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NEW IRELAND REVIEW.
THE SAVING OF A NATION'S LANGUAGE.
OHEMIA has been, through the course of its history, a
battle ground for rival causes. In the first stages of the struggle between Celt and Teuton the Boii and the Marcomanni represented the contending races on the Bohemian plains. Later, when the Slavs strove for a footing in Western Europe, Bohemia was one of their most important conquests. And the land thus secured they have held tenaciously ever since. Not, indeed, without many a fierce struggle with Frank and German, but with eventual success in every conflict. For a thousand years Bohemia has been portion of the empire of which it still forms a part. But it has ever stoutly maintained its distinctively national character, and Franz Josef receives the homage of his subjects in Prague, not as Emperor of Austria, but as King of Bohemia.
In the religious struggles of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Bohemia was one of the fields of fiercest conflict. The outbreak of the Hussites may be said to have inaugurated the wars of the Reformation period; the incident which led immediately to the Thirty Years' War is said to have occurred in the Council Chamber of the Rathhaus of Prague. But amid the changing issues which divided the Bohemians in these quarrels the sentiment of a common nationality remained a common passion. This vigorous national feeling is still a heritage of the Bohemian people. It consecrates, in the eyes of the modern Bohemian, every historic personage in whose deeds it recognises an expression of itself.
VOL. XVIII.-No. 2.
This community of national sentiment explains much which, to the stranger, would, at first sight, appear incongruous and inconsistent. At the present time a Workman's Exhibition is one of the attractions of the Bohemian capital. The socialistic notions current among certain sections of the working classes have set their seal upon this display of industrial products. Side by side with the drawingroom of the man of wealth, furnished with the most exquisite creations of the cabinetmaker's art, is exhibited the garret in which the worker lives who has created those things of beauty. The contrast speaks for itself; there is no need of a cicerone to explain what it signifies. But more prominent than these manifestations of the new ideas which are simmering in the minds of the masses is the evidence of their devotion to the national traditions. The favourite subjects selected by the artists are scenes from the stories of Huss and Zizka. And the ardent Catholic will explain to you with pride what are the feats of arms which the crude efforts of the painters have endeavoured to portray. Here you have a picture of the defence of the Zizka Berg—that hill within half a mile of you—by the peasant army, which the Hussite General commanded. The helmeted figures represent the soldiers of the Emperor Sigismund, flying in panic haste to seek shelter behind the ramparts of Prague, and the civilians pursuing-men and women-are the soldiers of Zizka, armed with the club studded with nails against which lance and sword are of no avail. And here again you have a picture of the peasant army preparing for a pitched battle. You have the lager formed of heavy ox-waggons, after the manner which has become so familiar to us in the history of South African wars ; you have the crowd of peasant soldiers inside, the blind general in their midst listening to the report given him by his staff of the movements of the Emperor's troops, and issuing bis instructions accordingly. And then you have the vain assault upon the ram part of waggons, the favourable moment seized to burst forth from the circle of defence upon the weakest point of the assailing forces, and victory declaring itself for the peasant army. All this will be explained to you by the devout Catholic with an enthusiasm which, bestowed upon Zizka and his followers, might seem strangely misplaced. If you visit now the "panorama” which is exhibited in a hall beside the lofty tower which crowns the hill above the palace of the
Bohemian Kings, and if your cicerone is still the same, you will find that the sympathy which went out so readily to the Hussites is now as freely bestowed upon the soldiers of another cause under another leader. The scene before you represents the bridge which spans the Moldau at the foot of the hill on which you stand. The Swedish soldiers of Königsmark, who who have set fire to the portion of the town which they have already seized, are vainly striving to force the bridge. The bridge is held by the students of the University, and at their head is a Jesuit priest in tattered robes urging on the ranks of dark figures which have already closed in furious conflict with the buff-coated heretics, and are driving them back into the smoking ruins behind them. As you listen to your guide's vivid tale of this incident-one of the last in the melancholy history of the Thirty Years' War—you will perhaps wonder that he can bestow his enthusiasm so impartially. In reality it is the same feeling which has dictated the enthusiasm in both
Zizka, though a heretic, was a Bohemian fighting against foes of another race; the Jesuit and his students resembled him in this respect. However they may have otherwise differed they had that in common which appeals irresistibly to the instincts of the Czech.
