Why the History of Bohemia is interesting, especially to Americans -- One Bohemian in Fifteen lives in America -- The "Incomparable Moravian," Comenius -- Characteristics of Czechs in America -- The Prowess of Blind King John John Huss, the Patriot Reformer -- His Trial and Martyrdom -- The Sixth of July -- John Ziska, the Great General of his Army of Farmers -- Prokop the Great and his Ironclad Wagons -- The Fatal Battle of the White Mountain -- The Massacre of the Twenty-seven Nobles -- The Decline of Bohemian Liberty -- Bohemia under Francis Joseph -- Why Bohemians come to America.
The Hapsburg Dynasty, which originated in a certain small district within the present borders of Switzerland, gradually by conquest and diplomacy spread eastward and afterwards westward. Austria, however, has for centuries been its centre and most beloved home, and the Hapsburgs, whether losing or gaining outlying possessions, have made Vienna their capital, and ever sought chiefly the glory and aggrandizement of Austria.
Sometimes Hungary has been independent, sometimes in alliance, and again, as now, part of the Dual Monarchy as an independent kingdom. Bohemia has had her periods of independence. Poland was for a few years the dominant power of Europe, and free from Austrian and Prussian control; but Austria has always been true to the Hapspburgs, the oldest and, with the exception of Russia, the most conservative and reaction ary dynasty in Europe.
It is simply with the present Dual Monarchy, the old home of millions of new Americans, that this book has to do. Today we find that Austria-Hungary embraces two great kingdoms: Hungary, a comparatively compact, homogeneous country in the centre, practically independent of her partner in all internal affairs, and Austria surrounding by neighbor Hungary on all sides but the southeast. The Austrian part of the monarchy is by no means so homogeneous. Hungary is the kernel, Austria is the surrounding shell; or, if this comparison seems invidious (it is not meant in this sense, but only as a descriptive simile), let us say that the Hungarian centre is surrounded on almost every side by the Austrian outposts of empire. In these outposts are peoples of many races and many languages, --millions of Germans, more millions of Slavs, other millions of Jews, while the Slavs are of half a dozen varieties, speaking as many different languages or dialects.
Concerning the leading section of these races we must learn something of their history, their home life, their capabilities, their aspirations, in order to understand more intimately and sympathetically our new fellow citizens.
There is no better place to begin than with the northwest corner of the Dual Empire, where Bohemia juts out, With its rounded contour, into Germany. Bohemia is interesting to every reader, because of its, thrilling history, replete with deeds of patriotic courage, and because of its sturdy, industrious, progressive people, who, against terrific odds, are again reviving the ancient glories of their race.
Bohemia is especially interesting to the American reader, since there are at least four hundred thousand men, women, and children of Bohemian parentage in America, of whom more than one half were born on Bohemian soil, and because this great army is reinforced by an average of more than ten thousand new recruits every year. Think of a city the size of Milwaukee or of New Orleans, where every man, woman, and child was of Bohemian birth, and we can realize the contribution which this noble nation has made to our Republic. One Bohemian out of fifteen in all the world lives in America today, and every year America is making larger inroads on the population of Czech countries.
In this enumeration I count the Moravians with the Bohemians, because they speak practically the same language (all are Czechs), because their history is interwoven one with another from the earliest days, and because they are not distinguished in the Census Reports of the United States.
If the Bohemians and Moravians, as citizens of the United States, are weighed as well as numbered, they will not be found wanting. One of the earliest would-be emigrants to America was the noted scholar and religious leader, Comenius, who, next to Zinzendorf, is held in highest honor by the noble, self-sacrificing denomination of Christians called Moravians. He was invited to become president of Harvard College. Of him Cotton Mather writes in his "Ecclesiastical History of New England": "That brave old man Johannes Amos Comenius, the fame of whose worth has been trumpeted as far as more than three languages could carry it, was agreed withal by our Mr. Winthrop in his travels through the Low Countries to come into New England and illuminate this college and country in the quality of President.
But the solicitation of the Swedish ambassador directing him another way, that Incomparable Moravian became not an American.
Though this "Incomparable Moravian" did not become an American, many of his fellow countrymen and co-religionists did come as early as 1736. They were driven out of Bohemia by the savage persecutions that followed the Hussite movement, which were more prolonged, cruel, and bloodthirsty than the persecutions that drove the Huguenots from France. From Bohemia these "Brethren" took refuge in Moravia, where they became known as "Moravian Brethren." Driven from Moravia by the same bloody persecution, they found a home in Saxony, under Count Zinzendorf's patronage. Some of them followed the Count to Georgia, where he had a grant of land and where John Wesley dedicated their church.
