Maria Felicia/Publisher's note

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JOHANNA ROTTOV, better known by her pen name “Caroline Světlá,” was born at Prague in 1830. At that time the Bohemian people were groaning under Austrian tyranny, but their hopes were reviving. The national self-respect had been sorely wounded by a decree of the Emperor Joseph II., issued in 1774, ordaining that the German language should be employed by all teachers and lecturers in the upper schools; but within the first quarter of the present century valuable remains of old literature were discovered, and thereafter edicts favorable to the use of Bohemian were published. Since that time the language has advanced rapidly as a vehicle of literature and science.

Johanna’s father, whose ancestors had belonged to the persecuted religious sect known as the Bohemian Brethren, was very proud of his lively, prattling, black-eyed little girl, and, being a true Bohemian, he often walked with her through the streets of Old Prague, telling her of deeds that were done there in the glorious days of old when Bohemia was free, and instilling into her young heart that undying love for her native land which has been her leading motive in her life’s work. Her grandmother fed her imagination with fairy-tales, folk-lore and songs; and thus the young dreamer was inspired to compose many a romantic tale before she was able to write it down.

Notwithstanding the revival of Bohemian literature, the nation was becoming Germanized; to speak Bohemian was considered almost ill-bred; to express patriotic sentiments was dangerous. Johanna’s grandmother informed her that she must learn to speak German as soon as possible. When the precocious little creature wrote a paper on the suppression of the Bohemian language, her teacher (who hated everything that was Bohemian) discovered the manuscript and angrily forbade her to utter “such dangerous things;” and even her father was almost afraid to continue his teachings. Poor Johanna durst not openly rebel, but she wept and dreamed and hoped. Many a solitary hour she spent in a lumber-room, where, with a clothes-basket for her writing-stand, she forgot her misery in childish literary efforts. When she was about thirteen years of age, her teacher discovered these manuscripts also, which made him angrier than before. Sharing in the horror with which the majority of respectable people at that time regarded George Sand, he said that Johanna was in danger of “falling into the same pit;” and this so alarmed her mother that she permitted her to study only French and music, and to read no higher literature than children’s books. When she had attained the age of sixteen, her irrepressible patriotism again tried to find expression. She began the careful study of Bohemian, and when some aristocratic young men at a ball threatened that they would not dance with her unless she would renounce her “dangerous opinions,” she retired from the room with a defiant smile. The dignified rebuke which Johanna thus administered to those unpatriotic youths made her a heroine in the eyes of her music teacher, Professor Mužák. In the winter of 1852 she was married to the professor, and the union was one of perfect harmony. Madame Mužák’s happiness was complete until the death of her only child. This bereavement brought on a settled melancholy, which threatened to develop into insanity. By her physician’s advice she entered on a systematic course of study. The effect was magical. Rejoicing in her new strength, Madame Mužák began her brilliant career as a novelist; and before she was sixty she had written a hundred and thirteen stories, besides biographies, histories and essays. She is known throughout her own land as a powerful advocate of democracy; she has spent the earnings from her books lavishly on benevolent institutions; and she is equally revered by her nation as a woman, a literary artist, and a patriot.

The most notable feature of her works is her masterly portrayal of woman craving for light and liberty. Her peasants also are portrayed to the life, for she studied them most carefully. And this suggests the origin of her pseudonym. In the village of Světlá, her husband’s early home, Madame Mužák so studied the peasants and the folk-lore that the spirit of the place has been embodied in her stories, and she so loved the place that she adopted its name. She now begins to experience the weariness and exhaustion of old age, but her spirit is cheered by the oft-expressed gratitude and admiration of her fellow patriots.

Chicago, October, 1898.