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Europe and America Criss-Crossing Perspectives, 1788-1848

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Jacques Portes

Deuxième partie. Europe Viewing America

II.2. Czechs, Slovaks and America: Responses to the New World from the Declaration of Independence to the Mid-19th Century

Josef Grmela

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  • 1 Apart from some of the fiction of Wil la Gather, no creative literature of any importance seems to (...)
  • 2 Most American 19th century and early 20th century statistics about immigration were rather unreliab (...)
  • 3 The number of Slovaks living in the United States in 1920 was 620 thousand (cf. Josef Polišenský, e (...)

1There are several specific things to be said about the Czechs and Slovaks and their relationship to the United States- One of them, maybe not so unique after all, is the relative scarcity of good creative literature dealing with the Czech-American and Slovak-American experience1. Another, perhaps more unusual, is the ongoing lack of a full, unbroken history of this complex experience involving millions and millions of people from all walks of life, both living and dead- What with the combined contingent of Czechs and Slovaks closely trailing only that of the Poles among the Slavic ethnics living in America2, and with the Slovaks being outstripped only by the Irish as to the degree of depopulation which emigration to America brought to their native lands3, one would expect things to be a little different. But then, unlike the Poles, the Irish, the Jews, the Germans, the Italians, and surely many others, the Czech and Slovak immigrants seemed to have no such towering personalities who could measure up to men such as Lafayette, Pulaski, Kosciusko, or, later, say, to Carl Schurz, Joseph Pulitzer or Fiorello La Guardia, not to mention the vast legion of various minority immigrants who made their names in arts and sciences – Or is this lack of truly outstanding Czechs and Slovaks in America possibly only apparent?

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  • 4 Until recently it had been assumed by Hungarian historians that Beňovský was a Hungarian (Magyar), (...)

2To be sure, the following is not going to be a long list of great Czech or Slovak scientists, scholars and artists who have lived and worked in the United States since Antonín Dvořák, yet whose origins are practically unknown. Rather, I would like to devote the first few pages to a story of one very special relationship to America of an 18th-century man whose origins, and often even the name, remain undeservedly unknown, even to many American historians, regardless of the undeniable significance of his American connection. The man is Móric Beňovský (his own apellings were Benyowszky or Benyowsky), a cosmopolitan nobleman from what was then the Hungarian kingdom within the Austrian empire, though, as we know now, certainly not cosmopolitan enough to ever forget that he was a Slovak and a Slav4.

  • 5 A comprehensive overview of the artistic reflections of Beňovský’s life can be found in the above-m (...)
  • 6 Cf. the above-mentioned book studies by Orlowski and Sieroszewski, the unpublished study by R. Brtá (...)
  • 7 The only American response to Leon Orlowski’s pioneering book was the review of his book in the Eng (...)
  • 8 Leon Orlowski’s account of Beňovský’s relationship to the United States is most reliable and compre (...)

3The subject of more legends (partly by his own design), and of more novels, drama, film and television productions, epic poems, operas, and even musicals, than possibly any other 18th century Central European5, Beňovský’s life story has become so enveloped in myths, half-truths and outright untruths, that he has by now clearly developed into ths favourite bogey of almost anyone writing about the Slovak-American experience. It is thanks to the research efforts in the past few decades of several Polish and one Slovak scholar6, that various facets of Beňovský’s life are better known today than ever before- However, only some of the results of the research have been published, and only in Polish; and so far none of them have been commented on in the publications of either American or Czechoslovak students of the Slovak-American experience, or by any other Americanists7. With the bicentenary of Beňovský’s death this year, this is perhaps not a bad opportunity to at least briefly recapitulate the true, if not as yet fully reconstructed, story of Beňovský’s relationship to the early American republic8.

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  • 9 Cf. note 6. According to Sieroszewski, op. cit., p. 66 and p. 207, Beňovský in fact commimtted a mi (...)

4Known throughout much of Europe, Asia, Africa and America as an able military leader and organizer, Beňovský was not only a man of numerous breathtaking abilities, accomplishments and adventures, but also a man chronically beset by more than a fair share of ill luck. A good deal of the mere forty years of his life (he lived between 1746 and 1786), he spent on the run from the authorities of his native land, the reason for that being somewhat problematic charges of criminal activities9. Gallantly joining the struggle of the Polish confederacy against the Czarist army in the late 1760s, he was, unlike his fellow-combatant Casimir Pulaski, unlucky enough to fall into captivity and be held in exile for some time in Eastern Siberia. After pulling off one of the most spectacular escapes of all times (even though not half as spectacular as he would have it in his memoirs), bringing him and a few dozen of his fellow-captives first to Japan, and later, by way of Taiwan, to Portuguese Macao, Beňovský joined in 1772 the services of Louis XV, the king of France.

  • 10 The appendix to the above-cited book by Orlowski includes the text of Pulaski’s letter to the Conti (...)
  • 11 Apart from the above-mentioned letters from the extensive correspondence between Beňovský and Frank (...)

