Poland's Last King and English Culture: Stanislaw August Poniatowski, 1732-1798

Poland's Last King and English Culture: Stanislaw August Poniatowski, 1732-1798

Poland's Last King and English Culture: Stanislaw August Poniatowski, 1732-1798

Poland's Last King and English Culture: Stanislaw August Poniatowski, 1732-1798


The attempt by Stanislaw August Poniatowski (1764-95) "to create anew the Polish world" was one of the most audacious enterprises of reform undertaken by any enlightened monarch in the eighteenth century. Inspired by his love of England, the king's efforts helped bring about a flourishing of Polish culture and a constitution admired across Europe. They also provoked the revenge of Russia and the partitioning of the state. With new perspectives on the successes and limitations of the Polish Enlightenment, this book presents a dynamic interpretation of European culture in the eighteenth century.


Vous m'avez assez bien connu pour scavoir que le redressement de l'tat Politique de ma Patrie, et le développement du Génie de ma Nation sont les principaux buts de mon ambition. Ceci vous dit combien je désire derevoir une fois l'Angleterre.

Stanisław A. Poniatowski to Charles Yorke, 1755.

This book was researched and written during six momentous years of Polish history. When the subject was first suggested to me, early in 1989 , I could not have imagined its current relevance. Studying the influence of foreign models in a 'new creation of the Polish world' two centuries ago, I witnessed similar phenomena and similar controversies, as Poland was transformed around me. There is another analogy, a more foreboding one -- the sudden recovery of national sovereignty in 1788 and 1989. Will Poland Poland's present independence be one more interlude in a pattern of Russian domination that stretches back to the early eighteenth century, or will it lead to the permanent replacement of that pattern? Now as then, the successes and failures of the Poles themselves count for less than the attitudes of the great powers. Such analogies make a book more exciting to write; they may even make it more interesting to read. They are also dangerous. The Polish world of two centuries ago was very different from that of today, for all the striking analogies, and the perils of anachronism are nowhere more obvious than in the minefield of nomenclature.

The English historian of early modern Poland-Lithuania may legitimately envy his French colleague the relative ease with which he may render official terminology and place and personal names. The use of French as the international language of diplomacy and high society in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries has bequeathed a comprehensive French nomenclature, which may be employed (almost) without fear or favour. Contemporary Englishmen, confronted with the same names and terms, wavered between the French, Latin, and German versions. The wholesale adoption of eighteenth-century English nomenclature, if indeed a 'received' version could be culled from maps, books, letters, and despatches, would be as confusing to the modern English reader as the bowdlerized Polish terminology (such as 'voivod') and modern place-names (like Szczecin) used in histories translated into English in Poland. Unable . . .

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