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University of Toronto · Academic Electronic Journal in Slavic Studies

Toronto Slavic Quarterly

S.D. Chrostowska

Polish Literary Criticism Circa 1772: A Genre Perspective

The critic, even an eminent one, who expresses himself in forms larger and more lasting than the review—is usually present in literature for barely one generation.  Only the most accomplished cross this boundary; this happens usually when the critic is simply—an eminent prose writer, when in speaking about literature he practices far-reaching philosophical and social journalism, when he is able to produce a classic interpretation of great artists, when, finally, his works inspire new literary directions.(1)

                                                                                 Henryk Markiewicz


The observations I wish to share about Polish literary criticism are but a facet of a larger comparative project, which requires a brief introduction.  This broader work inquires into the genres of literary-critical discourse in Germany, Poland, and Russia, between 1700 and 1900.  Carrying with it relative unconcern with concepts or “content” insofar as these are deemed separate from their articulations or “form”, the project is not, therefore, a contribution to the “history of ideas,” as is the majority of literary-critical historiography.  My justification for taking this particular angle is, in short, the importance, in my view, of genre- and rhetoric-oriented analysis for understanding the emergence and profile of various discourses, from the less formalized to the outright formulaic.  By profile I mean here the degree of a discourse’s consolidation within the larger spheres of academic and/or journalistic discursive practice at a given time.  As it happens, the domain of literary-criticism has had a long history of comparatively loose generic organization.  That is to say, its genres—the genres in which it is articulated and apprehended—have never been especially typified or constraining.  This claim assumes that what can be classified (however problematically) as literary criticism has become established and “disciplined” only over the last three to four centuries.  It is my contention that analyses of generic (formal and modal) aspects of literary-critical writing can yield a more complex and accurate understanding of the emergence of literary criticism qua professional discourse.


Genre & Discourse

Genre, as employed in this study, is defined as an empirical class of texts taken to represent a conventionalized communicative event.  My understanding of genre is informed by modern genre theory advancing a functional and historical notion of genre,(2) and conceptualizing generic change and transformations on the level of genre-systems.  In this framework, genres can be thought of as relatively stable social functions of modal, formal and thematic categories.  (The distinction between mode and genre is essentially: modes transcend genres, which are historical entities and belong to a different epistemic category, but through strong historical associations become erroneously conflated and identified with them.)

Whenever possible, attribution of individual texts to particular genres takes its cue from historical sources.  Rather than re-christen texts with more “accurate” or updated generic titles, or describe obsolete genres “as they really were,” I see the value of leaving things intact.  Instead of hands-on genre categorization, I seek an anatomical picture of particular (if blurred) genres and of individual texts.  For the purpose of analysis I adhere to the following set of relatively “safe,” qualitative and quantitative parameters:

1.  Mode of enunciation, or propositional strategy—with emphasis on the line of argument.  This includes: evaluative (judicial), polemical, monological, dialogical, poetic, narrative, speculative (abstract), descriptive (expository, presentational), didactic, prescriptive (normative, regulative), jussive (imperative);

2.  Structure: the organization of textual components(3); vocabulary and specialized terminology; intertexts (direct discussions of other texts, references, citations, or lexical/terminological borrowings); paratexts (titles and headings, dedications, epigraphs, annotation)(4);

3.  Length;

4.  Subject/thematic or topic;

5.  Stated purpose (as originally recorded in the text, gleaned by its association with certain discursive domains, or perceived in the audience’s reaction to it), e.g., informative (instructive) or promotional;

6.  Addressivity (conception of the audience’s “anticipated responsive reaction”)(5);

7.  Medium and place of publication

One key to the history of literary criticism as a recognized, organized reading/writing activity would seem to be its name, i.e., in the semantic shifts undergone by words used to describe statements about literature en masse.  In Poland (as in Russia) during the nineteenth century, the term krytyka literacka (Russian literaturnaya kritika) denoted an area of inquiry greater than the German Literaturkritik, but lesser than the English literary scholarship.(6)  Krytyka literacka was, therefore, a more inclusive term than its German counterpart, working to obscure distinctions in kindred dimensions of literary study: the applied (or practical), the theoretical, the historical, or even the metacritical (self-referential criticism).  In the eighteenth century, however, the term referred to only a segment of what we now group under the umbrella of literary-critical discourse.  Clearly, being on “familiar terms” with literary criticism opens just the first of many doors.  If we rely unduly on past demarcations, we often risk foreclosing and underestimating the variety of historical realities.  And if the opposite approach amounts to a reclassification of sorts, it is only to expand the field of investigation, while acknowledging that the earlier purview may have been different.  The most one can do to avoid blatant anachronism is determine ad hoc inclusion criteria at various stages of discursive formation—for instance, I designated the literary thematic and evaluative function as “necessary conditions” for inclusion.  In what follows I, for the most part, accept the scope of recent Polish anthologies and studies of literary criticism, on which I draw throughout the next section.


Discursive Looseness and Unruly Genres

Eighteenth-century Polish literary-critical writing did not conform to a regularized, “tightly typified” system of genres, as described by Charles Bazerman.(7)  This is not only because literary criticism was (and continues to be) a domain of discursive activity with relatively few “interrelated genres that interact with each other in specific settings”; another reason for its low generic systematicity is to be found in criticism’s entropic and “oedipal” generic lineage, i.e., its vacillating descent from a long, venerable, but near-ossified line of ancient, mediaeval, and Renaissance rhetoric and poetics, which jointly and separately formed systems subordinated to liberal arts education.  In other words, modern literary criticism was in the process of breaking away from this tradition and doing away with its generic inheritance to find its own voice and forms of articulation by first attempting to revise and wed its formal aspects to new enunciatory goals. 

Another reason for literary criticism’s weak generic profile was that, in its earliest phases, it was still an appendage to the institution of literature whose genres, needless to say, constituted a powerful, overarching system of subsystems, overlapping in some areas with other discursive domains, but otherwise highly integrated (particularly during the aesthetic rule of classicism).  Literary-critical genres were transformations of kinds historically coded as “literary,” because the term “literature” was then more commonly understood in the broader sense of “letters.”  On the other hand, the variegated generic system constituting “literature” in the narrower sense underwent circumscription and sacralization, with the less distinguishably “literary” genres—those “semi-“ or “paraliterary” kinds falling outside or nearly outside the core, allegedly Aristotelian triad of epic-lyric-drama(8)—simultaneously distancing themselves from it, or pushed toward the nonliterary sidelines of “all other quality writing” (this process inversely correlating with that of literature’s sacralization).  Eventually, criticism went from being generically peripheral to literature to being generically distinct: a visible discursive domain comprised of a more structured genre-system—though less so that literature.  Let us not overlook that the presence, or semblance even, of distinguishable genres, and of patterned relations among individual texts are what regularizes further utterances, stabilizes the structure, and thus helps establish a discourse as such.(9)

If the genres in eighteenth-century Polish literary criticism cannot be seen as wholly distinct in a strictly formal sense, an incipient discursivity can nonetheless be discerned in the refashioning of authoritative, ultra-conventional kinds like poetics and rhetoric, with a different dominant modal purpose: evaluation.(10)  Thus, Wacław Rzewuski’s O nauce wierszopiskiej [On Poesy] (1762)(11) is “externally” a poem (poemat) but, in the main, thematically and modally akin to poetics,(12) crossing philosophical with theoretical reflection, though already with a discernible speculative-evaluative import (Rzewuski spends time discussing potential flaws, instead of providing examples for emulation).  By virtue of not being tightly wrought, the mediums of literary-critical expression, still secondary to the literary genre-system, had indeed “wider ranges of freedom for novelty and multiplicity.”(13)  We may say that the generic product of Rzewuski’s reflection on literature as tradition and as craft—issuing from a sweeping historical-pastoral, humanistic perspective and in high-flown diction—is a modulation(14) of genre and mode (that is, a hybrid still unrecognizable in its own right).  It does not, therefore, belong to “literature proper,” although this categorization may not have been as clear-cut to its author.  It probably seemed to Rzewuski that, to resonate, his work had, at least in part, to respond on generic and intertextual levels to the literary tradition of which it treated, and not just to the generic repertoire of literary-philosophical and theoretical writing (Horatian verse epistles, Aristotelian poetics, and the like).  This leads me to conclude that the context of literary criticism’s emergence as an identifiable discursive domain was primarily modally driven, shaped, and later typified.

