“Now My Country and I are One:” Czartoryski, Lelewel, and Mickiewicz as Foundational Persons in Polish Nationalism

By: Patrick Jackson, a History major.

The following work was created for HIS 494: Europe in the Age of Revolution.

Brief description: “This paper is divided into three sections, focusing on Prince Adam Czartoryski, Joachim Lelewel, and Adam Mickiewicz respectively. In the first section, I analyze Czartoryski’s shift from a pan-Slavist in support of the Russian monarchy to a more radical anti-Russian Polish nationalist. In the second section, I analyze Lelewel’s immense contributions to Polish Romantic historiography as well as his post-exile influence on more radical figures, such as Marx and Bakunin. In the third section I analyze Mickiewicz’s transformation from an already radical Romantic writer to a philosopher who attempted to position Poland as the center of European thought by his synthesis of Western and Eastern modes of thought.”

In October of 1795, the final Partition of Poland was agreed upon by Prussia, Austria, and Russia, which led to a period of statelessness for the Polish people which lasted one hundred and twenty-three years. It was in the context of this statelessness, however, that Polish nationalism was born. The shadow of the Partitions hung over three figures who came to define Polish nationalism, namely Adam Czartoryski, Joachim Lelewel, and Adam Mickiewicz. The sense of belonging these three men felt for a nation which no longer existed fueled their passion for a new and more perfect Poland. Czartoryski, the political and diplomatic leader of post-Partitioned Poland; Lelewel, the historian whose writings fueled the Romantic ideals of past perfection innate to nationalism; and Mickiewicz, the Romantic writer who gave Polish culture widespread literary legitimacy and whose works served as inspiration for so many other Polish artists in exile–each of these three represented a foundational pillar of the new nationalism. These figures remained in their home country until forced out by the Russian government after the Polish Uprising of 1830, and all three settled in Paris, though Lelewel proved radical enough to even be expelled from France. Out of the ashes of the failed 1830 Uprising, these three figures created a national identity for the Polish people which went on to survive over a century of statelessness. Not only this, but each of these figures were influenced by their time in exile and accordingly became more radical after leaving their home country.

Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, who began as an heir to a prominent noble family, rose quickly to prominence and by the end of his life became a pseudo-emperor-in-exile for the nonexistent Polish nation. Although best known for his leadership of the Polish émigré community in Paris, it was in service to Russia where he began to influence the fate of his native lands. Czartoryski began as a firm nationalist for the Commonwealth, but through his time as Russian diplomat attempted to accommodate Russian interests within his own view for progress in Poland.

Czartoryski served as the foreign minister under Tsar Alexander I from 1803 to 1806. Czartoryski had come by the position via his friendship with Alexander I, which Czartoryski used to influence the Russian government to consider the Polish question.[i] Czartoryski’s platform of Polish reunification took on a decidedly pro-Russia stance, as he preferred for Poland to be in the hands of fellow Slavs, rather than risk being Germanized by either Prussia or Austria–a “Russian solution of the Polish question,” as W.H. Zawadski said.[ii] While ambitious, the good graces of Alexander I were given to Czartoryski’s plan, but were ultimately done away with once the threat of Napoleon began to loom larger over the continent. The French ambitions for conquest transformed the Polish question from a potential good for Russia into a weapon against it.[iii] Not only did France, Russia’s continental enemy, attempt to revive a friendly Poland to combat Russia, but any attempt to enlarge Russia’s share of Polish lands would alienate Austria and Prussia, two powers essential to the Coalition.[iv] The abandonment of the plan to seize the German-held Polish lands was a practical measure for the time, and more pressing matters were at hand for the Russians. After the failure of his plan, Czartoryski resigned his post as Foreign Minister in 1806.[v] Throughout the rest of the Napoleonic Wars, Czartoryski attempted to convince Alexander of his plan to unite the Polish lands under Russian rule, which were categorically turned down or used as diplomatic bait.[vi] The Polish question was, for a time, solved by the Congress of Vienna, by the machinations of Czartoryski; the Napoleonic creation, the Duchy of Warsaw, was made the Kingdom of Poland and transferred to Russia.[vii] This solution seemed doomed from its outset even to its creator; Czartoryski believed he had “re-established a ‘poor Poland’ on ‘rather unstable feet.’”[viii]

