Adam Mickiewicz (1798–1855)
Teofil Kwiatkowski, watercolour, gilding, scratching-out, 1849-1855, 483 x 398.
Collection: Muzeum Narodowe, Cracow [inv. no. MNK–III–r.a. 14.172].
The license is accorded by the owner.
Adam Mickiewicz—the greatest Polish poet. Chopin came into contact with Mickiewicz’s poetical work while still in Warsaw. It was there that he wrote his first song to words by Mickiewicz, ‘Precz z moich oczu’ [‘Remembrance’] (Op. 74 No. 6]; his other Mickiewicz setting, ‘Moja pieszczotka’ [‘My Enchantress’] (Op. 74 No. 12), was composed in Paris. Chopin made Mickiewicz’s acquaintance in Paris, no later than 1834. They met quite frequently among their compatriots; they both spent Christmas Eve 1836 (Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz was also present) at the home of Eustachy Januszkiewicz—a publisher of Polish periodicals for the émigré community and books, including works by Mickiewicz and Słowacki. Mickiewicz had his name-day on 24 December; Chopin played his works and improvised.
In the years 1839–1840, Mickiewicz was professor of Latin literature at the university in Lausanne, then in 1840 he returned to Paris, where he took up a seat at the Collège de France, lecturing in the history of Slavic literature. The new subject, as well as the figure of the poet himself, drew listeners from the scholarly and literary circles of Paris. Chopin and George Sand were also there, as Eustachy Januszkiewicz writes: ‘Mickiewicz has more and more listeners, he is showing us an increasingly bold landscape in the broad Slavic realm, something new each time. Yesterday, he spoke about the language of the Slavs, about its creation and its attributes. – We listened to him with inexpressible rapture. Mme Sand sat by him, and by her stood Chopin’ [Chopin na obczyźnie, p. 229].
Mickiewicz became an inseparable part of the social scene, appearing at receptions given by George Sand or in Chopin’s salon on rue Tronchet. As Ferenc Liszt writes: ‘The most eminent minds of Paris met many times in Chopin’s salon. […] To one side, far from all the others, loomed the motionless silhouette of the sad and silent Mickiewicz; this Dante of the North always seemed to confirm that the salt of exile is bitter and that it is hard to clamber up foreign steps’ [Czartkowski and Jeżewska, p. 208].
Georges Mathias, a composer and professor of the Paris Conservatoire (a pupil of Chopin’s from 1838), wrote in his memoirs: ‘In spite of his relationship with George Sand, Chopin avoided literature. He read little, mostly only Polish poetry, for example Mickiewicz, a volume of whose poetry I always saw on the little table in the drawing-room. […] For Chopin was an ardent patriot and all his money went into the pockets of Polish exiles’ [Czartkowski and Jeżewska, p. 394].