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Kuh, David

(ca. 1818–1879), journalist, politician, and poet. Born in Prague, David Kuh studied medicine and law there and in Vienna. From 1842 to 1844 he was a private tutor, first in Vienna and then briefly in Moravia. Kuh spent some time traveling with a group of itinerant actors. He subsequently founded German-language newspapers in Budapest and Pécs (Fünfkirchen). His agitation against the Slavs led to a two-year jail sentence (1848–1850).

Kuh moved back to Prague, where he published the Prager Zeitschrift für Literatur (Prague Journal of Literature; published in 1850 only), founded the Deutsche Freiheitliche Partei (German Freedom Party), and started the political newspaper Der Tagesbote aus Böhmen (The Daily Messenger from Bohemia; published 1852–1879). The latter had a strongly pro-German orientation that eagerly rejected the anti-German attitudes expressed in the Czech press. This viewpoint contrasted sharply with Kuh’s earlier stance; in his youth he had praised Prague-based German writers who wrote epics and poems glorifying the Czech past. Indeed, Kuh had sympathized with the pro-Czech sentiments of Siegfried Kapper, a Jewish writer who wanted to be recognized as a Czech, and had sided with the Czech intellectual Václav Bolemír Nebeský, who was eager for Jews to do for Czech culture what (in Nebeský’s view) they had done for German culture. This pro-Czech attitude, limited to a small group of Jewish intellectuals, disappeared—in part as a result of anti-Jewish riots directed against Jewish-owned factories in Prague in 1844 and against Jewish shops and homes during the revolution of 1848—only to reemerge a generation later.

In 1858, Kuh published a series of anonymous articles in the Tagesbote about “the manuscripts,” the objects at the center of a cause célèbre that preoccupied Czech patriots and scholars throughout the nineteenth century. Very much like James Macpherson, who “found” Ossian’s poetry, Václav Hanka, a Czech scholar, claimed to have discovered medieval poems that Kuh (in his anonymous articles) considered forgeries. The public was evenly divided. Josef Dobrovský, the founder of modern Slavic philology, doubted their authenticity, as did Tomás G. Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia. Conversely, Frantisek Palacký, the leading figure of Czech historiography, insisted on their authenticity. In an ensuing lawsuit, Kuh was convicted of libel against Hanka and was sentenced to a fine and two months in jail. Kuh’s case stirred up a good deal of antisemitism. He did not live to see the declaration of the manuscripts as forgeries. In 1862, he was elected to the Bohemian Diet (1862–1873) and also served briefly in the Imperial Diet (1872–1873). He died in Prague.

Suggested Reading

Hillel J. Kieval, Languages of Community: The Jewish Experience in the Czech Lands (Berkeley, 2000); “Kuh, David,” in Biographisches Wörterbuch des öosterreichischen Kaiserthums, vol. 13, p. 340 (Vienna, 1865); Jacob Shatzky, “Jewish Ideologies in Austria during the Revolution of 1848,” in Freedom and Reason: Studies in Philosophy and Jewish Culture, ed. Salo Baron, Ernest Nagel, and Koppel Pinson, pp. 413–437 (Glencoe, Ill., 1951).