One of the main features of rationalistic (Cartesian) literary-critical methodology emergent in France and embraced in Poland was the isolation and treatment of “clear and distinct” aspects of the literary work (form and style versus content; plot versus moral thrust, etc.), referred to “universal” aesthetic and ethical standards.  On the other hand, British empiricism (Lockean and Humean) found resonance with philosophical debates on the subject of aesthetics, underpinning the belief that standards of beauty and art can, in principle, be derived from experience and, from there, generalized.  (In England, the joint influence of elements of rationalism and empiricism was particularly strong.)  Polish reflections on literature drew freely, if not heavily, on both the French and the British sources.

The most popular genres adopted for literary-critical compositions of the European Enlightenment were: the versified poetics, the speculative treatise, and, later on, the review, and the feuilleton.  In Poland, the gradual adoption of these genres (particularly the middle two) to both a new content and audience began with the abandonment of Latin for the vernacular, with the rendition of classicist treatises (mainly French) in more accessible language, with the use of examples from Polish literature, and, from the turn of the eighteenth century, in increasingly precise, specialized terminology—after the customary lexicon of ancient provenance and elaboration in moral philosophy and ancient rhetoric/poetics (nature, imitation, etc.), functioning as common currency in established disciplines, became too vague and in need of redefinition.

French eighteenth-century criticism attempted (more or less successfully) to import methodology from other knowledges, even the hard sciences (e.g., natural sciences and mathematics).  Hence, a parallelism can be observed “between an intensification of Cartesian influence and a rationalist orientation in the theory of literary criticism.”(15)  This sent obvious generic ripples: the insistence on analysis (as scientific reasoning) and comparativity as the primary methods of literary study and literary-critical articulation.  This trend was very pronounced in Poland in the work of Prince Adam Kazimierz Czartoryski (1734-1823) (discussed below).  Within the context of the sciences, the literary work began to be seen as an organic system.  The analysis of the work thus became a taking-apart of a whole—reducible, in this case, to the sum of its parts—a “divisible whole” unified by a single purpose.  The comparative method was deployed for entire oeuvres, individual works by the same author, or works by different authors.  A similarity became manifest “between comparison as a rhetorical figure or parallel as a literary genre and comparison as a critical procedure.”(16)  The tertium comparationis varied from work to work.  For instance, in Grzegorz Piramowicz’s (1735-1801) treatise Wymowa i poezja dla szkół narodowych(17) [Elocution and Poetry for National Schools] (1783),(18) the evaluation of a literary work is executed by comparing it with a “model” (ideal) of its “kind” (genre) for which the author supposedly strives (even without realizing it).(19)  Nonetheless, literary criticism—in Poland as abroad—tended to be seen not as scientific (scientia), but as a sphere of special erudition and eloquence, linking it with art (ars).(20)


Profiling Literary-Critical Discourse in Poland

The eighteenth century does not coincide, in its beginning or end, with a Polish Enlightenment, which fell approximately between 1740 and 1830.  The first stirrings of modern literary-criticism in Poland are said to have appeared in the 1740s.(21)  It is not that literary criticism did not exist earlier, but that the texts found before 1740 were a scattered, “embryonic,” “atomistic” lot—alive, but somehow not yet vital as a form of intellectual mediation between writers and audiences that influenced literature’s reception.(22)  The major changes in the institutional and discursive fabric of the country took place in the second half of the century; the first indisputable manifestations of literary-critical activity and initiatives with the most bearing on the development of criticism occurred after 1764, the coronation of Stanislaus II Augustus Poniatowski as King of Poland.

A prototype of literary criticism in Poland can be located in the Renaissance practice of philological/textual criticism, involved in the publication and editing of valuable texts. Strong apologetic and laudatory motifs appeared in early-Renaissance humanist writings vigorously arguing the value of poetry in human life, denouncing critical opinion of poetic works, and paying homage to authors.(23)  These apologias dealt with and judged poetry not in its concrete instances but as an abstract, “de-individualized” universal.  At the time, they formed “a unique borderland of philosophical and theoretical poetics,” and radiated into the appreciation of ancient literary heritage through the philological study of individual texts.(24)  Their popularity led to the foregrounding of the role of literature in general, and the popularity of opinion-bearing forms, free of the rigidity of older genres. 

The norm of “literariness” operative during the Polish Enlightenment

allowed to consider on one and the same plane works of poetry and elocution, historiography and the novel or scholarly treatise.  One may assert that the singularity of this norm is one of the manifestations of a more general cultural situation, in which present-day stratifications—of literature sensu stricto and paraliterary writing—did not play as fundamental a role in its recipients’ consciousness.(25)

Thus, the Polish discourse of literary criticism (as, after 1795, literary criticism in Polish), while initially not readily distinguished from other, more “creative” types of literature, became the “internal” grounds on which this very distinction was being negotiated.(26)  At the same time, criticism, by generating its own demand, rapidly formalized itself in the periodical and daily press—generating with its own recognition the demand for a certain kind of imaginative literature that it needed to then credit or criticize, and necessarily popularizing novel aesthetic standards.  Although the publication of periodicals that regularly featured literary content had already begun in the 1750s, this content was informative in nature and therefore conceptually limited.  It was only with the arrival of a Polish periodical press that the hitherto leisurely institutionalization of literary critical activity in Poland gained momentum.(27)  As a result, the mid- to late 1700s saw a diversification of critical expression, marked by a proliferation of new forms, such as the advertisement or notice (ogłoszenie) informational report (doniesienie informacyjne), the review (recenzja), and the polemic (polemika).(28) 

 Surveying the signal publications of literary criticism’s pioneers—texts consisting, in part, of critical reflection—one is struck by the generic repertoire represented by them.  This compels a return to the question of names.  In his article “On Genre Terminology in Polish Literary Studies,” Henryk Markiewicz considers the genre-designators of studies of literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, many of which, he notes, were adapted from painting.(29)  Incidentally, Markiewicz divides literary studies into literary criticism proper, literary history, literary theory, and the theory of literary research—managing for the most part to keep them separate.  The earliest genre-designators recorded by him(30) are to be found primarily in titles and subtitles.  They were: outline (rys or zarys), course (kurs), view (obraz), textbook (podręcznik), monograph (monografia)—the latter term possibly encompassing such forms as posthumous commendations (pochwały), news (wiadomości), life (żywot), life and works (życie i dzieła), literary portrait (portret literacki), characterization (charakterystyka), image (wizerunek), literary outline (zarys literacki), profile (sylwetka), sketch or assay, in the sense of “attempt” (szkic, próba), monographic article (przyczynek), analysis (analiza, rozbiór), synthesis (synteza), remarks (uwagi), study (studium), with the subtypes of aesthetic-literary study (studium estetyczno-literackie) and critical study (studium krytyczne), as well as the more theory-suited myśli (thoughts, as early as 1775), listy krytyczne (critical letters, 1779 on), and, most popular of all, the treatise (rozprawa, traktat) and its subtypes.  Works claiming completeness in a given field simply bore in their title the name of their objects, e.g., Teoria poezji [Theory of Poetry], Zasady poezji i wymowy [Principles of Poetry and Elocution)], or Wstęp do literatury polskiej [Introduction to Polish Literature]. 

 “In all of this nomenclature,” notes Markiewicz, “one must distinguish between the particular names, describing as much the manner of presentation as the kind of thematic (ex. portret literacki or rozbiór), and more general names, signifying only the level of detail and versatility and used in other fields, especially in the humanities (ex. monografia or zarys).”(31)  Of the latter kind, it is studies (studium, studia—singular or plural) that “manifest the greatest semantic instability.”(32)  Interestingly, the essay (esej) was nonexistent in Polish letters before the turn of the nineteenth century—but it was first taken up, opposite the sketch (used interchangeably), in literary-criticism.  The “most semantically neutral designator” ends up being the article, indicating only a text’s placing in a periodical.(33)  Understandably, the shifting usage and instability of reference urges Markiewicz to propose a “modern” systematization to “establish some order” and “enable a more rational and consistent economy of the existing names.”(34)  He turns to a 1976 study for its helpful differentiations and groupings of genres, but, while summarizing it, makes further distinctions.  Thus, though both the treatise and the study (studium) may be serialized, the former is a medium-sized form of scholarly expression, while the latter is reserved for large publications about select aspects or cross-sections of a literary object, and so on.(35)  The polemic is relegated to “a discursive reference to earlier texts.”(36)  The most precise of the above-listed literary critical genres appears to be the review.

