Bohemia's case for independence/The Relations between England and Bohemia in the Past and in the Future

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IX

 

THE RELATIONS BETWEEN ENGLAND AND BOHEMIA IN THE PAST AND IN THE FUTURE

 

Looking at the map of Europe and seeing Bohemia separated from England by hundreds of miles, by large states like Saxony, Prussia, Holland, and Belgium, and finally by a sea, we might doubt whether there could possibly exist any common interests or close and important ties between the great insular nation and Bohemia, situated right in the heart of Central Europe. And yet, in spite of these natural and almost insurmountable obstacles, we may affirm that these two countries have not only very strong common interests, but that even in the past, relations have existed between them, and that it is a matter for no surprise that the Czecho-Slovaks regard England instinctively as their natural ally against an enemy which threatens them on all sides.

The nature of these relations is of a different kind from those between France and Bohemia.

For a long time Bohemia was little known in England, in proof of which is often given the famous passage from "A Midsummer Night's Dream," in which Shakespeare placed Bohemia on a sea-shore! But the Czechs and Bohemia were spoken of in England as early as the end of the ninth century in the books of travels written by Other and Wulfstan, who described the Scandinavian, Baltic, and Germanic countries, mentioning also the Slav Bohemians. Real relations, however, between the two countries commenced only later, in the first half of the twelfth century, under the Bohemian king, Přemysl Otakar I., when the sister of the Bohemian ruler was to marry the English king, Henry III. The negotiations, however, fell through, and it was not until 1382 that Anne, the daughter of the celebrated Bohemian king, Charles IV., was betrothed to Richrad II., since when, regular mutual relations have been established. Passages relating to Bohemia and the Czechs in the Latin records of the contemporary English chroniclers testify to the fact that the country and people were by no means unknown in England. Moreover, it is asserted that many works of Chaucer were written under the auspices of Queen Anne of Bohemia, or dedicated to her. It seems that the relations between England and Bohemia which had their origin in the marriage of the daughter of Charles IV. had an unexpected influence on the whole national history of Bohemia. From this dynastic tie arose the relations between the Universities of Prague and Oxford, in consequence of which the great martyr of Bohemia, Jerome of Prague, a friend of John Hus, visited England. There he became acquainted with the works of John Wycliff, which he brought back with him to Bohemia, and put into the hands of John Hus, the famous originator of the Protestant movement in Bohemia, who thus obtained an opportunity of learning Wycliff's doctrine. These important events of the fifteenth century constituted a tie between Bohemia and England which no Czech patriot will ever forget; and if there were nothing in common between the country of Shakespeare and the country of Hus except these events, the few years of mutual influence could never be entirely ignored.

Thus the contact between the two countries acquired historical importance during the fifteenth century. Later on, when the Hussite movement assumed great political and religious importance, English writers and politicians devoted much attention to the movement in favour of religious reforms in the Czech countries. We find, for instance, the theologian and bishop, Reginald Peacock, attacking vehemently the Czech heretics in 1444; while the English statesman of the fifteenth century, Sir John Fortescue, was more moderate in his criticism. Other writers of these times (Alexander Barclay and Andrew Boorde) were very hostile to the Hussite movement. On the other hand, the learned advocate of Protestantism in England, John Foxe (1516-1587), did all in his power to make the importance of John Hus better known in England, and it is through his "Acts and Monuments," published in 1563, that Bohemia became known in England as the "Country of John Hus."

For a long time no direct relations between the two countries were established, but during the stirring period of the religious revolt of the Bohemian Estates against Ferdinand II., when the Czechs rose in arms against the treacherous Habsburgs, and elected a new king in Frederick of the Palatinate, dynastic ties again drew Bohemia nearer to England, for Frederick married Elizabeth, the daughter of James I.

During the sad period in the history of Bohemia after the Battle of the White Mountain, many Czech Protestant exiles came to England, having been expelled by the Habsburgs. But this fact left few traces in the history of the relations of Bohemia with Great Britain.

Nevertheless, we may mention one of these isolated pilgrims, who was one of the most celebrated artists of his time, and who succeeded in making the Czech name famous in England. It was the engraver and painter Hollar (Venceslas Hollarius Bohemus), an artist of the first rank, who produced a quantity of engravings after Holbein, Paolo Veronese, Titian, Teniers, Breughel, and others. Hollar came to England with the English Ambassador in Germany, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, who made his acquaintance in Germany, and with whom he often travelled. Hollar became Master of Designs to King Charles II. in 1640. Although resident in England for a long time, he never ceased to sign himself "Bohemus," always remaining attached to his native country. His engravings, portraits, and illustrations are very numerous, and were much thought of by the English critics.

There is yet another historical tie between England and Bohemia. Among the religious sects of England there is one of some importance, related to the Methodists, and called the Moravian Church. They devote themselves mostly to Christian missions, and are considered descendants of the famous Bohemian or Moravian Brethren, founded by Peter Chelčický. Thus again the Czech religious reform has influenced the religious life of England. One of the Bishops of the Moravian Brethren was the Czech paedagogue John Amos Comenius, who, like Hollar, was an exile. Samuel Hartlib, a merchant of London, took great interest in his educational and religious works. Desiring to reform English education, he invited Comenius to London. Comenius accepted the invitation and arrived in London in the critical years of 1641. The Long Parliament readily voted money for the foundation of three colleges in which the principles of Comenius might at once be applied. However, the rapid succession of events which culminated in the Civil War, prevented Comenius from further developing his purposes in England, and he consequently left for the Continent. During his stay in England he gained many friends, and evidently his personality still further strengthened the intellectual and moral bonds between England and Bohemia.

