Magazine Poland

On this Day, in 1809: Romantic poet Juliusz Słowacki was born in the Polish “Stolen Lands”

On September 4, 1809, one of the “Three Bards” of Polish literature, Polish Romantic poet Juliusz Słowacki was born in the “Stolen Lands” of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

After the Partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at the end of the 18th century, Poland ceased to exist as an independent political entity. The Habsburg Monarchy gained control of the Western Galicia and Southern Masovia territories, while Prussia received Podlachia, the remainder of Masovia, and Warsaw, and Russia the remaining land, including Vilnius.

While an independant Polish state was briefly resurrected in 1807, when Napoleon created the Duchy of Warsaw, the downfall of the French Emperor and the ensuing Congress of Vienna solidified the long-term division of the country in 1815, with Russia assuming hegemony over the Congress Kingdom of Poland, a semi-autonomous state established in the territory that formed the short-lived Duchy of Warsaw.

It was there, in the so-called “Stolen Land” of Congress Poland, that Juliusz Słowacki, one of the major figures in the Polish Romantic period, was born in 1809.

After studying law at Vilnius Imperial University, Juliusz Słowacki moved to Warsaw in 1829, where he found a job in Congress Poland’s Governmental Commission of Revenues and Treasury. But after the outbreak of the November Uprising the following year, Słowacki joined the diplomatic staff of the revolutionary Polish National Government, led by Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski.

Initially he serving as a copyist, Juliusz Słowacki was sent on a courier mission to Dresden in 1831, before heading to Paris. Like many of his countrymen, Słowacki decided to stay in France as a political refugee after the fall of the Uprising. But his poems, written in the 1820s, were unpopular among his Polish compatriots, particularly Adam Mickiewicz, who Słowacki began to see as his main rival.

Słowacki left for Geneva where, inspired by the Alpine scenery, he wrote several works featuring romantic themes, including his love idyll W Szwajcarii (“In Switzerland”), Stokrótki (“Daisies”) and Chmury (“Clouds”). In 1834, he published Kordian, a romantic drama illustrating the soul searching of the Polish people in the aftermath of the failed insurrection, considered to be one of his finest work.

In 1836, Słowacki left Switzerland and embarked on a journey that started in Rome, where he met and befriended Zygmunt Krasiński. He then travelled to Greece, Egypt and Palestine – an exotic trip described in Podróż do ziemi świętej z Neapolu (“Voyage to the Holy Land from Naples,” published posthumously).

He eventually returned to Paris and over the next few years, Słowacki wrote and published many works, including Testament mój (“My Last Will”), in which he described his faith that his works would endure after his death.

In the late 1840s, Słowacki attached himself to a group of like-minded young exiles, determined to return to Poland and win its independence, which included the pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin. Despite suffering from advanced tuberculosis, Słowacki briefly returned to Poland during the Spring of Nations, hoping to participate in the Wielkopolska Uprising of 1848, during which he addressed the National Committee in Poznań.

Arrested by the Prussian police, Słowacki was sent back to Paris. On his way there, he passed through Wrocław, where he was reunited with his mother, whom he had not seen for almost twenty years.

Słowacki died in Paris on April 3, 1849 from tuberculosis. He was buried at the Montmartre Cemetery. In 1927, his ashes were transferred to the Wawel Cathedral in Kraków, next to those of Adam Mickiewicz. Considered to be the father of modern Polish drama, Juliusz Słowacki is one of the “Three Bards” of Polish literature, with Adam Mickiewicz and Zygmunt Krasiński.

Find out more about Central European history in our new On this Day series.