1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kollontaj, Hugo

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KOLLONTAJ, HUGO (1750–1812), Polish politician and writer, was born in 1750 at Niecislawice in Sandomir, and educated at Pinczow and Cracow. After taking orders he went (1770) to Rome, where he obtained the degree of doctor of theology and common law, and devoted himself enthusiastically to the study of the fine arts, especially of architecture and painting. At Rome too he obtained a canonry attached to Cracow cathedral, and on his return to Poland in 1755 threw himself heart and soul into the question of educational reform. His efforts were impeded by the obstruction of the clergy of Cracow, who regarded him as an adventurer; but he succeeded in reforming the university after his own mind, and was its rector for three years (1782–1785). Kollontaj next turned his attention to politics. In 1786 he was appointed referendarius of Lithuania, and during the Four Years’ Diet (1788–1792) displayed an amazing and many-sided activity as one of the reformers of the constitution. He grouped around him all the leading writers, publicists and progressive young men of the day; declaimed against prejudices; stimulated the timid; inspired the lukewarm with enthusiasm; and never rested till the constitution of the 3rd of May 1791 had been carried through. In June 1791 Kollontaj was appointed vice-chancellor. On the triumph of the reactionaries and the fall of the national party, he secretly placed in the king’s hands his adhesion to the triumphant Confederation of Targowica, a false step, much blamed at the time, but due not to personal ambition but to a desire to save something from the wreck of the constitution. He then emigrated to Dresden. On the outbreak of Kosciuszko’s insurrection he returned to Poland, and as member of the national government and minister of finance took a leading part in affairs. But his radicalism had now become of a disruptive quality, and he quarrelled with and even thwarted Kosciuszko because the dictator would not admit that the Polish republic could only be saved by the methods of Jacobinism. On the other hand, the more conservative section of the Poles regarded Kollontaj as “a second Robespierre,” and he is even suspected of complicity in the outrages of the 17th and 18th of June 1794, when the Warsaw mob massacred the political prisoners. On the collapse of the insurrection Kollontaj emigrated to Austria, where from 1795 to 1802 he was detained as a prisoner. He was finally released through the mediation of Prince Adam Czartoryski, and returned to Poland utterly discredited. The remainder of his life was a ceaseless struggle against privation and prejudice. He died at Warsaw on the 28th of February 1812.

Of his numerous works the most notable are: Political Speeches as Vice-Chancellor (Pol.) (in 6 vols., Warsaw, 1791); On the Erection and Fall of the Constitution of May (Pol.) (Leipzig, 1793; Paris, 1868); Correspondence with T. Czacki (Pol.) (Cracow, 1854); Letters written during Emigration, 1792–1794 (Pol.) (Posen, 1872).

See Ignacz Badeni, Necrology of Hugo Kollontaj (Pol.) (Cracow, 1819); Henryk Schmitt, Review of the Life and Works of Kollontaj (Pol.) (Lemberg, 1860); Wojciek Grochowski, “Life of Kollontaj” (Pol.) in Tygod Illus. (Warsaw, 1861).  (R. N. B.)