Through his efforts as servant to the Russian Emperor, Czartoryski gained a deserved reputation as the eminent Polish statesman.[ix] He received, from Alexander I, the post of curator of the newly established University of Vilnius, and remained such until 1822, during which time young Joachim Lelewel and Adam Mickiewicz were students, the former also later a professor at the University.[x] Through these posts, Czartoryski held a fame and influence in the Kingdom of Poland unknown to many others. It was this prominence which led him to head the rebel Polish government during the Uprising of 1830.[xi] While this may seem the time when Czartoryski repudiated his former Russian allies, it was not. Czartoryski very carefully and optimistically framed the conflict with Russia as “a struggle between the Poles and their constitutional king, who also happened to be the emperor of Russia.”[xii] This was a sentiment shared by neither the Polish nationals nor the Russians, and after the failure of the Uprising, a sentiment even Czartoryski believed to be outdated.[xiii]

After being exiled from his homeland by Alexander’s successor, Tsar Nicholas I, Czartoryski emigrated to France, as so many other prominent Poles had done.[xiv] Once in Paris, Czartoryski purchased the Hôtel Lambert, which served as a conduit for Polish émigré activity.[xv] Czartoryski and his allies used their positions and influence in France and Great Britain to influence foreign policy and to keep alive the Polish question.[xvi] Perhaps the most important means through which the Hôtel Lambert operated was its use of Polish legions. Hôtel Lambert lent military support to the French and British in their foreign interventions, which Czartoryski intended to not only earn the good favor of Britain and France, but to further a political situation in Europe which would facilitate the resurrection of the Polish state.[xvii] More specifically, his plan was a precursor to the Intermarium policy of Józef Piłsudski, which foresaw an independent Southern Slavic state, created from the Ottoman and Austrian Empires, which would create the conditions for an independent Poland as well.[xviii] Czartoryski used the religious connection between Poland and France to further persuade the French to support his plan; France should be more enthusiastic with fellow Catholic countries in Eastern and Southern Europe.[xix] All of these goals ultimately were contingent on anti-Ottoman and anti-Austrian sentiment, which proved to be a challenge working with the French government.[xx] Ultimately, the Hôtel Lambert’s influence on the Balkans and Eastern Europe was limited. It failed in its ambitions to facilitate a reconstructed Poland, or a friendly Southern Slavic alliance. The lasting influence of the Hôtel Lambert and Czartoryski’s plots was a limiting of Russian power in the Balkans and some good will on the part of the French and British governments.[xxi] While these may seem insignificant, Czartoryski’s efforts on behalf of his homeland laid the groundwork for, many years later, the resurrection of Poland and the emergence of independent Slavic Balkan states.

Whereas Czartoryski began by accommodating the Russian Empire, Joachim Lelewel began as a radical nationalist even in Poland. Lelewel, although his contributions to Polish political organization were not insignificant, was and still is best known for his formative interpretation of Polish history. Lelewel gained fame first as a student and later as a professor at the University of Vilnius. Lelewel, almost single-handedly, created the modern discipline of history within Poland; his study Historyka (The Art of History) was at the time the only Polish methodological study of history which addressed the need for interdisciplinary knowledge for the proper study of history. This was not empty talk for Lelewel, as he took it upon himself to become acquainted with diplomacy, numismatics, language, statistics, economics, and anthropology, among other areas[xxii]. Lelewel came to the teaching profession via a nationalist sentiment; as he viewed, teaching was “the only way in which one could serve the fatherland and the nation in the uncertainties of the Napoleonic era.”[xxiii] Lelewel began teaching history at the University of Vilnius in 1815, the same year his Historyka was published, and remained until 1824.[xxiv]