A few Years later, in 1741, we find some of them settling in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which is today the chief centre of the Moravian Brethren of the United States. Here is the archive house of the denomination, which contains invaluable records of these early settlers, who would risk any peril, endure any privation, conquer any wilderness, do anything, indeed, but fight their neighbors.
There are many Moravian churches in the United States, and next to Bethlehem, Winston-Salem, in North Carolina, is the chief centre of their schools and publications. No nobler denomination of Christians exists in the world today. Their missionary zeal is proverbial. They seek out the hardest and most forbidding fields for their labors, where no one else will go: the fever-haunted jungles of Guiana, the inhospitable shores of Greenland, the leper settlements of many coasts. No field is too hopeless for these heroic Christians, who have added their saving salt to the great unleavened American lump.
Not until 1850, however, did the tide of American immigration set in from Bohemia, and this was due to economic causes rather than to religious persecution. But these emigrants have largely been of a superior class, intellectually and from the industrial standpoint. Ninety-seven per cent of them can read and write. Of late years, since manufactures have been encouraged by the Bohemians at home, many of the etnigrants are skilled workmen, though in the early days, when they went chiefly to Wisconsin, they were largely agriculturists. In some towns of that state they still form a very large minority of the population. Chicago numbers a hundred thousand Bohemians among its cosmopolitan peoples, being surpassed in the whole world as a Czech city only by Prague and Pilsen.
A certain religious isolation, owing to the persecutions and repressions in the home country, is characteristic of them in America, and unfortunately Freethinkers societies have obtained a strong hold on the Bohemian emigrants, many being professed infidels and Socialists of the ultra, non-Christian sort.
Dr. Grose in his valuable book, "Aliens or Americans," well characterizes the Czechs in America: "They are a home people, social and fond of organizations of every kind. Music is their passion, and their clubs, mutual benefit and loan associations, successfully run, show large capacity for management.
Their freethinking is not all of it by any means of the dogmatic sort, which has its catechism of atheism. There is another class represented by an old woman with a broad brow, over which the silvery hair is smoothly parted, who said to the missionary: "I have my God in my heart. I shall deal with him. I do not want any priest to step in between us."
The intellectual activity of the Bohemians in America is indicated by the fact that no less than seventy Czech papers are printed in the United States, and that the revival of the beloved language has developed many distinctive Bohemian scholars in the new world as well as in the old.
Let us turn from the Bohemians in America to the Bohemians at home, that we may know the fountain from which this great living stream flows to the new world. The country of the Czechs is about the size of the states of New Hampshire and Vermont combined, and contains nearly ten times as many people as those two states, or about as many as the State of Pennsylvania, -- something over six million. We find a climate not unlike southern New England, and a great variety of natural scenery, mountains and smaller hills, charming valleys, sparkling brooks, and a great central plain where the agricultural wealth of the country lies, while the manufactures and minerals are largely among the mountainous borders.
A romantic and heroic history is the proud heritage of every Bohemian and Moravian. It centres largely around certain great names, like the blind King John; John Huss, the reformer, to whom Protestantism owes more than to any man save Luther; John Ziska, and Prokop. As the history of the United States can be read in the biographies of Washington, Franklin, Webster, Lincoln, and Grant, so the story of the Golden Age of Bohemia is written in the lives of the three Johns, and of Prokop the Great.
King John, the first of the nation's heroes, comes on the stage in the early part of the fourteenth century. He was by no means a model, either as father or king, but he had the redeeming trait of courage, which endeared him to his people and has caused him to live in song and story. Ten years before his death he became totally blind, but he still continued to lead his people in battle, and often to victory.
A grim humor attaches to the story that during the siege of Cracow, the Polish King Casimir challenged him to single combat, agreeing that whoever won, to him should be accorded the victory for his country as well. King John replied that he would accept the challenge with pleasure, but on one condition, -- that King Casimir should allow both of his eyes to be put out, so that they might fight on equal terms. Needless to say the siege went on.
In I346 was fought the decisive battle of Crecy, reckoned as one of the fifteen most important battles in the world's history. Edward III, King of England, was waging war with Philip, King of France. The blind King John of Bohemia sided with his old ally of France, who had also the King of Germany for an ally. The battle went against the French, and his nobles informed King John of the fact, and advised him to follow the example of his allies and fly with them. "So will it God," answered the brave, blind king; "it shall not be said that a king of Bohemia flies from the battle-field."
