Czechoslovak Stories/Joseph Svatopluk Machar

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(Born February 29, 1864, in Kolin.)

Machar spent his youth in Brandýs on the Elbe, which calm and lovely country he often describes in his poems and stories. After completing his course at the gymnasium in Prague and fulfilling his required military service he became, in 1891, a bank official in Vienna, where he lived until the outbreak of the world war, during the early period of which he was imprisoned on information furnished by the Austrian spy system, which asserted that a revolutionary, anti-Austrian poem of Machar’s had been published in a Czech paper in the United States. The exigencies to which the spy system was put to trump up a case was well shown in the Machar affair, for the poem was indeed published in the United States, but it had previously appeared many times in Bohemia without giving offense to the Hapsburg government. In the newly organized Czechoslovak Republic, Machar has just been appointed General-Inspector of the Czechoslovak Army. Machar’s proximity to the Austrian capital and his distance from Prague gave him at once an insight into the clouded whirlpool of the empire’s politics and a perspective on the life of his own countrymen, which a mere Viennese or a Praguer, respectively, could not attain. This insight he displays in his fearless attacks on subterfuge and hypocrisy on the one hand and flagwaving and drum-beating patriotism on the other.

It is chiefly as a poet that Machar is known. He uses the medium of verse to fling his challenge to wordy, but deedless, idealism among his compatriots, to proclaim rebellion against empty religion, the fruitless promises of politicians, the inanity of a so-called social system forever degrading the Magdalens and letting weeds spring up where roses should bloom. He always places himself on the side of the oppressed or downtrodden, even though he many times invited and received a storm of violent abuse by refusing to idealize the sordid and insisting that squalor and meanness were foul, though just as true as the beautiful. Eminently a realist of the Neruda type, he has had to fight for the recognition of his principles, as well as of himself, as their promulgator.

Machar’s best-known poetical works are “V Záři Hellenského Slunce” (In the Glow of a Hellenic Sun), advocating a return to the robust faith of the Greeks; “Confiteor,” full of scepticism and heartaches; “Bez Názvu (Without a Name), an aggressive attack on life’s hard conditions; “Zde by Měly Kvésti Růže” (Here Roses Should Bloom), depicting the depth of sorrows of womankind; “Magdalen," a romance in blank verse, translated into eight languages, detailing the story of a woman who has once fallen and whom relentless fate, in the form of the self-appointed censors of society, pursues to the end of a career that might have been beautiful; “Tristium Vindobona," a mirror of Czech national psychology; “Golgotha," a discussion of the Roman Empire; “Jed z Judey” (Poison from Judea), thoughts suggested by monuments of ancient culture.

Machar’s prose, like his poetry, represents the hapsing attitude of mind towards all big, vital questions. His reflections on life are presented in the many sketches in “Stará Prosa” (Old Prose Tales); “Hrst Belletrie” (A Handful of Tales); Stories in Prose (1901–1903) and two later collections with the same titles; “Krajiny, Lidé a Netopýři” (Lands, People and Bats); “Veršem i Prosou” (In Verse and Prose); “Kniha Feuilletonů” (A Book of Feuilletons); “Řím” (Rome), a discussion of ancient, papal and modern Rome; “Konfesse Literáta” (The Confessions of a Literary Man), a diary of a man striving to express his life in terms of literary service.

The story used here is from his “Stárá Prosa” and is done in his characteristic manner.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927.

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.