It was during his time as a professor that Lelewel formed his historiographic view of Poland. Lelewel partitioned the history of Poland into four, and later five, distinct eras. The First was an ancient Slavic era characterized by “the freedom of the peasant and the equality of citizenship.”[xxv] This freedom was, to Lelewel, an inherent characteristic of the Slavic peoples.[xxvi] The next era encompassed the early medieval era (c. 890-1140), which included the Christianization of the Poles, territorial expansion, and the centralization of the Polish monarchy.[xxvii] The later medieval era (1140-1333), which Lelewel named “Divided Poland,” was an era of weakness for Poland. This period was defined by a conflict with Poland’s powerful German neighbors. These conflicts necessitated the newly recognized Polish monarchy to assert itself against attempts from the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III to Germanize the Poles, and the conflict surrounding the invitation of the Teutonic Knights.[xxviii] The monarchy, however, failed to properly assert itself, and the nobility seized the opportunity for more power. A period of restored prosperity followed this, which began with the reign of Casimir III (the Great) in 1333 and lasted until the election of Zygmunt III in 1588. It was during this third era in which the Sejm was created, and thus saw a partial return to the ancient principal of democracy.[xxix] This was also an era of prosperity for the Polish state, which Lelewel interpreted as proof for his idealistic return to the “national character.”[xxx] The fourth era, originally the end of Lelewel’s history, spanned the elected Vasa dynasty until the final Partition in 1795. This period was one of slow decline, caused by an increased prominence of foreign influence on Poland’s government and the disunity of the nobility and monarchy–as Joan Skurnowicz says, an “era of debasement by the magnates, an era of szlachta anarchy.”[xxxi] Lelewel viewed history as a constant progression towards perfection, and hoped that national developments following the Partitions would lead to a reassertion of the Polish “national character.”[xxxii]

While his interpretations were not universally accepted, Lelewel’s historical writings proved influential among liberal historians. In Russia, for example, Lelewel’s conception of a shared ancient Slavic heritage based on democracy and equality was adopted by Tadeusz Bułharyn, who ran an important historical journal in St. Petersburg.[xxxiii] This interpretation ran contrary to the popularized “Norman theory” of Russian origins, championed by conservative historian Nikolai Karamzin, which justified the autocratic rule of the Tsars.[xxxiv] When Bułharyn published Lelewel’s review of Karamzin’s History of the Russian State in 1818, which was a harsh criticism of the book and Karamzin’s interpretation of history, it was Lelewel and not Karamzin who was, as Bułharyn wrote, “on everyone’s lips.”[xxxv] Despite the positive reception of the review by liberal historians, Lelewel did not unconditionally criticize Karamzin’s book; he made sure to note that as a Pole, and not a Russian, he had little right to judge a book which was so well received by its own people.[xxxvi] Even in his criticisms, Lelewel still espoused his ethno-centric idealism.

Lelewel, when exiled, gave up none of his radical ideas. He was committed to the resurrection of the Polish state, just as Czartoryski was. Lelewel approached his nationalism in a different way; Lelewel espoused a radical democratic idealism, which proved to be radical enough have him expelled from France.[xxxvii] Lelewel then moved to Brussels, which isolated him from most of the Polish émigré community.[xxxviii] Lelewel relied on his writings to influence the opinions of not only his fellow Poles but the emerging European democratic movement. His influence extended to the far left, though that was not his intended audience; Lelewel became friends with the young Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and exchanged ideas on how the Polish question should be handled.[xxxix] The influence on Marx can be clearly seen in his draft notes on a speech about attitudes toward Poland, as he cited Lelewel’s interpretation of historical events: “Lelewel says that the diplomatic clique by suppressing the Patriotic Society, opposing the emancipation of the peasants, and proclaiming the Constitutional Monarchy, spoiled everything.”[xl]