5It was in France, or at least through the mediative role of France, that Beňovský’s American connection came into being. Sent by the French government in 1773 as a new administrator to the island of Madagascar, Beňovský quickly established himself at the island as an ambitious, reform-minded and effective official who through his deeds was able to gain the trust and even affection of the native people and their rulers- This in turn earned him the understandable distrust of his French superiors who recalled the maverick do-gooder in late 1776 back to Paris- Only further research can give a definitive answer to what prevented Beňovský from fulfilling his stated intention to join as soon as possible his old fellow-veteran Pulaski who had acquired an important position in the American army. At any rate, the preserved Pulaski correspondence10, and the facts known about Beňovský’s contacts with the American envoy in France, Benjamin Franklin11, prove that the Slovak nobleman was willing to be helpful in more ways than one. In fact, what Beňovský’s eloquent offers amounted to, was an invitation to what might have become the first American imperial venture. He repeatedly entreated the American authorities to sponsor and take part in his plans for an expedition to Madagascar, obviously without the knowledge, and to the apparent disadvantage of his current French masters. Although the answers of the highest American authorities to Beňovský’s appeals, or to similar appeals from Pulaski, do not seem to have re-surfaced (at least not yet), it is fair to assume that the initial American reactions to Beňovský’s bold schemes must have been cautious. At least, there is no reason to believe tham to have been otherwhise. It is not difficult to infer that the Americans must have considered their more or less friendly relations with France, their only meaningful ally at the time as, an impediment. An even more compelling reason must have been the fact that the Americans were simply too busy with their own survival as an independent nation to have the time and the means for meddling into the affairs of a distant East African island.

  • 12 It is perhaps not difficult to see Beňovský’s activities after his return to the Austrian empire as (...)
  • 13 Leon Orlowski, op. cit., pp. 248-250.

6Yet, there was probably nothing on earth that could have stopped Beňovský from trying to carry out what was by now apparently his fixed idea. After a brief spell in 1778 and ’79 in his native land where he had recently been pardoned12, Beňovský left in mid-1 779 for America to join Pulaski, and perhaps to prove through his own share of fighting the seriousness of his intent to help the Americans through his grand Madagascar design- Recurrence of ill luck prevented him from properly fulfilling either of his plans. By the time Beňovský reached the American shores, his friend and fellow-propagator of the Madagascar plan Pulaski had fallen in the battle of Savannah, Georgia, and Beňovský, who had no workable knowledge of English, and without any friends or acquaintances to lean upon, found himself in an unenviable position. In the early summer of 1780 he was literally begging the Continental Congress for financial assistance in returning back to Europe13. However, the Congress was less than generous, and Beňovský had to find other ways and means in order to be able to return to the old cont inent.

  • 14 Ibid., p. 252.
  • 15 Ibid., p. 252.
  • 16 Cf. Washington’s correspondence in this matter, including his correspondence with Beňovský – Leon O (...)

7Yet, this was by no means to be his last good-bye to America, on the contrary. To cut a long story short, back in Paris, Beňovský began to cultivate with renewed vigour his acquaintance with Benjamin Franklin. Endowed with Franklin’s letters of recommendation14, Beiňovský left in early 1782 for America again – apparently with the alternative intention (to quote Franklin) "of settling there if he shall find the country agreeable"15. In the spring of that year, in collaboration with Baron von Steuben, the German-born inspector general of the American army, and under the aegis of no less than George Washington, Beňovský worked out a plan for the formation of a large military body consisting of professional German soldiers that was to help the hard-pressed American army in its defence against the British forces. Beňovský’s rich military and administrative experience warranted that the plan was realistic, which was a view shared by Washington himself16. However, the decision-making committees of the Congress were split in their opinions, and another of Beňovský’s plans aimed at boosting the young republic came to nothing. With the British-American war in the meantime nearing its negotiated end (this, incidentally, may have been the main reason for the stalling of Beňovský’s plan), and with his English still too poor to allow for any other meaningful participation in American life, Beňovský left America again in 1783, though not for good even this time.

  • 17 Cf. the letters between Countess Beňovský and Benjamin Franklin in Leon Orlowski, op. cit., pp. 272 (...)
  • 18 Orlowski’s book is not explicit in this respect, nor does the Franklin correspondence printed in th (...)
  • 19 Two articles in the Reader’s Digest Almanac and Yearbook 1983 make Beňovský’ s connection with the (...)
  • 20 The relevant excerpts from Beňovský’s contract with the Baltimore firm are quoted in Polish transla (...)