As all political life in Bohemia had practically ceased to exist after the Battle of the White Mountain, we cannot trace any relations between the two countries during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was only at the beginning of the nineteenth century that relations were re-established: and this time it was England who exercised direct influence on the national life of the resuscitated Czech people. As a matter of fact, the Czech national "awakeners" sought everywhere sources of culture of which they could make use in order to stimulate the Czech national thought, to regenerate the literary Czech language, to enrich the Czech literature which was in its renaissance. As they drank deep from French literature, so also did they find sustenance in English literature. James Macpherson, with his celebrated translations of the Gaelic songs of Ossian, seems to have served as an example to Venceslas Hanka, a Czech poet of some talent, who, with his forged versifications of the old Czech manuscripts of Králové Dvůr, added his quota to the literary revival. Jungman, one of the principal Czech writers at the beginning of the nineteenth century, translated Milton's "Paradise Lost," thus enriching his native tongue. K. H. Mácha, the first modern Czech poet, was a true child of Byron. We could quote many other examples showing how the great men of England of those times contributed to the Czech regeneration at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Later on these intellectual ties between the two countries became stronger. The development of Czech literature brought an appreciation of the great English writers, and English poets, novelists, essayists, philosophers, and statesmen are nowhere read with such approval and admiration as in Bohemia. During the years preceding the war, interest in English writings was most marked: novels as well as poetry, philosophical and historical works were translated, the political and constitutional history of England was studied, and the great economic strength of the British Empire and, in particular, the civilisation of Great Britain were generally admired. Libraries for the study of England were founded, as well as societies and clubs for the study of English and American literature in order to enable the Czechs to enter into closer contact with the Anglo-Saxons.

On both sides there were many men (like Prof. Mourek, Count Lutzow, C. E. Maurice, Dr W. R. Morfill, H. W. Steed, Prof. Baker, Prof. Monroe, P. Selver, and others) who endeavoured to promote the intellectual relations between the two nations. In Bohemia young people were encouraged in the study of English by these men; in England they wrote the history of Bohemia, published translations from Czech literature and induced specialists to study the Czech Reforms of John Hus, the Moravian Brethren, and Comenius.

The great Czech composer, Antonín Dvořák, became celebrated first in England through his oratoria, and to-day enjoys a well-deserved reputation in that country. The Conservatorium of Music in Prague has had numerous pupils from Great Britain, while our young Protestant theologians come to England to prepare themselves for their work as Protestant pastors. Our municipalities, above all that of the city of Prague, and our "Sokol" Gymnastic Societies, succeeded in entering into close contact with England during the last few years before the war. Thanks to certain English writers the public began to take interest in the political situation of the Czechs, and also of the Slovaks in Hungary (on whom Dr Seton-Watson is an authority), and in the peasant art of the Slovaks; it was even possible to organise an exhibition of Czecho-Slovak art in the Doré Gallery in 1912.

Thus before the war the two countries were united by many bonds which would have increased as time went on. The outbreak of the war has for a moment interrupted these relations, but it has at the same time revealed to both nations the fact that in addition to mutual sympathies and intellectual relations, there are also common political and economic interests, binding the two countries together in a common struggle against a common enemy.

As we have explained above, Bohemia will constitute an important factor in the anti-German barrier which will be erected east of Germany to arrest the Prussian expansion to the East; she will thus aid the Allies in arresting the economic penetration of Germany in the Balkans and in Central Europe.

There is yet another point of this question of great interest for the future relations of Bohemia with England: the economic relations between the two countries. After the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary, and after the closing to Germany of her trade routes to the Near East, Bohemia will be economically closely attached to England. The following figures prove it abundantly.

The export trade of England to Austria-Hungary in 1912 amounted to 237 and that of Austria-Hungary to England to 261 million kronen. The most important Austrian goods exported to England consisted of sugar. As we mentioned above, 93 per cent. of the Austrian sugar output is manufactured in the Czech countries. According to our statistics, two-thirds of the Austrian export and import trade are destined for the Czech countries, and sugar is exported exclusively from Bohemia. It was in reality the Czech countries, and not Vienna, or any other Austrian provinces, that were in economic relations with England.

This fact has not always been sufficiently realised, and the profit has been generally left to the Germans, who have always willingly played the part of intermediaries between the Czecho-Slovaks and the English in their commercial intercourse. If to this fact we add that the Austro-Hungarian export to the British Colonies amounted during 1909-1913 to an average annual total of 81,414,000 kronen, and the import to 261,866,000 kronen, the great importance of the economic Anglo-Czech relations will be acknowledged, as at least a half of this trade concerned exclusively the Czech countries. The importance of these figures will be more obvious when we remind ourselves that the imports of France from Austria-Hungary amounted only to 113,451,000 kronen and the exports of the Habsburg Monarchy to France to 80,532,000 kronen annually. As to the French Colonies, the figures of their trade are, according to official statistics, much inferior to those of the British Colonies, the import to Austria-Hungary being 7,230,000 kronen and the export 5,004,000 kronen.

If the economic relations with France of the future Czecho-Slovak State already occupy the minds of commercial men in France, those concerned with British commerce obviously cannot remain indifferent to the future fate of Bohemia. Both from the political and the economic point of view, the English should not allow considerations of such importance to escape them.

During recent years quite a number of Czech economists, business men, manufacturers, and young lawyers at the outset of their career have come to England to make themselves familiar with English methods of industry, commerce, and high finance, thus at the same time strengthening the economic relations and becoming living ties between their native country and Great Britain.

We could multiply our arguments, accumulate figures, describe in greater detail the trade between England and the Czech countries in the past, and the prospects for the future. But the few examples cited are sufficient to give a general idea of the political and economic interests common to the two countries, and to prevent our readers from falling into the error of under-estimating the international character of the Czech-Slovak question.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1948, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.