Lelewel’s writings from his time in exile are natural progressions of his thought in Poland. During his time in Brussels, Lelewel composed his fifth period or Polish history, which he optimistically titled “Poland in the Throes of Rebirth,” consisted on the period contemporaneous to Lelewel, focused on the Napoleonic era and the 1830 Uprising.[xli] Along with his fifth era of Polish history, Lelewel theorized on the nature of democracy in Slavic nations. In his essay, “Legitimacy of the Polish Nation,” Lelewel built upon his ideas of ancient Slavic democracy by emphasizing Poland’s role in preserving democratic values.[xlii] Lelewel, although he continues to nominally respect all Slavic cultures, cultivated an ideology which inherently celebrated Poland and Polish culture above all others; he notes in the essay the fact that Slavic languages do not naturally have a word with which to describe despotism, yet specifically mentions that, “the first language to have an equivalent to despotism was Russian.”[xliii]

Lelewel’s influence was not limited to historians and philosophers, however. Adam Mickiewicz, a student at the University of Vilnius while Lelewel was a professor, was greatly taken by the Romantic picture of Poland which Lelewel painted. Mickiewicz even wrote a poem, “To Joachim Lelewel,” extolling the virtues of historical truth-seeking and Lelewel’s contributions to the homeland.[xliv] Mickiewicz did differ from Lelewel in his full embrace of Romanticism, completely abandoning the historical rationality with which Lelewel approached nationalism. Mickiewicz even eschewed the spiritual individualism which characterized other Romantic writers in favor of a “total commitment” to his country.[xlv] Mickiewicz was in exile from Poland from 1822 until his death but grew increasingly radical during his time in France.[xlvi]

One of Mickiewicz’s most significant contributions to Polish literature was Dziady (Forefather’s Eve), which centers on an ancient Slavic holiday roughly comparable to All Souls’ Day in modern Christian practice.[xlvii] The non-consecutively published parts of the work range from poetry to theater. In Dziady, one can find the usual trappings of Romanticism, but filtered through a distinct lens which blends the Byronic hero with a unique sense of nationhood which Mickiewicz relayed eloquently.[xlviii] The most significant part of the work, Part III, was written in isolation from the other parts. In it, Mickiewicz compares the individual suffering of his hero, Gustaw, to the suffering of the nation. By this comparison, the hero transforms into Konrad, a hero who is willing to give his life for the sake of his nation.[xlix] As Manfred Kridl describes, Konrad becomes the “Polish Prometheus, who fights for the salvation of his people, challenges the Almighty to combat, and accuses Him of being not the Father of the World, but its tsar.”[l] Mickiewicz quickly enters territory which could be considered blasphemous, as Konrad challenges God to give him the power over the Polish people, which was an ironic turn for poet celebrated by the devoutly Catholic Poles.[li] It is later revealed that Konrad’s vision takes place within a prison cell, which leads the reader to conclude that Konrad’s sacrifice is a necessity; to sacrifice oneself for the nation is not waste, it is martyrdom.[lii] Konrad’s imprisonment also reflects Mickiewicz’s personal experience, as he and others at the University of Vilnius, including Joachim Lelewel, were banished from the university for “nonsensical nationalism.”[liii]

Immediately following the publication of Dziady Part III, Mickiewicz wrote his magnum opus, Pan Tadeusz. Sharply scaled back from his previous work, Pan Tadeusz concentrated on the idyllic lives of ordinary Poles.[liv] The poem was Polish by nature–it is considered effectively untranslatable due to its specific and masterful use of the Polish language–and Romanticized the Polish landscape and the character of its people.[lv] By concentrating not on high-minded ideas of the nation, duty, and martyrdom, as Mickiewicz’s previous works did, Pan Tadeusz endeared itself by “immortalizing the basic characteristics of Polish nature.”[lvi] Mickiewicz’s masterwork was not one of overt grandeur, as Dziady was, but one which found the grandeur of a nation in its smallest towns, rather than in its largest cities. Mickiewicz realized the fault in concentrating exclusively on the abstract; to be a true nationalist one must focus on all components of the homeland. It is for this reason that Pan Tadeusz is still celebrated so universally by the Poles.

