Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

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Palacký, František

  • CzechHistorical background and contextHistory-writing
  • Social category:
    Insurgents, activistsScholars, scientists, intellectuals
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  • Title:
    Palacký, František
  • Title2:
    Palacký, František
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    František Palacký (Hodslavice 1798 – Prague 1876) was the second child of a Lutheran pastor-teacher in the Moravian town of Hodslavice. He was first educated at a German school in a nearby town and subsequently at the Lutheran school of Trenčín (now Slovakia). He went on to study at the prominent Lutheran Lyceum of Pressburg (Bratislava), where, even as a student, he co-authored a study in 1818 with Pavel Josef Šafárik, Počátkové českého básnictví, obzvláště prozódie (“Elements of Czech versification, especially prosody”, published anonymously). His ambition to become a historian flourished after he left for Prague in 1823, where he instantly became involved in the national revival and took on the editing of the Monatsschrift der Gesellschaft des vaterländischen Museums in Böhmen and the Časopis Společnosti vlastenského Museum v Čechách (“Journal of the Society of the Patriotic Museum in Bohemia”, later under changed titles). In 1826 he won the prize contest of the Royal Bohemian Academy of Sciences with a critical evaluation of Bohemian historians since ancient times (Würdigung der alten böhmischen Geschichtschreiber), and in 1831 he became official historiographer of Bohemia. In this role, he was commissioned to produce a history of Bohemia in the German language.

    In 1848 Palacký, enjoying a solid reputation as a “German” historian, was asked to join the Committee of Fifty, preparing for the All-German Constituent Assembly in Frankfurt. In his letter of response Palacký refused the invitation, stating that he was Czech and not German, and defending the rationale of the continued separate existence of Austria in the shadow of German unification. The experience of 1848 motivated Palacký to complete his Geschichte von Böhmen (“History of Bohemia”) in the Czech language, with the title Dějiny národu českého v Čechách a v Moravĕ (“The history of the Czech nation in Bohemia and Moravia”). The timeline of his monumental, 3000-page work, which became his most enduring legacy, extended until 1526. Palacký’s depiction of antiquity portrayed the Czechs as champions of primitive democracy, and relied heavily on two forged manuscripts, the notorious MSS of Dvůr Králové and of Zelená Hora, the authenticity of which Palacký defended despite mounting evidence of their fabricated nature. Palacký’s narrative suggested that the conflicts between German and Slavic culture were perennial and became especially manifest in the early 15th century. This epoch, when the Hussite movement was at its height, became for Palacký the apogee of Czech history, while at the same time also representing a watershed in the history of Christianity. Palacký celebrated John Hus as an early promoter of the Czech language and its literature, and as the very founder (not merely a forerunner) of Protestantism.

    Palacký was the driving force behind the foundation of a major scholarly-national society, Matice česká (“Czech Matice”, 1831), as well as initiating the establishment of the National Theatre (1881, 1883). Another mission was the publication of seminal sources on Bohemia’s history, resulting in the six-volume Archiv český (“Czech Archive”) and the first volumes of the series Scriptores Rerum Bohemicarum. After the suppression of the revolution of 1848 (when, in a counter-move to the Frankfurt Parliament, he had convened the Prague Slavic Congress), Palacký was silenced; he resumed his political activities in the more relaxed climate of the 1860s. In 1865 he published Idea státu rakouského (“The Idea of the Austrian State”, in the German version Österreichs Staatsidee), arguing the Slavic cause against German-Magyar dualism in the Habsburg Empire, and containing his famous declaration: “We existed before Austria, we shall still exist when it is gone”. He once again put forward a strong case for a federal programme. Following the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, which ignored the Czechs’ interests, he pledged his support for the Czech delegates’ passive resistance at the Bohemian and Imperial Diet. Palacký’s political testament, Poslední mé slovo (“A last word”, in the German version Politisches Vermächtnis), disavowed his earlier endorsement of a strong Habsburg Empire and expressed hope in the Russian Empire’s political liberalization. Palacký died in 1876, one month after the celebrations on the completion of his Dĕjiny (“History”).

    Word Count: 684

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  • Kořalka, Jiří; František Palacký, 1798-1876: Der Historiker der Tschechen im österreichischen Vielvölkerstaat (Vienna: Verlag der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2007).

    Zacek, Joseph Frederick; Palacký: The historian as scholar and nationalist (The Hague: Mouton, 1970).

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    All articles in the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe edited by Joep Leerssen are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://www.spinnet.eu.

    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Baár, Monika, 2022. "Palacký, František", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 26-04-2022, consulted 29-09-2022.