1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lelewel, Joachim

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LELEWEL, JOACHIM (1786-1861), Polish historian, geographer and numismatist, was born at Warsaw on the 22nd of March 1786. His family came from Prussia in the early part of the 18th century; his grandfather was appointed physician to the reigning king of Poland, and his father caused himself to be naturalized as a Polish citizen. The original form of the name appears to have been Lölhöffel. Joachim was educated at the university of Vilna, and became in 1807 a teacher in a school at Krzemieniec in Volhynia, in 1814 teacher of history at Vilna, and in 1818 professor and librarian at the university of Warsaw. He returned to Vilna in 1821. His lectures enjoyed great popularity, and enthusiasm felt for him by the students is shown in the beautiful lines addressed to him by Mickiewicz. But this very circumstance made him obnoxious to the Russian government, and at Vilna Novosiltsev was then all-powerful. Lelewel was removed from his professorship in 1824, and returned to Warsaw, where he was elected a deputy to the diet in 1829. He joined the revolutionary movement with more enthusiasm than energy, and though the emperor Nicholas I. distinguished him as one of the most dangerous rebels, did not appear to advantage as a man of action. On the suppression of the rebellion he made his way in disguise to Germany, and subsequently reached Paris in 1831. The government of Louis Philippe ordered him to quit French territory in 1833 at the request of the Russian ambassador. The cause of this expulsion is said to have been his activity in writing revolutionary proclamations. He went to Brussels, where for nearly thirty years he earned a scanty livelihood by his writings. He died on the 29th of May 1861 in Paris, whither he had removed a few days previously.

Lelewel, a man of austere character, simple tastes and the loftiest conception of honour, was a lover of learning for its own sake. His literary activity was enormous, extending from his Edda Skandinawska (1807) to his Géographie des Arabes (2 vols., Paris, 1851). One of his most important publications was La Géographie du moyen âge (5 vols., Brussels, 1852-1857), with an atlas (1849) of plates entirely engraved by himself, for he rightly attached such importance to the accuracy of his maps that he would not allow them to be executed by any one else. His works on Polish history are based on minute and critical study of the documents; they were collected under the title Polska, dzieje i rzeczy jej rozpatrzywane (Poland, her History and Affairs surveyed), in 20 vols. (Posen, 1853-1876). He intended to write a complete history of Poland on an extensive scale, but never accomplished the task. His method is shown in the little history of Poland, first published at Warsaw in Polish in 1823, under the title Dzieje Polski, and afterwards almost rewritten in the Histoire de Pologne (2 vols., Paris, 1844). Other works on Polish history which may be especially mentioned are La Pologne au moyen âge (3 vols., Posen, 1846-1851), an edition of the Chronicle of Matthew Cholewa[1] (1811) and Ancient Memorials of Polish Legislation (Ksiegi ustaw polskich i mazowieckich). He also wrote on the trade of Carthage, on Pytheas of Marseilles, the geographer, and two important works on numismatics (La Numismatique du moyen âge, Paris, 2 vols., 1835; Études numismatiques, Brussels, 1840). While employed in the university library of Warsaw he studied bibliography, and the fruits of his labours may be seen in his Bibliograficznych Ksiag dwoje (A Couple of Books on Bibliography) (2 vols., Vilna, 1823-1826). The characteristics of Lelewel as an historian are great research and power to draw inferences from his facts; his style is too often careless, and his narrative is not picturesque, but his expressions are frequently terse and incisive.

He left valuable materials for a just comprehension of his career

in the autobiography (Adventures while Prosecuting Researches and

Inquiries on Polish Matters) printed in his Polska.

  1. I.e. the three first books of the Historia Polonica of Vincentius (Kadlbek), bishop of Cracow (d. 1223), wrongly ascribed by Lelewel to Matthaeus Cholewa, bishop of Cracow. See Potthast, Bibliotheca hist. med. aev., s.v. “Vincentius.”