8After his return to Paris, Beňovský renewed his personal contacts with Benjamin Franklin. The fact that the repeated rebuffs Beňovský suffered from the Congress did no harm to the old friendship, is testified by the fact that not only Beňovský alone, but now also his family were on fairly intimate terms with the old diplomat17. In May 1784 Beňovský reappeared in America again. Soon thereafter the Baltimore firm of Zollichofer and Messonier provided him with a ship aptly called Intrepid for his long desired expedition to Madagascar. The exact character of the relation between Beňovský’s fresh contacts with Franklin and this eventual materialization of the Madagascar plan has yet to be established, though no-one seems to doubt the existence of this relation18. In any case, however, the ship with the Old Stars and Stripes at its mast19 sailed off in the autumn of 1784, and after a long and difficult voyage anchored at the island in the summer of 1785. What happened later, is somewhat difficult to understand since Beňovský’s whole previous record shows that his adventurous leanings had been so far always clearly outweighed by his rational considerations. It was before long that Beňovský declared himself with the assent of most local rulers the king of the island. He did so quite clearly on his own behalf, and certainly not on behalf of his American sponsors. There are many possible explanations for such a defiant move. But only one of them seems not to be irrational, namely, his unwillingness to comply with that article of his contract with the Baltimore firm which obliged him to supply his financiers with black slaves from the island20. Yet even given this unwillingness, it is as yet impossible to ascertain whether he was motivated by expedience or by moral considerations, since Beňovský’s views on the “peculiar institution" are still a matter of mere conjecture. At any rate, the predictable reaction of the "legal owner" of the island was swift and effective; on May 23, 1786 Beňovský died of a bullet shot by a French soldier.

  • 21 Although Beňovský’s memoirs are notoriously a mixture of facts and fiction, they do include reconst (...)
  • 22 Cf. the correspondence to this effect between Countess Beňovský and Franklin in Leon Orlowski, op. (...)

9It is undoubtedly a pity that neither Franklin’s autobiography, nor Beňovský’s memoirs, both of them equally well-known in their respective parts of the world, were ever finished, depriving us thus of direct personal comment from the two men on Beňovský’s contribution to the early history of the independent American republic21. The preserved papers of Benjamin Franklin, as well as the cordial correspondence between Franklin and Beňovský’s widow, who, together with his children, Beňovský had prudently left behind in Maryland, and whom Franklin later generously helped to return to the estates in her and Beňovský’s homeland22, seem to indicate that the particular "missing chapter" in Franklin’s autobiography would have prevented Beňovský from becoming the half-forgotten man of the Early Republic he still appears to be.

  • 23 For the term see Claude Lévi-Strauss, Hyšlení přírodníuch národü. Praha, 1971, p. 42.

10There was indubitably much that was accidental about Beňovský’s relationship to the young American nation, and about his willingness to lend it his services- The disagreement between those who are inclined to see this flamboyant man primarily as a self-seeking adventurer, and those who point out the numerous proofs of his idealism, love of liberty and unswerving loyalty to those he cared for and admired, a disagreement which started already during Beňovský’s life-time, seems to die hard- However, heretical as it may sound, was there not something adventurous about the American rebellion itself and about all the Europeans who came to help it? Whatever the results of further research into Beňovský’s personality and deeds, one thing is nevertheless certain, namely that the accidentality of his attachment to the young United States, was, to use the apt term coined by Claude Lévi-Strauss, "objective accidentality"23.

  • 24 All following information on the history of Czechs and Slovaks in the period in question draws on t (...)

11 By "objective", I mean above all the fact that Beňovský was one of the few among his compatriots who were in a position to contribute in any way to the American cause. A freedom-loving nobleman, like all the other outstanding Europeans who served under the banner of the young nation, he had both the proper educational background and the means to render himself available in the first place. Not so the overwhelmingly majority of Slovaks and Czechs of the period. The official abolition of the system of serfdom in the Austrian empire took place as late as 178124. In many places, especially in Slovakia, the actual implementation of this abolition was to be postponed until much later. It is also worth remembering that the unconditional surrender of the Czech people to the Austrian Habsburg dynasty in 1620 had left the Czechs with preciously few noblemen and even fewer intellectuals of their own. The ethnic Slovak nobility and intelligentsia, exposed even longer to the adverse attention of both the Austrian and regional Hungarian rulers, represented an even thinner stratum of the population in the late 18th century. The percentage of legally free people of Czech or Slovak ethnic origin, especially of those who lived in the mostly Germanized or Hungarianized towns, and who had access to any meaningful kind of education and information, was almost negligible till the 19th century.

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  • 25 Surprising as it may sound, in spite of all other changes in newspaper publishing, the character of (...)
  • 26 This was the first attempt in Czech at a systematic review of the American phenomenon, fired no dou (...)

12 In any respect, it can be said that the average Czechs and Slovaks contemporaneous to the Early republic period had appreciably fewer opportunities to form any opinion towards the young American nation, and in many cases even to learn anything of it, than some other peoples of central Europe or most peoples of western Europe. Admittedly, the few and usually shortlived periodicals published towards the end of the 18th century by Czech or Slovak patriots did take some occasional notice of the rise and continuing existence of the United States. However, the references were not only second-hand, as might be expected from low-circulation periodicals with no foreign correspondents of their own, but also extremely scarce and reticent25. Obviously, the briefness, guardedness or simply irrelevance of most of the remarks concerning America had much to do with the strict censorship of periodicals at the period. One remarkable exception to the general reticence about America was the modest book by one of the first Slovak national "awakeners" Ladislav Bartholomeides, Historia o Americe, or The History of America. published in the regional Slovak capital of Bratislava in 179426– This, incidentally, was to remain the only book written about America by a Czech or Slovak until the second half of the 19th century.