After the Uprising in 1830, Mickiewicz made his way to Paris to join his fellow exiles. While in Paris, Mickiewicz began to give lectures in which he espoused his philosophy. Mickiewicz’s lectures at the Collège de France from 1840-44 on Slavic literature drew upon his idea of Poland as the “Christ of Europe.”[lvii] This concept was based on the story of Christ, which assumes Poland’s crucifixion as the Partitions and the reformation of the Polish state as the resurrection. Whereas he explored this idea as a literary motif in his epic poetry, he expanded it into a philosophy unto itself during this time. To Mickiewicz, the Poles embody the “tradition of la parole vivante (“living speech”),” which endows them with a spiritual power unlike other peoples.[lviii] Mickiewicz grew this philosophy out of a want to elevate Polish philosophy as a synthesis of the German abstract thought and French “action.”[lix] In this desire Mickiewicz revealed not only his influences—blending the traditional German influences on Poland with newfound French ones—but his bias towards attempting to position Polish as the new European mode of thought; a synthesis of all the best aspects of Western European learning and Eastern European virtues.

It is indisputable that Czartoryski, Lelewel, and Mickiewicz were important to the Polish national movement, and that each contributed a unique aspect to the new nationalism sentiment. While all of their ideologies may not have always agreed on the end goals, each of these figures valued above all else the Polish people and the values they believes to be inherent to the nation they devoted themselves to.


[i] W. H. Zawadzki, “Russia and the Re-Opening of the Polish Question, 1801-1814,” 22.

[ii] Zawadski, “Polish Question,” 23-24.

[iii] Zawadski, “Polish Question,” 26.

[iv] Zawadski, “Polish Question,” 26-27.

[v] Zawadski, “Polish Question,” 31.

[vi] Zawadski, “Polish Question,” 35.

[vii] Charles Morley, “Czartoryski as a Polish Statesman,” 610.

[viii] Morley, “Czartoryski,” 611.

[ix] Paul Brykczynski, “Prince Adam Czartoryski as a Liminal Figure in the Development of Modern Nationalism in Eastern Europe at the Turn of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” 663.

[x] Brykczynski, “Liminal Figure,” 663.

[xi] Brykczynski, “Liminal Figure,” 663.

[xii] Brykczynski, “Liminal Figure,” 664.

[xiii] Brykczynski, “Liminal Figure,” 664.

[xiv] Brykczynski, “Liminal Figure,” 664.

[xv] Robert A. Berry, “Czartoryski’s Hôtel Lambert and the Great Powers in the Balkans, 1832-1848,” 46.

[xvi] Berry, “Hôtel Lambert,” 46.

[xvii] Berry, “Hôtel Lambert,” 46.

[xviii] Berry, “Hôtel Lambert,” 52.

[xix] Berry, “Hôtel Lambert,” 52.

[xx] Berry, “Hôtel Lambert,” 56.

[xxi] Berry, “Hôtel Lambert,” 67.

[xxii] Joan S. Skurnowicz, Romantic Nationalism and Liberalism: Joachim Lelewel and the Polish National Idea, 25.

[xxiii] Skurnowicz, Romantic Nationalism, 14.

[xxiv] Frank Mocha, “The Karamzin-Lelewel Controversy,” 596.

[xxv] Skurnowicz, Romantic Nationalism, 39.

[xxvi] Skurnowicz, Romantic Nationalism, 107.

[xxvii] Skurnowicz, Romantic Nationalism, 106.

[xxviii] Skurnowicz, Romantic Nationalism, 106.

[xxix] Skurnowicz, Romantic Nationalism, 106.

[xxx] Skurnowicz, Romantic Nationalism, 107.

[xxxi] Skurnowicz, Romantic Nationalism, 106.

[xxxii] Skurnowicz, Romantic Nationalism, 35.

[xxxiii] Mocha, “The Karamzin-Lelewel Controversy,” 606.

[xxxiv] Mocha, “The Karamzin-Lelewel Controversy,” 593.

[xxxv] Mocha, “The Karamzin-Lelewel Controversy,” 602.

[xxxvi] Mocha, “The Karamzin-Lelewel Controversy,” 600.

[xxxvii] Skurnowicz, Romantic Nationalism, 46.

[xxxviii] Skurnowicz, Romantic Nationalism, 46.

