Bohemia's claim for freedom/Czech folklore

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OUR national lyric just as our national epic carries you away by the power of its simplicity and the directness of its art. By small means it attains ends which even a most profound poetry seldom attains. Here is not the naive simplicity of poverty, but the restraint of an already fully matured refinement. It is difficult not to learn from these great masters of prose, and it will come to it that our folklore, just as our national song, will form a starting-point for a real understanding of the inner substance of stylistic art.

The Bohemian folklore or national tales about "St. Peter" or "Our Lord" (collected by Bozena Nemcova) are masterly products, showing not a God—or a St. Peter in some cosmopolitan meaning of these words, but rather beings of our flesh and blood—yet fully enshrined in the nobleness of their traditional meaning.

Peter lives a worldly, everyday life, but Christ is already not of this world, and cannot be measured by superficial appearances of things. And this conflict between the two worlds, higher and lower, is given with such masterful plasticity, with such nerve and skilful dramatisation of simple acts, that we could hardly find a similar work even amongst the greatest masters. One or two touches and the whole figure is as if chiselled from a rock. There is nothing aggressive, nothing fragmentary, all seems to evolve from itself, without any ostentatious "idea." It is a real model of moralism. It does not offend, does not labour, but with pleasant communicativeness, by way of humour, it glides into poetry, never into a sermon.

The humour emanating from these tales is quite its own. It is entirely original, grown from itself—our very own. It stands by itself in the whole European literature. In it there is nothing sermonising or puritanical as in English, nothing moralistic or melancholy as in Russian, nothing heavy as in German, nothing wordly as in French, but innocent human Czech humour, free from all these aberrations, pure as crystal. It is the humour of the poetic cottages of our peasants, humour that is not angry, quarrels not, but yet soars above all worldly vanity. In it is enshrined the whole outlook on life of our people, the calm and somewhat cheerful appreciation of a sorely tried man of the faults and mistakes of his fellow-man. Humour that only a man can master, who, in spite of all his troubles, is full of the joy of life. Even this humour will become a starting-point of a serious study into the nature of our humour in general. Its foundations are already given in these tales, and what will be added can be only by way of enriching, not of changing. It is possible to learn, but not to imitate. We have something of our own that is beautiful and good.

Irony light as breath flows through all the incidents of these tales. But this irony does not disgust you with man, on the contrary, it reconciles and equalises; it teaches us to love, does not punish, but excuses; and it leads to good through goodness. It neither fumes nor rages; it is a man's consciousness of his own superiority over the whole surrounding world. The charm of this irony does not freeze, but it warms; it loves and teaches to love. This is the philosophic aspect of our folklore.