  • 27 There are few, and mostly extremely brief references to the American phenomenon in any of the publi (...)

13Clearly, given the topicality and especially the geographic proximity of the French Revolution and of the subsequent Napoleonic wars, the distant young republic was no longer news, or, viewed from a later perspective, no news as yet. It was only the return of the Austrian empire to the "phoney peace" presided over by the infamous chacellor Metternich, that interest in America began to gradually resurface again. Thanks to the fermentation brought about by the Napoleonic upheavals, the cracks in the economic and political system of feudalism were no longer quite repairable. For all its dogged efforts to retain the status quo, even such a radically reactionary government as the Austrian could not halt the development of two things. First was the dramatic rise of industries (this was for a number of reasons most marked in the Czech-speaking regions of the empire, while almost least marked in the Slovak-speaking onens). Second was the no less dramatic rise of patriotic and nationalistic feelings among the various ethnic groups of the state. This was concurrent with the rise of the ethnic middle classes and ethnic intelligentsia which was again most salient in the Czech-speaking parts of the empire, though not negligible in Slovakia either. There was also a new kind of proletariat, the urban ethnic industrial proletariat which joined and extended the ranks of the already sizeable ethnic urban proletariat consisting of servants. Yet with the young Czech and Slovak middle class intelligentsia still firmly at the helm of the national cause, there appeared to be few better living inspirations for the leaders of the two emerging ethnic nations than the example of the arch-middle-class American republic. This, however, was to be only partly the case. For one thing, most Czech or Slovak leaders must have been rather doubtful about the long-term realizability of the American dream, their view of human nature being appreciably less optimistic than that of the Founding Fathers of the American republic. At the same time their view of the applicability of the American system of government (or at least of its fundamental features) in the existing conditions of the Austrian empire must have been, and justifiably so, rather sceptical. This, of course, did not rule out sympathies for the American experiment, but the suspicion that much of this system was simply Utopian or merely hypocritical, was surely amplified by the then considerable inaccessibility of America for Europeans, and by the often contradictory reports received from there. The widespread tendency to see the specificity of America in ethnic terms and to view America as a place where the by now "proverbial” Anglo-Saxon eccentricity in life and in religion had free reign, naturally marred the understanding of the universal values of the American experiment27.

  • 28 Even the more serious items betray the scepticism on the part of the Czech and Slovak intelligentsi (...)

14Even so, allowing for the censorship, the number and variety, if not necessarily the extent or profoundness of favourable references to the American phenomenon at least in part of the slowly broadening spectrum of Czech and Slovak periodicals, as well as the general level of information reflected in these references, kept slowly growing in the 1820s, ’30s and ’40s28. Symptomatically, there is no single sign in any of the Czech or Slovak periodicals, or in the private papers of Czech and Slovak ethnic leaders, of a significant awareness of the emerging American culture. Nevertheless, much, if not most of the information on America, was still received by the mostly multi-lingual Czech or Slovak intelligentsia from the by now ample German periodical treatment and books on the subject. Yet, until the late 1840s, there was to be no new Slovak or Czech Beňovský, no Czech or Slovak counterpart to de Tocqueville, or at least to Frances Trollope.

  • 29 Cf. Karen Johnson Freeze, Czechs, in: Stephan Thernstrom, ed., The Harvard Encyclopedia of American (...)

15Moreover, the relationship of a great deal of the patriotic Czech and Slovak intelligentsia began to be gradually troubled by the fear of what is today aptly called the brain-drain. A brain-drain of sorts among the Czechs and Slovaks had been happening by then for centuries. Quite obviously not all the Czechs or Slovaks who, so to speak, changed their ethnic nationality into German or Magyar, were intellectuals. On the other hand, almost all the most gifted members of the two Slavic nations were, until the first decades of the 19th century, an easy prey to the Germanization or Magyarization schemes of the rulers of the empire. Now, with the real or alleged advantages of the American system being widely publicized, who could guarantee that the most gifted members of the two ethnic nations would not view the ready-made opportunities of American life as an easy alternative to hard-won and slow progress at home? To be sure, these fears were mostly hypothetical until the 1850s because the number of Czechs and Slovaks, mostly artisans and a few intellectuals, who emigrated to America in the first half of the 19th century did not exceed several hundred- It is perhaps not without interest that the one man who stands out from among this rather anonymous group of Czech and Slovak immigrants is the Czech Roman Catholic priest Jan Nepomuk Neumann, the founder of the parochial school system in the United Staes, bishop of Philadelphia, and even the first American male made saint (he was canonized in 1977)29.