The Old Market-Place, Prague
The Teyn Hussite Church in the Background
Old Town Hall with Famous Clock on Left
Brave as was King John, there was another John of Bohemia just as brave, who exerted a far greater influence, not only in his own country but throughout the world. This was John Huss, who has been rightly called, by an eminent authority, "the most prominent representative of the Czecho-Slavic race in the world's history." This is high praise, but it is not extravagant when we remember that every nation in Europe was directly influenced by the doctrines, the preaching, the life, and, more than all, by the death of Huss.
The story of Bohemia cannot be told if John Huss is left out of it. For hundreds of years after his death his name was the patriotic rallying-cry, and today, among Catholics and Protestants alike, his memory is the most honored of all the sons of Bohemia.
The visitor to the beautiful town hall of Prague will see a splendid oil painting by Bohemia's most distinguished artist hung on the most conspicuous wall, representing Huss at the Council of Constance. There he was tried, condemned, and burned at the stake, but there, too, he triumphed gloriously. The significance of this Portrait is greatly enhanced when we remember that the Roman Catholic rulers of a Roman Catholic nation thus honor the arch heretic, the great forerunner of Protestantism, because they see in him their nation's greatest patriot. For two hundred years after the death of Huss, the ferment of the new and liberal ideas in church and state seethed in Bohemia, until at the battle of White Mountain in I620 the enemies of Huss and of progress triumphed, and Bohemia's long era of serfdom and decay set in.
It is not too much to say that, though defeated in Bohemia, the principles of Huss triumphed on the larger battle-field of the world. His ideas prevailed in Germany, England, Scandinavia, and the Netherlands. They were adopted by the Puritans. They came to America.with the Pilgrims in the very year that they met their final overthrow in Bohemia. They rule the religious life of the dominant nations of the world to-day.
Were we indebted to Bohemia for nothing else than the life and influence of John Huss, the debt would be impossible to repay. This great world-hero was born in the year 1374, of humble parents, but he received the best education which his time and country could afford, and became a Master of Arts of the University of Prague when he was twenty-two. At the age of twenty-eight we find him dean of the philosophical faculty, and at twenty-nine the president of the university. He was renowned not only as a scholar but as an orator, and peasants and scholars alike acknowledged the spell of his eloquent lips. Nor was he a recluse of the library, dealing with academic themes alone. He took hold of the problems of the day, threw himself into the thick of the fight against popular abuses, against the priestly hierarchy, and in favor of the common people. He had genuine and grievous evils to contend against in church and state. He fought no windmills, but embodied wrongs.
In 1408 the storm broke out. The Pope gave orders to burn the books of Wyckliffe, "the Morning Star of the Reformation," whose doctrines for a whole decade Huss had been preaching. He also forbade all preaching except in parish churches and convents, a decree that was meant to muzzle Huss, since he was accustomed to preach in a private chapel.
From this moment the issue was joined, and it was a battle of Titans. On the one side were the authorities of the church, intrenched in traditions of the ages, fortified by enormous ecclesiastical patronage and political favor. On the other hand was a lone scholar, with a marvelously persuasive poice and an undaunted heart, supported, too, by the love and loyalty of the common people.
His king, Wenceslas of Bohemia, and the Queen Sophia were also his friends, at least half-heartedly, but all the other royalties of Europe were against him, and rejoiced in his overthrow. It was practically one man and the people of Bohemia against the kings and popes and priests and people of the world.
I have said "popes" advisedly, for there were at this time three popes recognized by different parts of the Catholic world, though all were united in their hatred of Huss. The two popes of greatest power and pretension were Pope John XXIII and Pope Gregory, who was supported by the King of Naples. Pope John tried to enlist the people of Bohemia against the King of Naples and incidentally against his rival, Pope Gregory, by sending envoys to Prague to sell indulgences that he might raise money for his campaign.
The Pope's preachers entered Prague in great state, with drummers going before them to the market-place. Here they called upon every one to contribute in cash or goods, promising in return immunity from hell and a shortened term in purgatory. This was more than the righteous soul of Huss could stand. He did not wish to take sides with either pope, but he declared that to avoid hell and to purchase heaven by enabling Pope John to kill the soldiers of the King of Naples, who were bound by their oaths to support their king, was abominably wicked.