My own supplementary appellative researches yielded a further set: preface (przedmowa), letter (list), dialogue (dialog), conversation (rozmowa), poem (poemat, poema) calendar (kalendarz), dissertation (dysertacja), poetics (poetyka), rhetoric (retoryka), description (opisanie), doctrine (nauka), and lecture (wykład).  However, what do all these designations tell us?  For one, that new genres and variations on them were continually introduced as literary study became more rigorous and institutionalized: the specialization of research created the demand for more specialized forms of its transmission.  Also, it is apparent that a good many genres of literary criticism were, nominally at least, different from literary kinds.  It is also safe to assume that criticism’s genericity was no greater than the genericity of other research fields, at least in Poland; the genres of criticism often overlapped with those of history or philosophy, the formal overlap correlating positively with overlap in thematic.

Teresa Kostkiewiczowa makes a number of contextualizing points about the generic facet of Polish Enlightenment criticism.  By far the most viable new genre deployed by literary criticism once it entered on the process of institutionalization—in the second half of the eighteenth century—was the newspaper article (artykuł prasowy).  The article quickly became the primary means of formulating literary-theoretical opinions,(37) which in turn nourished the increasingly stichomythic debates about literary (or literary-critical) standards.  Discussions about the rejuvenation of national literature and the proper task of the critic became, by the turn of the century, as controversial as they were routine.  The pages of the seminal periodical Monitor(38) offered tight literary journalism and discussions of a programmatic and normative nature, but already contained the seeds of more liberal fare addressing questions of creativity and standards of evaluation.(39)  The preface contributed to the discourse’s becoming more specialized (though less compartmentalized) as discussions focused on specific theoretical problems of the writer’s craft (e.g., genres).  Literary polemics—such as Fijałkowski’s 1790 treatise, O geniuszu, guście, wymowie i tłumaczeniu [On Genius, Taste, Elocution, and Translation]—provoked the elucidation of views on matters theoretical. Kostkiewiczowa summarizes the formal developments in the literary knowledge of the period as follows:

In the course of several decades, which separate the first publications by Brodziński [1810s] from the writings of Jabłonowski, Rzewuski or Konarski, the ways of formulating literary knowledge, as well as the aims that the texts consolidating this knowledge were to serve, had altered.  At the outset we saw the practical textbook of rules for prose or verse composition, at the conclusion—treatises, articles, sketches undertaking the problematic of artistic disposition, of the specificity of literary expression, their place in the social life of the nation and their ties to the character, aspirations, and situation of the said nation.(40)

Elsewhere, Kostkiewiczowa notes that the 1780s were marked by new, official “genre laws,” laid by the highly selective “lawgivers of contemporary literary taste” Franciszek Ksawery Dmochowski (1762-1808) and Filip Neriusz Golański (1753-1824) (also discussed below).(41)  This “legalistic” approach went hand-in-hand with the ongoing legitimation of literary criticism as a journalistic endeavor.  The new generic laws endowed criticism with more or less typical forms, stylistic, thematic features (including a revised notion of the “literary”) and, increasingly, a professional code—in other words, with a basic set of discursive parameters.  The Polish Enlightenment program—against aestheticism, zoilism, formalistic and antirealistic tendencies of courtly rococo, elements of irrationalism, mysticism, faux devotionality, megalomania, conservatism, and cultivated subjectivism of a revived sarmacja(42)—shaped chiefly through struggles, was, in Stanisław Pietraszko’s view, “best served by models with distinct polemical assumptions, not models of speculative, objectified, academic treatises, of which hundreds were published by European aesthetics.”(43)

An authority on the history of Polish literary criticism, Pietraszko examines the rise, in the late 1700s, of a “new poetics,” still theoretical but far less codifying that the old.  The new poetics was conceived in the ideological milieu of the Piarist order, following its modernization by Stanisław Konarski (1700-73).  While bringing to the surface the seams in the ideological fabric of Enlightenment “precursors” (Konarski, Ignacy Krasicki, Adam Stanisław Naruszewicz, and Stanisław Trembecki), Pietraszko reconstructs the new ideology and literary know-how.  Thus, he accounts for the divided nature of the new poetics, suggesting that a general revival was sought after, and the illusion of basic methodological-ideological consensus and homogeneity was inevitable thanks to widespread usage of shared terminology (e.g., nature and imitation).

The aesthetic terminology of the early Polish Enlightenment was to become solidified and preserved in literary criticism and theory for several decades . . . It was to be a unitary “epoch of pseudoclassicism.”  This supposed identity of aesthetic views over seventy years of literature is, however, deceptive. . . . Even the same aesthetic terms, woven in an allegedly straight hereditary line through successive articles and theoretical treatises of the age of Stanislaus [1764-95], constantly modify their original content.(44)

It is only eventually, after critical discourse branched out in search of disciplinary support, that novel terminology staked out distinctions in the ideologies and critical methods of the leading critics of the day.

The “new poetics,” concerned with teaching the essence of literature rather than recipes for its craft,(45) lent a greater sense of mission to Polish literary criticism, binding it discursively. The project entailed filling not a “blank slate,” but an erased one—purged of many of the old elements (baroque style, Saxon school rhetoric and poetics)—so as to avoid old mistakes.  This “purified,” salubrious vision of literature—now integrated with, and understood as, literary criticism—went hand-in-hand with modified ideological standpoints and philosophical positions (mostly rationalist, with their “cult of theory,”(46) and scaling down the earlier preoccupation with aesthetic form).  It was, according to Pietraszko, “simultaneously a literary criticism and a normative poetics”—a “symbiosis” stemming from the “saturation of theoretical works with the current literary problematic and the search by criticism for a basis for its pronouncements.”(47)  Criticism was effectively called upon to organize itself into an agency for the systematic control of all literary production, to further the goals of social reform espoused by the court between 1770 and 1777.  “[S]cattered across prefaces and digressions of literary works, [criticism] gave birth to the main aesthetic postulate—that of the cognitive and educational value of literature.  In this way, the new poetics was discovering its character and role: it was to be the justification of the new literature.”(48)  This activity mobilized and united literary criticism during the Polish Enlightenment. 

In the remainder of my paper, I discuss an assortment of noted texts of literary-criticism in an array of genres.  This allows to see generic features, as it were, “in action”—the admixtures and hybrids that lie behind the way we write criticism today.


Textual Analyses

J. A. Jabłonowski’s Opisanie albo dysertacja pierwsza prawie o wierszach i wierszopiscach polskich wszystkich [Description or Dissertation, Nigh Premier, on Polish Poems and Poets All] (Lvov, 1751) (49)

This “dissertation” is the introduction to Nauka o wierszach i wierszopiscach polskich wszystkich [The Doctrine of Polish Poetry and Poets, All-Considered] ( Lvov , 1751) by the same author, Prince Józef Aleksander Jabłonowski (1711-77), composed in verse in the narrative mode of a legend.  The aim of Jabłonowski’s work is to assess the state of Polish literature, past and present, a not uncommon endeavor in the literary-criticism of the day—so that it can be said to constitute a distinct type of literary-critical discourse.  Nonetheless, judging by the compass of Polish literature, such a critical account must have been an ambitious undertaking.  Jabłonowski, however, makes certain decisions which save him from an encyclopedic approach.  He refers the reader, for example, to textbooks on grammar, as sources of further instruction on poetic composition.  Indeed, the text is one of the earliest examples in Polish of literary criticism self-circumscribed by references to more or less contemporaneous scholarly expertise without attempting to reproduce its findings.

For all its descriptive-critical edge, the majority of Jabłonowski’s text does not, however, stray far from the normative and educational purpose.  One in the series of normative-theoretical statements warns against foreign linguistic influence eroding Old Polish.(50)  The author goes on to offer pointers on meter, declaring vigilance about the rules of grammar, syntax, orthography, punctuation, and figurative expression as necessary for mastery of the poet’s craft.  Although Jabłonowski demands of poetry that it avoid the use of foreign words (only the Greek-derived receive his sanction), his “dissertation” avails itself of a great many macaronics.  The text is interspersed with popular Latin sayings, phrases traced by editors to Horace and Cicero, and terms in the discussion of proper poetic grammar.  (Kostkiewiczowa’s research showed that references and borrowings from antiquity amounted to a literary convention in their own right, but were very often instrumental.(51))  Its modal unevenness, and the decisive formal shift in the rest of the Nauka o wierszach i wierszopiscach polskich wszystkich mark it as a transitional exercise, notable for its experimental courage and intertextual richness.