16Nevertheless, fears of a brain-drain there were. At the same time there was also the natural commonsensical suspicion that not everything that glitters is gold that began to influence the tone of even favourable remarks on America, especially in the early and mid-1840s- Obviously, the impromptu mid-19th-century Czech and Slovak probing into the issue of the complex and ambiguous character of American institutions could not have achieved the profoundness of de Tocqueville’s analysis- One thing, nevertheless, was clear to all: a country where there were millions of black slaves, and which so unscrupulously treated its native Indian population, could not be a paragon of perfection.

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  • 30 At one time or another, emigration to the United States was contemplated by such leading Czech nati (...)
  • 31 A touching testimony to the gradual frustration of the almost unlimited hopes and optimism of some (...)

17 It was this critical, if not necessarily anti-American view that informs the first Czech literary work to deal directly with an American theme, the play The Sylvan Maiden, or Journey to America. Although the genre of the work appears to be "lightweight", a mere dramatical farce, its author was no less than the leading playwright of the Czech national revival and the author of the lyrics of the Czech national anthem, the then 42-year old Josef Kajetan Tyl. Leaving aside for the purposes of this contribution the details of the plot, or the strictly literary merits or demerits of the play, it would be as well to take note of the historical conditioning of the play in the first place. The year in which the play appeared, 1850, could not fail to influence the whole structure of the play. It was more than one year after the abortive 1848 Revolution which set aflame almost the whole of Central Europe. Since the defeat, thousands of revolutionaries, chiefly from Germany, looked for a new home in America. The play clearly betrays its author’s fears that the latent spectre of the brain-drain might now, after the German example, get loose also among the Czech intelligentsia and among the more ambitious and able members of the lower, but potentially upward moving middle classes30. Needless to add, the repercussions of such a development would be much worse in a small and only recently culturally revived ethnic nation. All of this, of course, is not put so straightforwardly. After all the play is an allegory. Although it shows more than a fair share of Tyl’s knowledge of American life and institutions, the drama is rather a sort of fairy tale dream-cum-nightmare. As a matter of fact, a title such as "An American Dream That Failed" would by no means be a bad alternative title for the depiction of frustrated dreams of a group of Czech emigrants. However, the play was neither a profound analysis of the realistic or Utopian aspects of the American dream, nor was it, as it might appear at first sight, cheap anti-American propaganda. The danger to the still fragile Czech national cause inherent in a potential mass emigration of the ablest members of the nation, and the actual fate of numerous frustrated and unsuccessful immigrants in the late 1840s and early 1850s completely unprepared to face the harshness of the New World31, attest to the justice of Tyl’s main points.

18It is perhaps again one of the "objective accidental ities" of Czech or Slovak attitudes to America that as one of the main proofs of the imperfection of American life Tyl points out in the play the sorry lot of the American Indians. The parallel between the Austrian-German or Hungarian-Magyar invasion and the subsequent ascendancy over the native Central European Slavic peoples, and the Anglo-Saxon invasion and ascendancy over the aboriginal Indians must have offered itself almost involuntarily. It is therefore scarcely surprising that one of the most important Czech mediators of American culture in the second half of the 19th century, and in fact the first Czech of some consequence to come to America in the middle of the 19th century, Vojta Náprstek (1826-1894), should have occupied himself during his American stay (1848-1858) primarily with the vanishing culture of the Indians. One of the first to leave for America after the unsuccessful 1848 Revolution, Náprstek seems to have refuted Tyl’s fears. Nothing could better prove the mutual benefits of trans-Atlantic contacts than Náprstek’s important scholarly works on the 19th century Indian and general American life, or his whole educational activity after his return home in 1858. But all this, as well as the subsequent epic of the largescale Slovak and Czech immigration to America with its complex impact on the national life back home, is already another chapter.

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19Lastly, a few words in conclusion. The above contribution, it is hoped, demonstrates that some mental constructs, including such phenomena as "the American dream", or inspiraiton from practical foreign examples, are truly potent forces in an ever more shrinking world. By the same token, however, it appears that, however great the real or potential influence of these factors may be, the quintessential factor in the development of each nation is the configuration of intrinsic forces and needs inherent in the nation’s specific historical situation. This also explains why the inspiration drawn by Czechs and Slovaks for their national lives from late 18th century and early 19th century America was not able to be more powerful than it actually was.

Notes de fin

1 Apart from some of the fiction of Wil la Gather, no creative literature of any importance seems to have been written in English about the experience of those Czechs who came to settle in America during the great immigration wave. Strangely enough, no lasting literary record of this experience has been written by a Czech immigrant in spite of the fact that the Czechs were on the whole among the best educated migrants. A few remarkable novels on the immigrant life have been written in English by two first generation Americans of Slovak origin, Thomas Bell (1903-61) and Michael Novak (1933-), but again no lasting literary record of the experience has been written in Slovak by the immigrants themselves.