[xxxix] Balazs Trencsenyi and Michal Kopecek, “Joachim Lelewel: Legitimacy of the Polish Nation,” 33.

[xl] Note for Draft of Speech by Marx on France’s Attitude to Poland.

[xli] Skurnowicz, Romantic Nationalism, 92.

[xlii] Trencsenyi and Kopecek, “Legitimacy of the Polish Nation,” 35.

[xliii] Trencsenyi and Kopecek, “Legitimacy of the Polish Nation,” 37.

[xliv] Skurnowicz, Romantic Nationalism, 34.

[xlv] Helen N. Fagin, “Adam Mickiewicz: Poland’s National Romantic Poet,” 104.

[xlvi] Manfred Kridl, “Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855),” 341-342.

[xlvii] Fagin, “Poland’s National Romantic Poet,” 106-107.

[xlviii] Fagin, “Poland’s National Romantic Poet,” 108.

[xlix] Fagin, “Poland’s National Romantic Poet,” 109-110.

[l] Kridl, “Adam Mickiewicz,” 344.

[li] Fagin, “Poland’s National Romantic Poet,” 110.

[lii] Fagin, “Poland’s National Romantic Poet,” 110.

[liii] Kridl, “Adam Mickiewicz,” 344.

[liv] Fagin, “Poland’s National Romantic Poet,” 111.

[lv] Fagin, “Poland’s National Romantic Poet,” 111.

[lvi] Kridl, “Adam Mickiewicz,” 345.

[lvii] Andrzej Walicki, “Adam Mickiewicz and the Philosophical Debates of His Time,” 15.

[lviii] Karen C. Underhill, “Aux Grands Hommes De La Parole: On the Verbal Messiah in Adam Mickiewicz’s Paris Lectures,” 716.

[lix] Walicki, “Adam Mickiewicz and the Philosophical Debates of His Time,” 15.


Berry, Robert A. “Czartoryski’s Hôtel Lambert and the Great Powers in the Balkans, 1832-          1848.” International History Review 7, no. 1 (1985): 45-67.

Brykczynski, Paul. “Prince Adam Czartoryski as a Liminal Figure in the Development of Modern Nationalism in Eastern Europe at the Turn of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.” Nationalities Papers no. 5 (2010): 647-669.

Fagin, Helen N. “Adam Mickiewicz: Poland’s National Romantic Poet.” South Atlantic Bulletin   42, no. 4 (1977): 103-13.

Kridl, Manfred. “Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855).” American Slavic and East European Review   7, no. 4 (1948): 340-60.

Marx, Karl. “Note for Draft of Speech by Marx on France’s Attitude to Poland.”            https://www.marxists.org/history/international/iwma/documents/1864/poland-note.htm.

Mocha, Frank. “The Karamzin-Lelewel Controversy.Slavic Review 31, no. 3 (1972): 592-610.

Morley, Charles. “Czartoryski as a Polish Statesman.” Slavic Review 30, no. 3 (1971): 606-14.

Skurnowicz, Joan S. Romantic Nationalism and Liberalism: Joachim Lelewel and the Polish        National Idea. Vol. 83. Eastern European Monographs. New York: Columbia University         Press, 1981.

Trencsenyi, Balazs, and Michal Kopecek. “Joachim Lelewel: Legitimacy of the Polish Nation.”   In National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements, 33-41. Budapest:          Central European University Press, 2007.

Underhill, Karen C. “Aux Grands Hommes De La Parole: On the Verbal Messiah in Adam          Mickiewicz’s Paris Lectures.” The Slavic and East European Journal 45, no. 4 (2001):       716-31. 

Walicki, Andrzej. “Adam Mickiewicz and the Philosophical Debates of His Time.” Dialogue       and Universalism 15, (2005): 15-31.

Zawadzki, W. H. “Russia and the Re-Opening of the Polish Question, 1801-1814.”           International History Review 7, no. 1 (1985): 19-44.

Patrick Jackson ’19 is a senior History major at Washington College. He has interned at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, in the Photographic History Collection, and at the C.V. Starr Center for the American Experience for three years.

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