A. K. Czartoryski’s “Przedmowa do Panny na wydaniu” [Preface to Miss in Her Teens] (Warsaw, 1771)  (52)

Czartoryski wrote this well-known preface for a 1771 adaptation of British actor David Garrick’s comedy Miss in Her Teens or the Medley of Lovers.  Irrespective of its input in the diversification of literary-critical genres, the preface—like many of Czartoryski’s other critical statements—is not comprised of original historical or critical ideas (nor is it the first critical preface in Polish).  It is not a cultural adaptation/translation—a common literary endeavor at the time wherein equivalents are found to foreign literary references, not least because of their obscurity—but it is an adaptation, nonetheless.  The text it draws most heavily on is Réflexions critiques sur la Poésie et la Peinture (1719) by the French critic Jean-Baptiste Du Bos, credited with altering the tone of classicist artistic doctrine with the category of taste (goűt).  Du Bos’ work was highly popular in Poland , where (as a result) the rigorous classicist notion of dramatic probability and a literal understanding of the three unities also did not go unchallenged.  Most importantly, however, for the institutional rise of the discourse, Du Bos’ popularity in Poland signalized the presence of an “interpretive community” committed to a way of valuing literature that was not, at the same time, considered the only conceivable one.  The multiplication of interpretive views began in France more that a century earlier, with the publication, in 1674, of Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux’s L’Art poétique, but did not occur in Poland until the middle of the eighteenth.

On the most superficial level, Czartoryski’s preface is noteworthy for its generous signage.  By this I mean that it makes an effort to spare the reader confusion, and it does this by referring back to earlier threads and sections, or to a digression immediately following (e.g., “As I already mentioned . . .” [and variations on this], “I shall deviate here slightly, wanting to explain the signification of this word genius,” “Let us pause here and, making mention of a translation into our language as equaling the original, let us throw a flower on Kochanowski’s grave,” or “Let us go on now . . .”(53)).  The text nevertheless unfolds without revealing what lies ahead in the form of a line of argument or a plan, or foreshadowing its destination in the form of a thesis or conclusion stated in advance.  Its signage is retrospective and perspectival—offering an awareness of matters discussed as it unfurls—rather than prospective.  The transitional sentence—set off as a paragraph—between the first (historical) and second (theoretical-historical-critical) part of the preface reads: “I here end my historical examination of the basis, varieties, and state of theatre in nations familiar to us.”(54)

The first part of the text is a measured lesson in literary history.  We learn of the dawn of drama and its development in the ancient and modern world.  The signage works in unison with paragraphing, with the average length of paragraphs kept to a minimum (with the effect of a well-paced succession of complete ideas), to render Czartoryski’s exposition lucid and digestible to a reader unfamiliar with even the basics of the history of dramatic art.  Additional information about literary figures mentioned in the body of the text is provided in footnotes.  Explicit critical opinions in this section are kept to a minimum, and seem not to depart from the mainstream—for instance, mediaeval letters are said to be “without grace,” and French drama “the most modest, most honest . . . worthy of imitation.”(55)

The second part of the preface has a theoretical dimension combined with the normative mode.  Czartoryski clearly indicates a change in discursive direction to a discussion of rules: “Let us now proceed to selecting arguments for tragedy and comedy and listen to what the wise abbé du Bos advises in his Réflexions. . .”(56)  We learn here of the larger benefits of theatre-going (as compared with reading) for the common man and for national taste and morality.  Czartoryski argues the need for choice of subject and setting to be culturally specific to affect a native audience (thus touching on the Enlightenment-era problem of a universal human nature versus local ways of being human).  Predictably, we encounter frequent quotations from Horace and Aristotle’s definition of comedy.  Here, too, we finally obtain insight into the history and state of Polish theatre and the reasons for its relative infancy, or long overdue resurrection.  The final part offers applied criticism of Polish playwrights, as well as remarks on acting technique, concluded by a didactic anecdote (historyjka, or “little story”(57)) about Garrick.  Czartoryski then takes the opportunity to encourage Polish dramatists to aim for higher literary standards, and offers some professional advice to translators of foreign plays, suggesting they practice adaptation over translation. By the end, Czartoryski’s preface, representing a distinct genre in name only, appears as an eclectic compound, integrated into a coherent whole through its author’s generous signage and his intention simply to contextualize the play itself with whatever information is of relevance.(58)

Czartoryski expands references to other critical views and results of historical research to include in the text-body the titles of works being cited (his historical exposition relies on the opinions of contemporary writers and literary critics, e.g., Pierre Brumoy and Jean de la Bruyčre(59)).   Even this minuscule addition, however, bespeaks the gradual growth in the international self-recognition and practice of literary criticism.  That Czartoryski’s references are not Polish but French suggests that foreign scholarship was still more highly regarded than homegrown ideas: France was still where theoretical breakthroughs took place.  Yet the first reference to Du Bos’ Réflexions (and the sole one—remarkable considering the derivative character of the preface) appears only in the second half of the text.(60)  This can perhaps be explained by the fact that most of Czartoryski’s readers would have been familiar with the abbé du Bos’ work (so that the intellectual debt would have gone without saying), and that plagiarism and crediting rites around intellectual property had not yet been constructed. 

The preface contains also one of those “telling” moments in the history of a then still inchoate Polish criticism.  This is a parenthetical expression of humility on the part of the critic, to forestall impressions of him as opinionated and arrogant (the criticism is of none other than Shakespeare): “The flaw, which they ascribe to him, is that he builds up above common measure things, of which he treats, and that he becomes (if I dare say so) gigantic.”(61)  Of course, out of context, “if I dare say so” can be interpreted as a critical swipe at the unanimity of opinion about Shakespeare’s genius as admitting no disagreement.  But, to my mind, it is no such thing; it is genuine hesitation.  Another, more excessive feature of Czartoryski’s preface is an extensive quotation (over a page long) from Joseph Addison’s (1672-1719) essay in the Spectator on the subject of humor—which the author then supplements with his own observations).(62)

All of this is crowned by the preface’s terminological merit.  The last paragraph, quoted here in full, reads:

My quill carried me beyond intended brevity; perhaps it was overbold of me to have to partake within this letter [pismo] of new words, but writing of a new thing, almost unknown in our parts, one need create words, or express oneself with ones unused.  I expect that this difficulty is capable of excusing me before the gracious reader, and that besides “hanc veniam damus petimusque vicissim [I ask this privilege for myself and grant it to others].”(63)

Hence, even in its neological capacity, the preface is limited to borrowing from another literary culture.  The coinage of new words in Polish was, by Czartoryski’s own admission, done from necessity—the necessity of participating in a world of discourse from which one has thus far, or in some areas, been removed.  Terms like taste, wit, or genius still appear in need of definition (a clarification of the term genius even occasions a detour(64)), indicating that only a modest amount of discursive integration had occurred.  An introductory note to Czartoryski’s preface tells us, however, that the author’s copy included multiple handwritten corrections testifying to his particular “sensitization to historical-literary terminology” (the change from obiectum to przedmiot (subject) being one example intelligible to a non-Polish speaker).(65)

Czartoryski’s preface draws attention to the inseparability of literary-critical judgment and the historical understanding of literature.  It was a curious development that, a century or so later, would make the former ostensibly exclusive of the latter.  Thus, historians of literature would not pass patent judgment, and journalistic critics, in the growing belief that each new age has its aesthetic standards for what is valued and what is not, would not see the need for extensive historical knowledge in professional practice.  This polarization meant that historical study evolved a discriminating set of standards and procedures—it was hard to pursue history as a discipline in addition to criticism without seeming a dilettante.  It was also quite natural that, in historical writing, shorter forms were supplanted by longer or that their average length expanded to accommodate increasing available source material and reference (based on greater availability and scholarly production).  This happened in the case of monographs, which assumed book volume previously associated with histories.


J. Szymanowski’s List o guście, czyli smaku [Letter on Taste] (Warsaw, 1779) (66)

Józef Szymanowski’s (1748-1801) “letter” is comprised of two letters, sent as personal communication and apparently circulated by their addressee in manuscript among those interested in forming a literary-critical periodical.(67)  Kostkiewiczowa adjusts its genre to a composition of two essays.(68)  Nonetheless, the title “asks”—to the best of my knowledge without generic precedents—that we consider the two letters as halves of one.  The first attends to the tasks and value of literary criticism and turns on the question of taste—the faculty uniting writers and critics; the second resumes the discussion where the first left off.  The direct, primary addressee of List o guście is not named, but is assumed to have been Piramowicz(69); the secondary audience, however, must have been Czartoryski (who was Szymanowski’s close friend), because of this text’s correspondence to Czartoryski’s preface to his own 1779 comedy Kawa [Coffee], which had the form of a letter to Szymanowski.  List o guście was included in the first Polish anthology of literary criticism, Listy krytyczne o różnych literatury rodzajach [Critical Letters on Various Kinds of Literature] (edited by Piramowicz and published by Michał Gröll in 1779 in Warsaw ).  Like other texts from this period, this last publication testifies to a growing awareness and deliberation the value of their work in the context of major social and educational reform. 