2 Most American 19th century and early 20th century statistics about immigration were rather unreliable as to the ethnic origins of the immigrants, which meant that many Czechs were passed for Austrians or Germans, while many Slovaks for Hungarians/Magyars; cf. Josef Polišenský, ed., Začiatky českej a slovenskej emigracie do USA, Bratislava, 1970, p. 101. Even later American statistics have to be taken with many reservations for a number of reasons (e.g., the respondents are asked to report the country of their origin rather than their ethnic nationality; however, with those Americans who reported to be of "Czechoslovak" origin one can assume that most of them were of Czech or Slovak ethnicity, and only rarely say members of the German or Hungarian or other minorities living in Czechoslovakia. Even so, this leaves open the question of how many of them were Czech and how many Slovak). At any rate, the number of approximately one million Americans of Czech or Slovak origin mentioned in the 1950 census is likely to be rather conservative (cf. Josef Polišenský, ed., op. cit., p. 97). Nevertheless, it is certainly nearer the mark than later statistics in which many Americans of the younger generations already completely integrated into the American nation chose not to report their ethnic origin or did not report it because their ancestry became so complex as to make it impossible to decide on one single country for their ancestors.

3 The number of Slovaks living in the United States in 1920 was 620 thousand (cf. Josef Polišenský, ed., op. cit., p. 69). Of these some may have later returned to the old country. However, even so, compared with the approximately 3 million Slovaks living then in Slovakia, this is surely the highest rate of emigration for any country with the exception or Ireland.

4 Until recently it had been assumed by Hungarian historians that Beňovský was a Hungarian (Magyar), and it was a common-place in Poland to think that he was a Pole. By the same token, it has never been doubted by Slovak authors that Beňovský was a Slovak. Given his linguistic abilities, it might equally be argued along this line that he was a Frenchman. The first attempt to solve the thorny question of Beňovský’s ethnic origin was made by the Polish scholar Leon Orlowski who proved beyond any doubt that contrary to Beňovský’s own allegations there was no Polish strain in Beňovský’s family tree (cf. Leon Orlowski, Maurycy August Beniovski. Warsaw, 1961, p. 186). However, debunking the old Polish myth about Beňovský seems to have been enough for Orlowski, since he made no attemps to ascertain what kind of "Hungarian" Beňovský really was. Orlowski uses as a proof of Beňovský’s Magyar ethnicity a brief letter written by him at the age of approximately 6-7 years in Hungarian. This, however, given the usual Hungarian education of higher-class Slovak children at this period, is no proof of anything. Incidentally, the letter in question is the only retained letter by Beňovský written in Hungarian. The favourite languages of his correspondence were French, Latin and somewhat uncertain German-
The proofs of Beňovský’s Slovakness have finally been provided by the Slovak literary historian Rudo Brtáň in an unpublished study whose findings were later extended by the Polish scholar Stefan Makowski (cf- Andrzej Sieroszewski, Maurycy Beniowski w literackiej legendzie. Warsaw, 1970, p. 62.).

5 A comprehensive overview of the artistic reflections of Beňovský’s life can be found in the above-mentioned work by A. Sieroszewski. It is, however, symptomatic that none of these literary works deals with Beňovský’s American stays or other American-related activities.

6 Cf. the above-mentioned book studies by Orlowski and Sieroszewski, the unpublished study by R. Brtáň and the follow-up study by Makowski. The two Polish books, especially Orlowski’s, give the most comprehensive and reliable account of Beňovský’s life. The only mistake to be found in Orlowski’s book, namely the uncritically repeated legend that young Beňovský fled from Hungary to Poland because of killing a man, has been refuted by Sieroszewski, op. cit., p. 66. The latter, however, finds no other mistaken statements in Orlowski’s book. All references in this contribution to Beňovský’s life draw on Orlowski’s and Sieroszewski’s studies.

7 The only American response to Leon Orlowski’s pioneering book was the review of his book in the English-language, American-based Hungarian Quarterly by the Polish émigré author Jan Morelowski, entitled "Beniowski in the Light of Truth" The Hungarian Quarterly. 1962, n° 1-2, pp. 125-128. Unfortunately, the review repeats as factual Orlowski’s assumption that Beňovský was a Hungarian, and also repeats the romantic yet untrue story of Beňovský’s involvement in a killing as the reason for his flight to Poland. No other response to Orlowski’s book, and no responses to Sieroszewski’s book in the English language have been found by the present author.

8 Leon Orlowski’s account of Beňovský’s relationship to the United States is most reliable and comprehensive. It also includes some texts of Beňovský’s own correspondence with Casimir Pulaski, Benjamin Franklin and of his other American-related correspondence. Even so, there still remain many aspects of Beňovský’s American and America-related activities which require further research –

9 Cf. note 6. According to Sieroszewski, op. cit., p. 66 and p. 207, Beňovský in fact commimtted a minor misdemeanour for which he was sentenced to 2 months’ imprisonment.

10 The appendix to the above-cited book by Orlowski includes the text of Pulaski’s letter to the Continental Congress concerning the project of a United States expedition to Madagascar. Leon Orlowski, op. cit., p. 244.

