Exhibition on Jan Kollar opened at National Museum

Jan Kollar

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Jan Kollar, a Slovak poet - and in fact the first big poet of modern Slovak literature - priest and diligent promoter of Slavic culture during the period which is known as Czech and Slovak National Revival. An exhibition opened at the National Museum in Prague to acquaint people with this great 19th century Slovak man.

Jan Kollar was born in 1793 in the Slovak town of Mosovce to an evangelical family. From a very young age he liked to read and when his father wanted him to become a butcher, he left home at the age of 16. He studied at university in Jena, Germany but the new philosophical and historical thinking which he encountered there made him return home and devote himself to educating his oppressed nation.

Not even his passionate love for Frederika Schmidt, a daughter of an evangelical pastor and descendant of a Slavonic family, prevented him from going to Hungary; Slovakia was part of Hungary at that time.

I spoke with Jana Sachlova, the curator of the exhibition: "The National Museum literary cabinet, where the exhibition is held, is quite small and to squeeze all his works into one room, we would have needed a bigger room. Secondly, this exhibition is conceived as a literary one, that means that the exhibited books are not meant for reading, they are more or less art objects. My exhibition is to be an impetus for people to devote themselves to Kollar a bit more, to read some of his works and to brush-up the knowledge we have on him from secondary school."

Kollar is known and highly respected in the Czech lands as well, mainly because he knew all the Czech representatives of the Czech National revival movement and closely cooperated with them. I also learned from Mrs. Sachlova that Kollar always fought for Czech to become a common official language in the Czech lands and Slovakia, both parts of the Austrian empire in the early 19th century, and that he even parted with his colleagues who preferred the Slovak language.

So what can be seen at the exhibition, and are all the displayed objects in property of the National Museum?

"The exhibited books are all from the National Museum library and objects from Kollar's estate come from the Historical Museum, which is part of the National Museum. There are several periods of Kollar's life documented at the exhibition, but specially stressed is his life-long effort to educate his nation. For Czech and Slovak children in Pesc, today's Budapest in Hungary, he wrote first-readings text book and a primer. But he was also an outstanding poet, and his most famous poem, Slava's Daughter, is shown here in several old editions."

Slava's Daughter came into existence gradually. Kollar added more and more poems to what was originally a short cycle of poems, making long epics out of it. The Slav-oriented and patriotic poems were all concentrated on an ideal lover, named Mina, which in Kollar's work was the daughter of the Slavonic goddess Slava. Mina was Kollar's old love Frederika, whom he met 16 years after their parting, married and took to Hungary. Two years later, their only daughter Ludmila was born. The original poem was first published in 1824, but later, with more added pieces, it had another three editions.

On display are also Kollar's sermons, which were published in 1823 and 1844. Well-known are his ideals of broad Slavonic cooperation - including literary cooperation. Kollar believed that all the Slavonic nations should work together, that their unity would strengthen their potential, and he studied the history of the Slavs quite diligently. The exhibition then shows how Kollar's works were read after his death.

"The last panel shows how Kollar's works were received in the 1950s, where the explanation of Kollar - his personality and work - was a bit shifted towards a friendship with the Soviet Union. I think this was unjustly distorted, because in the 1950s, there was a strong Communist grip in Czechoslovakia. Although Kollar was in favour of broad cooperation of Slavonic nations, and Russia in the 19th century was the biggest one, in my view the Communist interpretation of Kollar is not the right one."

Kollar was an important figure in the history of the Czech and Slovak nations, and Mrs. Sachlova told me that she had organized the exhibition to make people think about our outstanding predecessors.