Political philosophers and social economists have found a difficulty in defining the term "nation.” That it is a community of men united to promote common material interests we may admit. But this is not a definition-it does not distinguish the “Nation” from the “State," and we all feel that there is a distinction. It would appear that the bond which unites the nation rests upon a higher basis than mere material interests, that a community of ideals is the ultimate ground to which we must trace the spirit of nationality. This seems proved by the fact that men will freely sacrifice wealth and home, and even life itself, to uphold a nationality. What the general character of these ideals is, and how they come to be formed, would be interesting matters for investigation. But we cannot discuss them here. We will merely observe that they do not depend exclusively on race, otherwise the Swiss and the Americans would not be nations. Nor are they altogether determined by the possession of a common language. The case of the Swiss is conclusive against this view. Any cause which binds the inhabitants of a definite territory into a
community which has its own distinctive ideals and interests will suffice to form a nation.'
But community of language, though not necessary to the being of a nation, is, where it exists, a potent contributory cause to this effect. In language the distinctive ideals of a people are embodied; their peculiar temperament and characteristics find expression. It is the living record of their history and traditions. It binds them to their past more vitally than any other monument, and it expresses for them, in the present, more effectually than any other agency, that in which they differ from other peoples. Where, therefore, the spirit of nationality is strong, the love of the national language and the determination to maintain it will, we may expect, manifest themselves vigorously in the people that is resolved to be, or to remain, a nation. The decay of a national language must always denote a decline of the spirit of nationality. The revival of a national spirit will bring with it a revival of the language, if the language is not dead beyond recall.
In the history of Bohemia we have a striking example of the alternate decay and regeneration of a language, following the decline and the re-awakening of national sentiment. When the country first fell under the overlordship of the German Emperor, the court and the capital of Bohemia set themselves to adopt the manners and the language of the higher powers. From the upper ranks of society Germanizing influences spread to the lower, and it seemed as if the national speech, and, with it, the distinctive nationality of the Bohemian people, were destined to extinction. But a Bohemian King, Charles IV., later Emperor as Charles I., stayed the decadence. He was a patriot, in the best sense of that term; and, by his fostering care of every interest that was distinctively Bohemian, earned from his people the title Pater Patriæ. In his time the language was lifted to a place of honour, and poets and prose writers began to create for it a literature. The movement, thus begun, received a powerful impetus in the centuries which followed. In the controversies, provoked by Huss and his followers, the appeal of the disputants, on both sides, was to the people, and the people listened most readily when addressed in their own language.
Czech came into general use, and the way was prepared for the remarkable literary activity which characterised Bohemia in the sixteenth century. But the
final overthrow of the Hussites, in 1620, left the country at the mercy of the Emperors, and they used their opportunity without scruple. The Germanizing of the Czechs became a fixed purpose of imperial policy, carried out persistently almost to our own time. Maria Theresa was one of the most drastic of the Germanizers. By an imperial decree, issued in 1774, she made German the language of the higher and middle schools of Bohemia, trusting, no doubt, that if the educated classes were German in speech they would be German in thought and sentiment, and that thus, the German influence would be dominant in Bohemia. The measures adopted by the Empress, and continued by her successors, bore their fruit. In time, German became the language of rank and respectability ; Czech was the speech of the poor and the uneducated, to speak Czech was a mark of social inferiority, and those of the better classes who could speak it were careful to conceal the accomplishment. A story is told of the effect produced, not fifty years ago, on a fashionable audience in Prague, by the intrusion of the Czech language into a public entertainment patronized by the educated classes of the city. A gentleman was set down in the programme to give a recitation, the title of which was not announced. When the performer appeared upon the platform he began his recitation in Czech. The indignation of his hearers was unbounded. The daring reciter had outraged all the canons of good taste, he had addressed a refined and cultivated assembly in the speech of the navvy and the street-porter; he had brought them down to the level of mere peasant vulgarity. They were shocked, and insulted, and all that was respectable in Prague joined in resenting the offence and in denouncing the offender.
But while respectable society thus gave itself to German speech and German ideals, a powerful influence was at work in a lower sphere to counteract the progress of Germanism. There was a sanctuary still sacred to the Czech tongue—from which no exercise of the imperial power could drive it. In the churches the clergy steadily refused to follow the University and the middle schools in adopting the German language. The catechism was taught in Czech, and the religious instruction of the people was given from the pulpit in the samé tongue. And the priests who thus stood by the old language soon carried their zeal in its cause beyond the pulpit