The gist of the first letter (though not its argument) is to be found in a statement of theoretical problems.  It comes in the middle of the second paragraph of the first letter: “I enclose my thoughts’ entire fabric in these two points: what is goűt, or good taste? And in what way is it spoiled or improved?”(70)  To discuss the category of taste (in rather normative) terms, Szymanowski draws on British aesthetics.  He borrows the three necessary components of taste from the Essay on Taste (1756) by British philosopher of aesthetics Alexander Gerard.  Also mentioned is Jean Le Rond d’Alembert’s opinion on the matter from his 1760 Réflexions sur l’usage et sur l’abus de Philosophie dans les matičres de goűt. 

Also worth noting are the two self-referential moments (the second almost a reprise of the first), wherein Szymanowski underscores the self-applicatory—the only credible?—character of criticism: “With this thought I am prone to throw some comments regarding taste, which with respectful delay I submit to the judgment of criticism.”(71)  Szymanowski’s frankness of tone dispels the impression of affected, conventionalized posturing.  Szymanowski’s submission to criticism demonstrates a degree of consistency, integrity of the critical endeavor properly carried out; it betokens his support for the service critics perform despite differences of opinion.  It echoes the attitude of the opening paragraph, where Szymanowski addresses an unnamed literary critic (most probably Piramowicz), using the latter’s announcement of a critique of that year’s literary yield as a launching pad for vigorous reflection on the benefits of criticism to writers.  This paragraph ends: “Criticism ought itself to be an essential model of excellent writing, otherwise not only does it miss its intended target, but with corrupt example reinforces those faults of poor taste which it was to uproot.”(72)  His openness is likewise reflected in his embrace of the term szydność—after Czartoryski’s rendition of the French le ridicule in his 1771 “Przedmowa.”(73)  The implication of Szymanowski’s approach is that a certain responsibility comes with being a critic: of supporting the emerging profession.

The second letter opens with another humble appeal for the addressee’s “sagacious” (roztropny) criticism.(74)  Editors Kostkiewiczowa and Goliński note that the reference here to a “close friendship” between the author and the letter’s recipient suggests that List o guście was, in fact, written to Czartoryski—despite the veiled critique it contains of the latter’s new comedy Kawa.(75)  The letter than proceeds to its subject matter, describing for instance how the acquisition/refinement of taste—of an individual, as well as an entire culture—is aided by education.  A good critic is an erudite one.  He refers to comparison with the highest achievements to-date as a procedure in creating new works of art.  In the next two paragraphs, Szymanowski becomes more overtly metacritical, cautioning against superficial judgment as “proof of imperfect taste,” and the pitfalls of critical vanity, such as noticing flaws where there are none, for the sake of “differentiating one’s opinion from all others.”(76)  One of the three elements of taste, accuracy, is acquired only by habituating one’s reason to diligent attention to the literary work at hand.(77) 

Next comes a critique of classicist pedantry.  Slavish, over-scrupulous adherence to existing rules (like the common attachment to ancient models) is decried as counterproductive for the steady betterment of taste.(78)  The great work comes before the rules, which are then inferred from it.  Regardless of the universal currency of the author of the Poetics, Szymanowski proposes, criticism might as well have fallen under the normative spell of someone else; Aristotelian standards are, to an extent, arbitrary—how else could cultural taste be improved? (a bold stance that seems to pull the rug from under the critical status quo; however, academic reforms initiated by KEN members in 1777 had already begun the expulsion of aristotelianism for the sake of rationalism).(79)  The definitive arbiter seems to be reason, which alone is qualified to decide when and if it is justified to take liberties with accepted.  Still further in the letter, we learn of the value of conferences, where learning is displayed and critical opinions exchanged, for the purification of taste; a good critic is a sociable one.

List o guście includes one long note containing a wealth of literary-critical remarks.  It is as though the metacritical observations and theoretical questions seemed to Szymanowski more urgent, overshadowing the criticism, which—in need of an outlet—was relegated to an inconspicuous place, gaining markedly casual diction.  Moreover, the plan laid out seems to be deliberately cut short when Szymanowski declares:

If I would want to expound the matter undertaken in one letter only, I would apparently abuse Your patience as well as wear out Your precious time, whose every moment You long to sacrifice to essential public service.  The further fabric of my thoughts concerning the second point: in what way is taste improved and spoiled? I will at a freer time for both myself and Yourself have the honor to send.(80)

Necessitating this abrupt conclusion and the stated deferral of reflections to another, more convenient opportunity is presumably Piramowicz’s taxing status within the discursive milieu, which would render inappropriate a colleague’s excessive demands on his time. 

In his second letter (written before the publication of the first), Szymanowski takes up, as pledged, the thread of his previous epistle by returning to the discussion of taste.  The opening of this letter reveals that the publication of the first part prompted and “encouraged” its author to finish his reflection.(81)  But to think of this critical, formal yet personal letter as an improvisation that midway runs out of steam—only to be resumed because of external stimuli—as a failed assay at literary-critical reflection would be to miss the point not just about its confirmed intellectual value, but about the dynamic, transformative nature of genre life itself.  In its accretion of dimensions (metacritical, theoretical, critical) and generic ambiguity, two characteristics of the emergent discourse can be discerned: its formal “lawlessness” and, more importantly, its liminal place between “Literature” and “all other writing.”  List o guście is written in a free and elegant style.  It concludes with a straight rhetorical question: “I do not know what rank to give us, but if diligence was always bolstered by just respect, wherefore could we not rise to the radiant South?”(82)  Despite, or maybe because of its idiosyncrasies, List o guście presents the subtleties of expressing critical judgment on contemporary works better perhaps than any of the other texts here analyzed.


F. N. Golański’s O wymowie i poezji [On Elocution and Poetry] (Warsaw, 1786) (83)

The length of this and the final text analyzed substantially exceeds that of the previous three.  I discuss them in broader terms, without the same, detailed attention given to the others.

Golański’s work has been credited with being “the first full outline of literary doctrine in the Polish Enlightenment” (this accomplishment was recognized with a Merentibus medal by the king).(84)  Although it was intended as a textbook for the reformed school system, it clearly had “higher aspirations.”(85)  The work is a theoretical-critical treatise—generically traditional, combining poetics with rhetoric.  It is divided into two main parts—the first being “On Elocution,” the second “On Poetry”—and into multiple smaller sections: “The Origin and Aim of Poetry,” “Poetic Style,” and “Division of Poetry” (with further subdivisions named after the genre discussed therein: epigrams, satires, odes, hymns, idylls, dramatic poetry, tragedy, comedy, heroic poem, and didactic poetry).  The divisions create the impression of a high level of textual and conceptual organization.  To what extent these and other formal features can be attributed to Golański’s professional academic career, I am not able to decide.  In the following discussion, I naturally focus on the second part concerned with poetry. 

“On Poetry” begins with a motto from Cicero’s De oratore.  This citation is only the first of many dozen, be they extensive fragments of ancient and contemporary literature(86) or quotations from Golański’s Polish contemporaries—Joachim Litawor Chreptowicz, Konarski, Krasicki, Rzewuski, and Szymanowski.  As in the other texts, allusions to ancient literary-theoretical works abound (the main being Aristotle’s and Horace’s).  The move to openly valorize the scholarship of contemporaries (and thus building a network of intellectual reciprocity and collaboration) in addition to that of the French cannot be underestimated.  Of the latter, Golański relied on works by French contemporaries Charles Batteux (aesthetic philosopher) and Jean François Marmontel (literary critic and writer).  Apart from the customary normative language, mainstream arguments, and their substantiation by historical examples, large parts of Golański’s discussion of individual genres are plot-driven (to the point of creating separate subsections to summarize the action in the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid).  A noteworthy element is his inclusion of “Scholars’ Opinion concerning Homer and Virgil,” where he relates the dispute over the merits of the two poets, and takes Homer’s side (though he does not identify the sides or figures of the debate, perhaps taking this for granted).  In the final analysis, however, the merit of Golański’s work is not its generic status of an outline, but the degree of clarity, systematization, and sustained erudition (as exemplified by the range of his references) that he brings to the topic of literary genre distinctions.