11 Apart from the above-mentioned letters from the extensive correspondence between Beňovský and Franklin, also letters between Franklin and Beňovský’s widow, and Franklin’s diary entry concerning Beňovský are included in their original languages in the appendix of Orlowski’s book (pp. 244, 246-248, 250, 252-254, 272-282).

12 It is perhaps not difficult to see Beňovský’s activities after his return to the Austrian empire as proof of his opportunism. There is no doubt according to Orlowski or any other writer that Beňovský tried to peddle his grand Madagascar design to the Vienna court. However, when he failed to convince the latter of the expediency of his plans, he returned to his first hoped-for sponsor by whom he had been repepatedly refused – the Americans.

13 Leon Orlowski, op. cit., pp. 248-250.

14 Ibid., p. 252.

15 Ibid., p. 252.

16 Cf. Washington’s correspondence in this matter, including his correspondence with Beňovský – Leon Orlowski, op. cit., pp. 256-272.

17 Cf. the letters between Countess Beňovský and Benjamin Franklin in Leon Orlowski, op. cit., pp. 272-280.

18 Orlowski’s book is not explicit in this respect, nor does the Franklin correspondence printed in the appendix of the book give any clear evidence of the extent of Franklin’s involvement in the matter.

19 Two articles in the Reader’s Digest Almanac and Yearbook 1983 make Beňovský’ s connection with the American flag doubly interesting. For one thing, judging from the information on the history of the American flag, on p. 329, Beňovský, when sailing in 1784 and 1785 to Madagascar, must have been among the first to undertake a voyage on such a scale under the original Stars and Stripes. By the same token, the information printed on the opposite page (p. 328) makes it clear that his name, if accidentally, was linked with the definitive "star-spangled banner" and the American national anthem of that name: "On Oct. 19, 1814, the poem was first sung in public and for the first time given the title The Star-Spangled Banner [in an] entertainment following a performance in Baltimore of the play Count Benyowski".

20 The relevant excerpts from Beňovský’s contract with the Baltimore firm are quoted in Polish translation in Leon Orlowski, op. cit., p. 214.

21 Although Beňovský’s memoirs are notoriously a mixture of facts and fiction, they do include reconstructable grains of truth.

22 Cf. the correspondence to this effect between Countess Beňovský and Franklin in Leon Orlowski, op. cit., pp. 272-282.

23 For the term see Claude Lévi-Strauss, Hyšlení přírodníuch národü. Praha, 1971, p. 42.

24 All following information on the history of Czechs and Slovaks in the period in question draws on the standard work by Frantšek Kutnar, Přehled dějin Československa v epoše feudalismu IV. Prague, 1957.

25 Surprising as it may sound, in spite of all other changes in newspaper publishing, the character of the news items concerning the United States (there were hardly any commentaries on the American news) hardly changed until the middle of the 19th century. Most of the items were published under the headings "Medley" or "Curiosities" and the like, and were largely of anecdotal character.
Here are a few examples. First an item from an issue of Prešpurské noviny (Bratislava News), published in Czech (then still the common language of Czechs and Slovaks) in Bratislava in 1787 (issue 19, Wednesday, March 7, p. 149; this and all subsequent translations are mine – J. G.):
A certain English (sic) general in America called Pearzon (sic) found in autumn last year traces from which it can be inferred that America had been discovered long before Christopher Columbus".
Just what the traces were, where they were found, and which discoverers of America may have left them behind, is impossible to learn from this only and last piece of information on America (was it the United States or perhaps Canada?) that was to appear in this unfinished annual volume of the only Slovak newspaper at the time published for the Slovak-speaking population. (It soon thereafter collapsed because of lack of subscribers – a fate that was to be repeated with most Czech or Slovak-language newspapers published in the period of Czech and Slovak national "awakening", i.e. approximately till the middle of the 19th century .)
For comparison, here is an example from the Slovak periodical Orol Tatránsky The Tatran Eagle. published already in Slovak, in the revolutionary year 1848, n° 88, vol. III, p. 704: "How the North Americans Punish Unfaithfulness":
"The Americans are very courteous and deferential to women. Those men who do not behave accordingly, or who seduce a married woman, are sure to be shot."
As a matter of fact, there was not much difference between the Slovak and the Czech periodical treatment of America despite the societal and political differences between the two ethnic communities. To give a representative example, here is the "non-news" from "America" printed in the Medley column of the leading Prague-based Czech periodical Sedlské noviny (The Country News) on April 1, 1849, on p. 6 (this was, incidentally, no April Fools’ edition);
"Once again an idea for salvation; An American officer named Henry Moore is said to have invented an irresistible bomb that is so explosive that it destroys everything. So far his innovation is kept in secret, but Mr. Inventor would like to sell it. He offers it to European rulers. Buy, gentlemen, buy!"
This remarkable information was incidentally the only piece of news in the whole annual volume concerning America (unless one counts the news about the deposed French king Philip who had allegedly put his money into an American bank) .
There was from time to time of course some other, more substantial (if often jocularly worded) information on the United States. Here is a typical example from Orol Tatránsky published with pre-revolutionary audacity combined with Socratic irony in 1847 (n° 63, vol. II, p. 502): "What an Inhabitant of Boobytown Thinks of America":
One of the inhabitants of Boobytown has expressed the following opinion of the United States of America: "I cannot understand why some preposterous people goggle at America while here in Europe, and especially in our Boobytown, we have everything but bird’s milk. What a glorious place this is! What compared to our glory is the "glory" of the United States whose regular army has in peace time only a few thousand men, and whose President along with all his Secretaries costs only a little more than one European State Minister. A difference such as between day and night! Moreover, we Europeans are still privileged to be the subjects of kings, dukes, counts and squires, and to be small peasants or landless. With what pride and self-confidence a European can say; "I am His Royal Majesty’s customs clerk of the thirtieth rank!" Saying this, a man litterally expands, feeling his own value. What an empty and low life the Americans lead; "I am a free citizen!" Such a man does not even have an overlord above himself!"

