The present work is founded on an essay, which appeared in the Biblical Repository for April and July, 1834, then conducted by the undersigned. The essay was received with favour by the public; and awakened an interest in many minds, as laying open a new field of information, hitherto almost inaccessible to the English reader. A few copies were printed separately for private distribution. Some of these were sent to literary men in Europe; and several scholars of high name among those acquainted with Slavic literature, expressed their approval of the work. Since that time, and even of late, inquiries have repeatedly been made, by scholars and by public libraries in Europe, for copies of that little treatise; which, of course, it was impossible to satisfy.
These circumstances, together with the fact, that in these years public attention has been more prominently directed to the character and prospects of the Slavic nations, have induced the author to recast the work; and to lay it anew before the public, corrected, enlarged, and continued to the present time; as a brief contribution to our knowledge of the intellectual character and condition of those nations, in the middle of the nineteenth century.
In its present shape, the work may be said to supply, in a certain degree, a deficiency in English literature. It is true, that the literature of the Russians, Poles, Bohemians, and some others, is treated of under the appropriate heads in the Encyclopaedia Americana, in articles translated from the German Conversations-Lexicon, though not in their latest form. The Foreign Quarterly Review also contains articles of value on the like topics, scattered throughout its volumes. Dr. Bowring, in the prefaces to some of his Specimens of Slavic Poetry, has given short notices of a similar kind. The Biblical literature of the Old Slavic and Russian has been well exhibited by Dr. Henderson; while an outline of Russian literature in general is presented in the work of Otto. Valuable information respecting the South-western Slavi is contained in the recent work of Sir J.G. Wilkinson. But beyond this meagre enumeration, the English reader will find few sources of information at his command upon these topics. All these, too, are only sketches of separate parts of one great whole; of which in its full extent, both as a whole and in the intimate relation of its parts, no general view is known to exist in the English language.
Yet the subject in itself is not without a high interest and importance; relating, as it does, to the languages and literature of a population amounting to nearly or quite seventy millions, or more than three times as great as that of the United States. These topics embrace, of course, the history of mental cultivation among the Slavic nations from its earliest dawn; their intellectual development; the progress of man among them as a thinking, sentient, social being, acting and acted upon in his various relations to other minds. They relate, indeed, to the history of intellectual culture in one of its largest geographical and ethnological divisions.
In this connection it is a matter of no small interest, to mark the influence which Christianity has exercised upon the language and literature of these various nations. It is to the introduction and progress of Christianity, that they owe their written language; and to the versions of the Scriptures into their own dialects are they indebted, not only for their moral and religious culture, but also for the cultivation and, in a great degree, the existence of their national literature. The same influence Christianity is even now exerting upon the hitherto unwritten languages of the American forest, of the islands of the Pacific, of the burning coasts of Africa, of the mountains of Kurdistan; and with the prospect of results still wider and more propitious. Indeed, wherever we learn the fact, whether in earlier or more recent times, that a language, previously regarded as barbarous, and existing only as oral, has been reclaimed and reduced to writing, and made the vehicle of communicating fixed thought and permanent instruction, there it has ever been Christianity and Missionary Enterprise which have produced these results. It is greatly to the honour of Protestant Missions, that their efforts have always been directed to introduce the Scriptures and the worship of God to the masses of the people in their own native tongue. In this way they have every where contributed to awaken the intellectual, as well as the moral life of nations.
The present work has been prepared with great care; and with the aid of the latest and best sources of information, so far as they were accessible. The author, however, would be the last to desire, that any one should regard the volume as comprising a full or complete history of the literature of the seven or eight Slavic nations. Scholars familiar with the subject, and especially intelligent Russian, Polish, or Bohemian readers, will doubtless discover in it deficiencies and errors. Limited to the resources of a private library,—for the public libraries of the United States and of Great Britain have as yet accumulated little or nothing in the Slavic department,—and without the privilege of personal intercourse with others acquainted with Slavic literary matters, the author desires to be distinctly understood, as aiming only to present a sketch, an outline,—a work which may fill its appropriate place, until it shall be supplanted by something more perfect.
The preceding remarks have reference especially to the first three Parts of the volume. In the fourth Part, containing a Sketch of the Popular Poetry of the Slavic nations, the author is perhaps still more at home; and the reader, it may be hoped, will receive gratification from the views and specimens there presented. Similar views, and a few of the same specimens, were given in an article from the same pen, in the North American Review for July, 1836.
In conclusion, it may not be inappropriate to remark, that circumstances have combined to secure to the author some qualifications for the preparation of a work of this kind, which are not common to writers in the English language. A residence of several years in early life in Russia, first in the southern provinces, and afterwards at St. Petersburg, presented opportunity for a personal acquaintance with the language and literature of that country. At a later period, this gave occasion and afforded aid for an extensive study of the Servian dialect and its budding literature; the results of which were given to the public in a German translation of the very remarkable popular songs and ballads of that country. The field was new: but certainly that can be regarded as no barren soil, nor that as a fruitless labour, which at once drew the attention, and secured to the translator the friendship and correspondence, of scholars like Goethe, von Humboldt; J. Grimm, Savigny, G. Ritter, Kopitar, and others. Similar researches were subsequently extended into the popular poetry of the Teutonic and other nations; a portion of the results of which have likewise been given to the public.
I may venture to commend this volume to the good will and kind forbearance of the reader, in view of the difficulties which must ever press upon the writer of such a work. The enterprising publisher has done his part well; and I would join him in the hope, that the book may prove an acceptable offering to the public.
NEW-YORK, April 10, 1850.
[Footnote 1: See infra, p. 45.]
[Footnote 2: Page 100.]
[Footnote 3: Page 121.]
[Footnote 4: Volsklieder der Serben, uebersetzt von Talvj, Halle 1825-26, 2 vols.]
[Footnote 5: Versach einer geschichtlichen Charakteristik der Volkslieder germanischer Nationen, etc. von Talvj, Leipzig 1840.]
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On the Orthography and Pronunciation of Slavic proper names, see the note on p. 151; also the note under the letter V in the Index.
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