F. K. Dmochowski’s Sztuka rymotwórcza.  Poema we czterech pieśniach [The Art of Rhyming: A Poem in Four Cantos] ( Warsaw , 1788)(87)

Dmochowski has been described as the “patron of pseudoclassicist form-polishing.”(88)  It is not surprising then, that his own writings would evince attention to form greater than many of his contemporaries’.  Sztuka rymotwórcza is one of a few works of eighteenth-century Polish literary reflection(89) composed in verse (another is Rzewuski’s)—which in and of itself was not innovative, but rooted in the French classicist tradition of versified treatises.  Dmochowski’s critical debut, however—known as List Sandomierzanki do Podolanki [Letter from a Female Citizen of Sandomierz to One of Podole] (Cracow, 1784)—initiated what was to be the first polemic in the history of Polish literary criticism.(90)  This letter makes plain that Dmochowski would have quarreled with the metaphysics of the German Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700-66) and other prominent classicists, who credited the ancients with exhausting the truth about human nature and art.(91)  Dmochowski’s position entailed a disregard for normativity in critical judgment, while the heart of his aesthetic theory rested on ethics.(92)  The classicism propounded by Dmochowski belonged to the second wave of Polish classicism (the first being that of the “precursors”).  Whatever normativity rears itself in Sztuka rymotwórcza (and the work has been condemned for it by supporters of “pure,” i.e., speculative literary theory), it is the result of its author’s intimate connection to literary practice—a fact to which the work owes its valuable generalizations without straying into speculation via the “idealist tendencies hidden in its philosophical underpinnings.”(93)  Pietraszko, in his attempt to explain the genesis of Sztuka rymotwórcza through a broad set of factors (sociological, political, biographical), identifies the mnemotechnical character of verse—therefore the superiority of the didactic poem over the prose textbook—one reason for Dmochowski’s choice of form.  Dmochowski’s prefatory homage to Horace’s Ars poetica (a work whose authority at the time was extreme) takes the following form: “Horace, a man of great wit, deliberately seems to feign disorder, and as a poet to poets speaks.”(94)  This was obviously also Dmochowski’s intention—given, too, his creative aspirations during the writing of Sztuka rymotwórcza.

The preface to Sztuka rymotwórcza is written in prose and follows a versified dedication of the work to the king.  The main feature of the dedication and preface is the articulation of intent couched in praise and gratitude to the monarch and humility (and Dmochowski’s is an exceptionally humble tone) towards the general readership.  Giving us clues to the generic affiliation of the text—the normative, philosophical-theoretical treatise—are several lines that stand out in the dedication:

I wanted a picture of their art honest
To ensue and cast laws all its own.
Everything must fit in some design,
What blindly rushes, must be bad.
Philosophers have their precepts,
As do orators, as do poets.

and further on, “If I have not matched my model / I am not ashamed to fail with good intentions.”(95)  In the preface, Dmochowski elaborates on his motives and intentions, striking apologetic notes:

Indeed, I will perhaps appear overbold to some, but no matter, as long as I am fortunate to complete my intention. . . . I sought therefore a matter untreated by our native pens . . . This work is neither solely translation, nor does it not claim originality.  Spurred by reading works on the art of rhyming, particularly Horace and Despréaux [Boileau], I wanted to enrich our tongue with like. . . . I will congratulate myself greatly if I find favor with a sensible reader.”(96) 

Dmochowski lists his predecessors in the line of poetics, whose works he undoubtedly considered models for the work under way (among them Alexander Pope, glossed as “English poet”).  Each then receives a sentence explaining which of their qualities he appreciated most.  The layering of the dedication and preface acts as a kind of buffer against potential criticism—though how genuine a concern this was, it is difficult to gauge.  Pietraszko tells us that Sztuka rymotwórcza “had the misfortune of having more critics than readers”—critics who accused its author of reinforcing French taste, generic rigidity, compartmentalization, and classicist dogmatism.(97)  On the other hand, the text had considerable acceptance among educators, lasting well into the nineteenth century and even afterwards, disseminated in extracts and used as a textbook on Polish literary history.(98)

What, however, of the genre of Dmochowski’s work?  Pietraszko makes a case for Sztuka rymotwórcza being a didactic poem—of the descriptive variety, including textual “applications” of the principles of poetry:

Sztuka rymotwórcza is a poetics, belongs to the theory of literature, but we should not forget that it itself is a poetic work [obeying principles of lyric poetry].  This freed the author from many responsibilities commonly imposed by the scholarly treatise.  Thus, Dmochowski had the right to dodge strict definitions, which he anyhow did not like in nonpoetic writing. . . . Its construction depends on the didactic subject, whose line of reasoning defines the order of the content.  This subject’s monologue approached in principle the art of oratory, and owed much to rhetoric in its means of expression.  The artistry of . . . in essence came down precisely to rhetorical means, to repetitions, metaphors, and less so to the vividness of the word.  One is struck by the excess of abstraction—and soon reminded, that this is a poem professing the principles of classicist aesthetics.(99)

The use of a verse dedication and a prose preface is understandable in light of the social structure of producing and circulating a learned work: the audience had to be coaxed into deigning to peruse.  Pietraszko believes that the royal address was also a form of flattery.  The inferior tone and a preemptive (somewhat cheerful) apology for potential failure is part affectation, part genuine concern—part and parcel of the writerly rituals of patronage.

Once the formalities, or pleasures, of tribute are over, the text takes on a much bolder tone, continuing to address the reader in the broadest sense.  It consists (as the detailed table of contents, titled “Content of the Matter” indicates) of five cantos.  The first is devoted to general introductions of intent, talent, rhyme, the limits and excesses of fiction, ornamentation, specificity, variety, stylistic refinement, poetic “harmony,” word-choice, clarity, improvement, but most significantly: a critical literary history of Poland “up to our time,” as well as sections on “The Need for Criticism” and “The Character of a Favorable and Sensible Critic.”  The second and third cantos deal with individual genres (pastoral, elegy, ode, epigram, satire, fable, tragedy and comedy).  The fourth canto contains a collection of “Remarks Concerning Poetry and Poets”: a combination of thoughts on writing and the value of literature, advice on competent critical evaluation (“Art of Judging and Choosing between Older and Later Authors”) and warnings of critical ineptitude (“The Reward Merciless Critics Deserve”).  The work ends with a section titled “Closing of the Work.”  It seems an oversight that the headings are only given in the contents pages—making orientation in the main text less that ideal. 

The section titles and the overarching themes indicate that Sztuka rymotwórcza still largely belongs to the poetics tradition, albeit with some considerable modifications of material and voice.  It inadvertently supports classicist aesthetics and literary realism, but (as Pietraszko points out) the “metaphysical categories” of the day (concessions made to irrationalism and subjectivism), make it blind to its inner irreconcilables, such as that between the concrete and the general, form and content.(100)  Sztuka rymotwórcza is made for a Polish audience, drawing on and expanding knowledge of national literature.  Its tone is often flat, its evaluations panegyrical and, in this sense, bordering on the subjective and the sentimental, also, at times (as the borrowings from Boileau’s system of literary genres suggest) somewhat rigid, relying too persistently on binary oppositions, disposed to listing and glossing for breadth’s sake.  Dmochowski’s discussion revolves around Polish authors, assays general conclusions about the state of literature in particular periods, and even trying to theorize it.  “The original character of Dmochowski’s poetics expressed itself . . . in the exchange of foreign literary examples for Polish ones, but above all in the new content of borrowed traditional terms and judgments”(101) like genius/wit (dowcip), reason, nature (and imitation), taste.  The text, Pietraszko notes, exhibits a tendency “to rise to the level of the best literary prose of his day” (modeled after Krasicki); it is a refined Polish, not of the courtly variety, but the disciplined Polish of the Piarist libraries—many archaic words and expressions are said to have been used in this text for the very last time.(102)

Although over 25 years apart, Dmochowski’s formulations have their analogues in Rzewuski’s text.  They have frequently been paired on the generic level, with Dmochowski’s text remaining the better known.  Horace and Boileau figure as major sources of ideas in both works.  Both texts rarely depart from the explicitly normative in their view of literature.  Rzewuski’s criticism is oriented toward a popular view of literature (poems should be short, so as not to tire the reader, and dulce, in keeping with the placid disposition of poetic art; drama is well-written when it jerks tears from the audience).  A classicist conceit such as the invocation of the Muses, present in Rzewuski’s work, is absent from Dmochowski’s.  Compared to O nauce wierszopiskiej, the verse of Sztuka rymotwórcza is crude and uneven; its greater merits lie in its comprehensive historical survey of native literature.


Circa 1772?

