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Czyński, Jan

(1801–1867), publicist, politician, writer, and philosopher. Born in Warsaw into a Christian family of Frankist descent, Jan Czyński became the first recognizably Jewish writer—his family’s origins were well known—to enter the ranks of Polish literature. A veteran of the November uprising of 1830, he joined the exodus of Polish patriots to France after its defeat. There he engaged in politics to champion “universal emancipation.” History, according to this “Polish fourrierist,” was a movement toward the emancipation of all disadvantaged groups.

Czyński’s intellectual and political activities, however, centered primarily on the liberation of Polish Jews. In order to promote this cause, he sought to broker a deal between Polish elites in exile, Western Jewish leaders, and Western political establishments. He believed that Poles’ support of Jewish emancipation in Poland would translate into greater Western support for the Polish cause. The program made him a controversial figure among the Polish emigrants with whom he had initially cooperated in a number of ways: working as an aide to the politician Joachim Lelewel, sponsoring Polish refugees in France, being an active member of the Polish Democratic Association (1833–1835), and editing several Polish political journals, including Postęp (Progress), Północ (the North) and Echo Miast Polskich (Echo of Polish Towns—the first Polish journal claiming to be the voice of urban readers).

Czyński wrote extensively on the “Jewish question” in Poland. His main publications on this topic included Question des juifs polonais, envisagée comme question européene (The Question of Polish Jews as a European Issue; 1833) and La Pologne catholique et la Pologne libérale (Catholic Poland versus Liberal Poland; 1848), the latter of which expressed strongly anticlerical views.

Czyński’s contribution to Polish belles lettres consisted of four novels, the most important of which was Cesarzewicz Konstanty i Joanna Grudzinska, czyli jakobini polscy (Tsarevich Konstantin and Joanna Grudzinska, or the Polish Jacobins; 1833–1834), a vibrant political love story with prominent Jewish themes. Czyński also wrote plays in Polish and French; several of the latter were successfully staged in Paris. A passionate polemicist, Czyński attacked Adam Mickiewicz’s mystical ideology laid out in Księgi narodu i pielgrzymstwa polskiego (The Books of the Polish Nation and the Polish Pilgrimage), for which the poet retaliated with the four-liner “Wpół jest Żydem” (He is a Half Jew; 1833): “He is a half Jew and a half Pole / half Jacobin and half clerk / half civilian and half soldier / but a full scoundrel.”

Suggested Reading

Artur Eisenbach, Wielka emigracja wobec kwestii żydowskiej, 1832–1849 (Warsaw, 1976); Adam Gałkowski, “Jan Czyński and the Question of Equality of Rights for All Religious Faiths in Poland,” Polin 7 (1992): 31–56; Adam Gałkowski, Polski patriota, obywatel Europy; Rzecz o Janie Czyńskim, 1801–1867 (Warsaw, 2004), includes summary in French; Zygmunt Markiewicz and T. Sivert, Melpomena polska na paryskim bruku, teatralia polskie we Francji w XIX wieku (Warsaw, 1973), pp. 73–146; Matthias Mieses, Polacy-chrześcijanie pochodzenia żydowskiego, vol. 1, pp. 82–92 (Lwów, Pol., 1939); Krystyna Świerczewska, “Jan Czyński: Działacz polityczny, literat i publicysta z czasów Wielkiej Emigracji, 1801–1869,” Prace polonistyczne 8 (1950): 111–136.