26 This was the first attempt in Czech at a systematic review of the American phenomenon, fired no doubt by its author’s Rousseauesque sympathies with the new, supposedly as yet uncorrupted continent. The laudability of intention is nevertheless all but cancelled out by Bart holomeides’s ignorance of real facts, especially those concerning the Red Indians to whom he devoted most of the 160 pages of his book. It will perhaps suffice to illustrate the naivity of the stated "facts" by giving the author’s view of the Indians’ eating habits; "Ten wild Americans need hardly as much food as a simple European" op. cit., p. 106. The precious few remarks to be found in the book about the political system of the young republic appear to be quite correct and sympathetic, but for whatever reason the author stopped short of any detailed analysis of the system.

27 There are few, and mostly extremely brief references to the American phenomenon in any of the published correspondence of Czech and Slovak national leaders of the first half of the 19th century. If they are not as superficial as most of the new items on America printed in the periodicals (their editors were among the most influential national leaders), they clearly vacillate between sympathy and doubt.

28 Even the more serious items betray the scepticism on the part of the Czech and Slovak intelligentsia of the american political system and its real or alleged ambiguity or hypocricy. This was true especially when slavery and the treatment of Indians were discussed. The gradual rise of modern capitalism in America with its ruthless use of immigrant European labour was another topic fuelling the doubts about the United States. Cf. the following satirical item (printed in Orol Tatránski. vol. II, 1847, n° 55, p. 439, i.e. in the same volume as the "pro-American" article quoted in note 25): "A Dialogue":
"An American: ’You would be surprised, gentlemen, if you saw how far the art of drying up the swamps in New Orleans has advanced’. A German: ’Such work, I presume is surely done by Negroes?’ An American: ’God forbid! Such work is very unhealthy and dangerous to life. Many slaves would die in such work, and they are our property. It’s much better for us if the work is done by German and Irish immigrants. Moreover, they are ready to work for any pay.’" The best and most extensive treatment of the United States in Czech and Slovak periodicals (including the publications of first-hand documents such as translations of the United States constitution) is to be found in the short revolutionary period of 1848 – partly due to the lifting of censorship, partly due to the fact that the progressive aspects of the American system appeared now less Utopian than before. The chief problem, however, lay in the fact that the German and Hungarian liberals and radicals in the empire who felt inspired by the bourgeois democratic, and many even by the republican system of the United States, managed to discredit the ideals of this system among the Slavic peoples more than the most effective counterrevolutionary propaganda. The anti-Slavic stance of the German and Hungarian liberals and radicals was cleverly used by the Vienna court for the undermining and gradual liquidation of the revolution.

29 Cf. Karen Johnson Freeze, Czechs, in: Stephan Thernstrom, ed., The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups. Harvard University Press, 1980, p. 262.

30 At one time or another, emigration to the United States was contemplated by such leading Czech national "awakeners" as the radical revolutionary journalist Karel Havlíček Borovský, the writer Božena Nĕmcová, the first Czech socialist theretician František Matouš Klácel, and by the Slovak national leader Ludovít Štúr- In all these cases, however, the feeling of obligation to the motherland even in the adversity of the absolutist rule that followed the defeat of the 1848 revolution, won over personal considerations.

31 A touching testimony to the gradual frustration of the almost unlimited hopes and optimism of some of the Czech immigrants who left for America after the defeat of the 1848 revolution, is the sample of letters sent to the old country printed in the appendix to Josef Polišenský, ed., Začiatky českej a slovenskej emigrácie, Bratislava, 1970, pp. 222- 306. Though the sampling may have been selective, the hardships described in the letters, stemming both from the whims of nature and from the ‘’rugged" American individualism, are clearly quite typical.

Auteur

Săfarik University Košice-Prešov, Czechoslovakia

© Éditions de la Sorbonne, 1988

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