My interest, as my title suggested, lay in criticism “circa 1772.”  Although the date and thereabouts are well known to many readers, I owe a brief explanation to those unfamiliar with Polish political or sociocultural history.  1772, a dramatic turning point for politics in the region, was the date of Poland ’s first partition by neighbors Austria , Prussia , and Russia .  Some will also recall that the next year, 1773, marked a major educational reform—the foundation of the Komisja Edukacji Narodowej (KEN), Commission of National Education, enjoying full autonomy and the king’s patronage, and considered to be de facto the world’s first ministry of education.  KEN was designed as an alternative to the Jesuit-controlled system of education.(103)  It introduced Polish as the language of instruction in its schools and promoted contemporary Polish writing.  Although, in KEN schools, literature lacked full autonomy as a subject of instruction, it did become a prime subject of critical reflection.(104)

In 1775, the Towarzystwo do Ksiąg Elementarnych, Society for Elementary Books—set up by KEN to oversee the preparation of programs and textbooks for the reformed schools, and later the entire school system—announced a contest for a new textbook on rhetoric and poetics to be used in the new school system.  The winner was the Society’s secretary, Piramowicz’s already-mentioned Wymowa i poezja dla szkół narodowych; one of the losers was Franciszek Karpiński’s (1741-1825) notable O wymowie w prozie albo wierszu [On Elocution in Prose or Verse] (Warsaw, 1782).  Rehashing a traditional formula to serve new aesthetic ideas and a new audience was not necessarily reactionary or generically anachronistic (the blight of literary reformers were the older, primitive technical primers on rhetoric).  Just a decade earlier the opening of the public National Theatre in Warsaw created the demand for reviewing theatre productions.  The success of a seminal literary periodical Monitor, espousing a new, Enlightenment ideology, galvanized the periodical press.  Publishing was supported by the Towarzystwo Literatów w Polszcze Ustanowione, Society of Literati in Poland Established, which, with funding from the king, subsidized Polish authors and imported foreign publications.  Biblioteka Załuskich (the Załuski Library) in Warsaw, which opened in 1747 as one of the first public libraries in the world and one of the largest in Europe, was nationalized in 1774 and entrusted to KEN.  The formation of these new institutions of literary life in Poland—a modern patronage system and periodical press, a national public stage and library, a centralized authority on all matters of education, a society to oversee the production and implementation of standard textbooks to streamline educational reforms—became the backdrop for the institutionalization of literary criticism.  The cultural and political elite’s concerted efforts to educate the next generation of citizens nurtured a “public sphere” receptive to critical intervention in its thriving relationship with reading.

One of the Polish Enlightenment’s “communicational situations” sketched by Kostkiewiczowa was the reconceptualization of readership’s relationship to writing as a communion with “autonomous cultural value.”(105)  She noticed a sociocultural shift, in the mid-1770s, stemming from increased readership and individualized intellectual needs, and accompanied by new demands on literature: that it function as a diagnostic tool and “recognize the progressive tendencies of society.”(106)  The relationship between reader and text was democratized, “creativity appear[ed] as an offer directed at the reading public” now “increasingly released from functionalism and utilitarianism,” and regarding the text as the currency of intellectual participation.(107)  This went hand-in-hand with (and was a reflection of) the reading public’s “activisation” in the political sphere and its interest in journalism.(108)  Kostkiewiczowa adds in passing:

It seems that only in the sphere of such a communicational situation could authentic literary polemics be possible [ex. the polemic about Podolanka]. . . The most important issue, however, is the change happening to the status of readerly communion with writing, as if a disinterested recognition of its literariness, freed from narrowly conceived pragmatic functions.(109)

The first aspect of the shift meant that criticism, hitherto concerned with promoting and theorizing literature as such for enlightened connoisseurs, could insinuate itself between literary works and the reading public as a practical, interpretive activity focused on day-to-day evaluation of new writing.  This more publicly integrated role of literary-critical practice would only become apparent two decades later, after the disintegration of Poland as a political entity—when the nation struggled to keep alive its literature.



  1. Henryk Markiewicz, Z dziejów polskiej wiedzy o literaturze: Prace wybrane [From the Annals of Polish Literary Scholarship], vol. 6 (Kraków: Universitas, 1998) 387.  Unless otherwise noted, all translations are mine.

  2. as contrasted with theoretical in Tzvetan Todorov’s Genres in Discourse, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990).  For more on this theoretical approach see, for instance, Alastair Fowler, Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes  (Cambridge: Harvard UP/Clarendon Press, 1982).
  3. encompassing what is sometimes referred to as “external form”: prose, versification (metrical form/structure), presence rhyme, etc.

  4. Intertexts are understood in Gérard Genette’s sense: as instances of quotation, plagiarism, allusion that do not need to be intentional.  See Gérard Genette, Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, trans. Claude Daubinsky and Channa Newman (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998).  The term paratext is from Genette’s Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997).

  5. Mikhail Bakhtin, “The Problem of Speech Genres,” Modern Genre Theory, ed. David Duff (Essex: Pearson Education Ltd., 2000) 92-95.  The character of addressivity (and expressivity) varies in literary-critical genres: in this respect, the treatise with a formal dedication and the semi-/informal, personal published letter lie at the opposite ends of the spectrum.  Like the remaining parameters, addressivity figures into the overall plan of the utterance: it, too, affects the process of selection and combination of textual units.  It can be legible or hardly at all, depending on one’s knowledge of the context of an utterance.

  6. See Henryk Markiewicz, Główne problemy wiedzy o literaturze [Main Problems of Literary Scholarship] (Kraków, 1965).

  7. Charles Bazerman, “Systems of Genres and the Enactment of Social Intentions,” Genre and the New Rhetoric, eds. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway (London: Bristol PA: Taylor & Francis, 1994) 88, 96.

  8. For an orthodox critique and undoing of this attribution see Gérard Genette’s The Architext: An Introduction, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Berkeley: U of California P, 1992).

  9. Bazerman 99.

  10. Such transformative power not only inheres in located discursive practice (that is, in the enactment of a discourse in local circumstances), but also in the dynamic interaction between environments of discursive and quasi- or non-discursive activity.

  11. Wacław Rzewuski, “O nauce wierszopiskiej,” Oświeceni o literaturze: Wypowiedzi pisarzy polskich 1740-1800, eds. Teresa Kostkiewiczowa and Zbigniew Goliński (Warszawa: PWN, 1993) 59-67.

  12. That he was still working within the older model finds supports in Rzewuski’s simultaneous publication of O nauce krasomówskiej [On Rhetoric].  The normative character of O nauce wierszopiskiej is easily gleaned from the syntax, like the frequency of imperative forms, e.g., the anaphoric occurrence of niech (let).

  13. Bazerman 88.

  14. I am drawing on Fowler’s concept of generic modulation: a generic mixture that is not yet a hybrid, where one of the genres is “only a modal abstraction with a token repertoire,” Fowler 191.  The phenomenon of modulation is, in Fowler’s opinion, more common than hybridization proper.  He observes: “Modulation is so frequent that we might expect it progressively to loosen the genres altogether, mingling them into a single literary amalgam”; in reality, however, the generic components remain “somewhat discrete” and distinguishable, 191.

  15. Jadwiga Ziętarska, O metodzie krytyki literackiej w dobie oświecenia [On the Enlightenment Method of Literary Criticism] (Warszawa: WUW, 1981) 107.

  16. Ziętarska 108.

  17. Wymowa encompassed not just oratory but prose in general, Zdzisław Libera, Problemy polskiego Oświecenia: Kultura i styl [Problems of the Polish Enlightenment: Culture and Style] (Warszawa: PWN, 1969) 100.

  18. The text was written in 1783 for a national textbook competition.  The first part (on elocution) was eventually published in 1792, the second, on poetry, not until 1815.  Thus, the circulation of Piramowicz’s text in the KEN school system was limited, Zdzisław Libera, Wiek Oświecony: Studia i szkice z dziejów literatury i kultury polskiej XVIII i początków XIX wieku [The Age of Enlightenment: Studies and Sketches from the History of Polish Literature and Culture of the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries] (Warszawa: PIW, 1986) 98.

  19. Ziętarska 109.

  20. Ziętarska 106.

  21. Teresa Kostkiewiczowa, “Myśl literacka polskiego oświecenia” [The Literary Thought of the Polish Enlightenment], Oświeceni o literaturze: Wypowiedzi pisarzy polskich 1740-1800 [The Enlightenment on Literature: Statements by Polish Writers, 1740-1800], eds. T. Kostkiewiczowa and Z. Goliński (Warszawa: PWN, 1993) 7.

  22. Elżbieta Sarnowska-Temeriusz, “Krytyka literacka w Polsce w XVI i XVII wieku (część I),” Krytyka literacka w Polsce w XVI i XVII wieku oraz w epoce oświecenia [Literary Criticism in Poland in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century, and in the Age of Enlightenment], by E. Sarnowska-Temeriusz and T. Kostkiewiczowa (Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1990) 16.

