing a very comfortable coat, made of sheepskin; the wool is inside. It fits well and looks well, and granny knows it.

of Bohemian parentage is exemplified by the "Federation of Komensky (Comenius) Educational Clubs," with its many branches, and by the fact that the Bohemian language is now taught at the University of Nebraska and several other institutions of higher learning.

The true Bohemian here and elsewhere, as can easily be understood, has nothing but the bitterest feelings toward Austria, the stranger and usurper, who, since the war started, is once more in the full swing of his persecutions. The Czech sympathies are wholly with Belgium, Russia, Serbia, France, and Great Britain. And what is true of the Czechs is also true of the Slovaks, who suffer even more under Magyar oppression.

The Czechs and Slovaks in Austria-Hungary fight only under compulsion; their unwilling regiments were decimated; their political and national leaders fill the Austrian and Hungarian prisons. Thousands of Bohemian and Slovak volunteers are fighting enthusiastically under the banners of France and Great Britain, and there are whole regiments of them attached to the Russian army.

Here in the United States the very word of Austria sounds strange and unnatural to the Bohemian. They have found here their permanent home, and while hoping and even working for the eventual freedom of Bohemia, and proud of their descent from the Czech people, they are, citizens or not yet citizens, all loyal Americans.

  1. The State, by Woodrow Wilson, revised edition, 1911, page 740.
  2. The Cz pronounced like ch in cherry.
  3. See "Map of Europe," published by the Geographic Magazine, August, 1915.
  4. See also W. S. Monroe, Bohemia and the Czechs, Boston, 1910.
  5. Those who may be more closely interested n the more recent and still living men of note of Bohemia should consult Narodni (National) Album, Prague, 1899, which contains over 1,300 portraits, with biographies.
  6. "The Bohemians," E. F. Chase, N. Y., 1914.