  23. Sarnowska-Temeriusz, “Krytyka literacka” 19.

  24. Sarnowska-Temeriusz, “Krytyka literacka” 20.

  25. Teresa Kostkiewiczowa, “Rozważania o kulturze literackiej czasów stanisławowskich” [Deliberations on Literary Culture under Stanislaus], Problemy kultury literackiej polskiego Oświecenia: Studia [Problems of Polish literary culture in the Enlightenment], ed. T. Kostkiewiczowa (Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich—Wydawnictwo “Ossolineum,” 1978) 11.

  26. Kostkiewiczowa, “Rozważania” 12.

  27. To take one manifestation of this process (though not an exemplary one), a project of a literary-critical periodical towards the end of the 1770s, conceived by those grouped around A. K. Czartoryski, involved an institutional backdrop in the form of the Towarzystwo Krytyczne [Critical Society].  Its program was: providing critical opinion about authors, in order to “educate its readers, so that they could make the appropriate choice of readings,” Danuta Hombek, Prasa i czasopisma polskie w XVIII wieku w perspektywie bibliologicznej [The Polish Press and Periodicals in the Eighteenth Century in a Bibliological Perspective] (Kraków: Universitas, 2001) 291.

  28. Sarnowska-Temeriusz, “Krytyka literacka” 16.

  29. Henryk Markiewicz, Dopowiedzenia: Rozprawy i szkice z wiedzy o literaturze [Addenda: Theses and Sketches from the Study of Literature] (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2000) 103.

  30. with the stated omission of unconventional descriptors, apparently devoid of generic characteristics, Markiewicz, Dopowiedzenia 109.

  31. Markiewicz, Dopowiedzenia 106.

  32. Markiewicz, Dopowiedzenia 106.

  33. Markiewicz, Dopowiedzenia 108.

  34. Markiewicz, Dopowiedzenia 109.

  35. Markiewicz, Dopowiedzenia 110-11.

  36. Markiewicz, Dopowiedzenia 111.

  37. Kostkiewiczowa, “Myśl literacka” 9.

  38. This Warsaw-based periodical was modeled after the immensely popular British periodical Spectator (published in 1711-14).  Monitor, one of many ventures by publishing mogul W. Mitzler de Kolof and became the most successful periodical of the Polish eighteenth century, surviving for nearly 21 years (1765-85), Hombek 145.  Monitor was the brainchild of the king and published articles authored by literati with access to the court. Consequently, it was the organ of neoclassicism and Wolffian rationalism, and a political ideology of pre-Jacobin, Masonic origin, Hombek 146.

  39. Kostkiewiczowa, “Myśl literacka” 9.

  40. Kostkiewiczowa, “Myśl literacka” 9.

  41. Kostkiewiczowa, “Rozważania” 10.

  42. Sarmatyzm was the exuberant culture-ideology of the Polish nobility in the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth century.

  43. Stanisław Pietraszko, Introduction, Sztuka rymotwórcza, by F. K. Dmochowski (Wrocław: Zakład im. Ossolińskich, 1956) cx-cxi.

  44. Pietraszko xlix-l.

  45. Pietraszko xlix-lii.

  46. Pietraszko cix.

  47. Pietraszko liii.

  48. Pietraszko liv.

  49. Józef Aleksander Jabłonowski, “Opisanie albo dysertacja pierwsza prawie o wierszach i wierszopiscach polskich wszystkich,” Oświeceni o literaturze: Wypowiedzi pisarzy polskich 1740-1800, eds. T. Kostkiewiczowa and Z. Goliński (Warszawa: PWN, 1993) 56-58.

  50. Jabłonowski 57.

  51. Kostkiewiczowa, “Myśl literacka” 15.

  52. Adam Kazimierz Czartoryski, “Przedmowa do Panny na wydaniu,” Oświeceni o literaturze: Wypowiedzi pisarzy polskich 1740-1800, eds. Teresa Kostkiewiczowa and Zbigniew Goliński (Warszawa: PWN, 1993) 92-114.

  53. Czartoryski 95, 96, 102, 103, 108.  Jan Kochanowski was Poland’s foremost Renaissance humanist poet.

  54. Czartoryski 107.

  55. Czartoryski 102, 105.

  56. Czartoryski 109.

  57. Czartoryski 114.

  58. A look at Czartoryski’s other critical writings gives the impression that he liked to experiment with different forms.  His “Preface to Coffee”—a self-penned comedy—takes is a letter dedicated to his friend Józef Szymanowski.  It opens with the salutation “Beloved Friend” and continues throughout to address him in the informal second person.

  59. Czartoryski 107.

  60. Czartoryski 108.

  61. Czartoryski 106.

  62. Czartoryski 112.

  63. Czartoryski 114.  The word “letter” is not used in its generic indication of “epistle,” or list.

  64. Czartoryski 102-103.

  65. Czartoryski 92.

  66. Józef Szymanowski, “List o guście, czyli smaku,” Oświeceni o literaturze: Wypowiedzi pisarzy polskich 1740-1800, eds. Teresa Kostkiewiczowa and Zbigniew Goliński (Warszawa: PWN, 1993) 164-71.

  67. Szymanowski 168, editor’s note 6.

  68. Kostkiewiczowa, “Myśl literacka” 9.

  69. Szymanowski 164, editor’s note 1.

  70. Szymanowski 165.

  71. Szymanowski 165.  The other instance ends the body of the text, on page 168.

  72. Szymanowski 165.

  73. Czartoryski 109.

  74. Szymanowski 168.

  75. Szymanowski 164, editor’s note 1.

  76. Szymanowski 169.

  77. Szymanowski 169.

  78. Szymanowski 169-70.

  79. Szymanowski 169-70.

  80. Szymanowski 167-68.

  81. Szymanowski 168.

  82. Szymanowski 171.

  83. Filip Neriusz Golański, “O wymowie i poezji,” Oświeceni o literaturze: Wypowiedzi pisarzy polskich 1740-1800, eds. Teresa Kostkiewiczowa and Zbigniew Goliński (Warszawa: PWN, 1993) 221-355.  I am working with the second, 1788 edition, pblished in Vilnius.  The first edition was published in Warsaw only two years earlier.

  84. See introductory note to Golański’s text, Oświeceni o literaturze: Wypowiedzi pisarzy polskich 1740-1800, eds. Teresa Kostkiewiczowa and Zbigniew Goliński (Warszawa: PWN, 1993) 220.

  85. Stanisław Pietraszko, Doktryna literacka polskiego klasycyzmu [The Literary Doctrine of Polish Classicism] (Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1966) 18.

  86. Of Polish authors, he cites or alludes to: Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski (1595-1640, poet and literary theorist credited with devising the literary program of the Baroque, and writing in Latin), Kochanowski, contemporary dramatist Józef Wybicki, poets Marcin Eysymont and Naruszewicz, and Franciszek Karpiński (in his capacity as literary writer).  He also exhibits knowledge of contemporary French and Spanish drama.

  87. Franciszek Ksawery Dmochowski, Sztuka rymotwórcza (Wrocław: Zakład im. Ossolińskich, 1956).  The text saw two editions in just its first year of publication.

  88. Pietraszko xxiv.  Pseudoclassicism is another term for the post-Stanislaus continuation of Polish classicism.

  89. Kostkiewiczowa notes that it “combined a lecture on literary doctrine . . . with a sketch of a program of development for national letters and elements of up-to-date literary criticism,” “Myśl literacka” 8.

  90. Pietraszko xxiv.

  91. Pietraszko xxxiii.

  92. Pietraszko xl.

  93. Pietraszko clv.

  94. Dmochowski 360.

  95. Dmochowski 358-59.

  96. Dmochowski 359.

  97. Pietraszko clvi-clvii.

  98. Pietraszko clviii.

  99. Pietraszko cxlviii-cl.

  100. Pietraszko cxx.

  101. Pietraszko cxvi, emphasis mine.

  102. Pietraszko cl-cli.

  103. The Jesuit order, since the 1750s persecuted throughout most of the European continent, was officially suppressed in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV.

  104. Libera, Wiek Oświecony 89.

  105. Kostkiewiczowa, “Rozważania” 16.

  106. Kostkiewiczowa, “Rozważania” 25.

  107. Kostkiewiczowa, “Rozważania” 26.

  108. Kostkiewiczowa, “Rozważania” 30.

  109. Kostkiewiczowa, “Rozważania” 26.

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