He was supported by another fiery orator, Jerome of Prague, afterwards a fellow martyr with Huss, and together they carried the hearts and consciences of the common people and the students of the university, though against them were all the authorities, secular and ecclesiastical, except the vacillating king. In the course of the uproar about the indulgences, three young men, who tried to prevent their sale, were publicly executed; whereupon a band of students seized their bodies, and singing, "These are the Saints!" triumphantly carried them off to burial.
Now the war between the people and the authorities, between an awakened conscience and the buttressed traditions, waxed hot and bitter. The Pope excommunicated Huss.
Every one who might give him a cup of cold water or a crust of bread was also excommunicated. If he entered another town, the ban was on that town. No religious services could be held in it, the dead could not be buried, children could not be baptized, lovers could not be married. At the earnest request of the King, and to avoid further bloodshed, Huss left Prague for a little time and lived in the castle of one of his friends, as afterwards under similar circumstances Luther retired to the Castle of Wartburg. Huss, too, roved this time like Luther in later years, improved this time of exile to launch many of his thunderbolts against the evils of the day, both in Latin and in Bohemian, so that the Pope's bull and the exile of Huss harmed rather than helped the cause of Pope John.
King Sigismund of Hungary now comes upon the scene. He persuaded the Pope to call a general council of the church at beautiful Constance in Switzerland. At the same time he summoned Huss to appear at Constance, and persuaded his brother Wenceslas, King of Bohemia, that this would be the best solution of the trouble for all parties. Moreover, he assured Huss of a safe-conduct to Constance, free discussion there, and safe return, even if he did not submit to the decision of the Council.
Volumes have been written on the meaning of this safe-conduct, both for and against King Sigismund. As a matter of fact, it was a mere scrap of worthless paper, for Huss was imprisoned as soon as he reached Constance, and was set free only by the flames which soon enveloped his body and liberated his soul.
However, Huss was permitted to appear before the Council on the 5th, 7th, and 8th of June, 1415, but he was never allowed freely to state his case, and all sorts of absurd and evil stories were set on foot to prejudice the people against him and to justify his fate, which had been prejudged. One of these wicked libels was that Huss had declared that there were four persons in the Godhead: The Father, The Son, The Holy Ghost, and John Huss.
A month was allowed to elapse, and again he was brought before the Council, on July 6. But he would not recant. It was his last chance. His condemnation was foreordained. It was that he should suffer the most cruel of deaths. He was led from the council chamber of the cathedral to a green meadow, half a mile from the city, and there the flames that mounted to heaven proclaimed the liberation of Huss from his enemies, who at the same time lighted the torch of Liberty of Conscience which has never been extinguished. His loud prayers could be heard while the flames leaped around him, but the dense smoke driven into his face by a merciful wind soon ended his sufferings by suffocation. In their impotent rage his enemies carefully gathered up his ashes and threw them into the Rhine, to Prevent his countrymen from treasuring them. This act was an unconscious prophecy. Though Bohemia could not preserve his remains, and, after a struggle of two hundred years, lost the faith for which Huss stood, the Rhine carried his ashes through Switzerland, Germany, and Holland ; and all of these countries afterwards adopted his beliefs and became the bulwarks of his teachings.
Jerome of Prague is another name to conjure by in Bohemia, though his influence was and is by no means comparable to that of John Huss. His eloquence was even more fiery and persuasive than that of his older friend, but he lived much of the time away from Bohemia, and was not so thoroughly identified with her interests. He visited Huss at Constance, and for that imprudent interview was imprisoned, and in less than a year suffered the same fate as Huss. He met it so bravely that even an Italian priest, a legate of the Pope, was obliged to say of him: "None of the Stoics with so constant and brave a soul endured death, which he rather seemed to long for."
The news of the burning of Huss created a tremendous sensation and nation-wide grief in Bohemia, as can well be imagined, for the vast majority of the people were his devoted friends and disciples. The reaction against the priests knew no bounds. Every priest in Prague who had opposed Huss was expelled, and ministers of the Reformed religion were appointed in their place. Huss was proclaimed a holy martyr by the University of which he had been the Rector, and the 6th of July was made a holy day to commemorate his death and perpetuate his memory. For nearly two hundred years it was kept as a holiday, and as late as 1592, we are told, a Roman Catholic abbot at Prague was attacked by the people, and threatened with death, because he had let some of his laborers work in his vineyard's on the 6th of July."
Another John was the successor of John Huss as the popular leader and hero of the Bohemians. John Ziska was a warrior rather than a scholar, orator, and prophet. But as a military leader he was as great as Huss had been as a theologian and statesman. He has been compared by more than one author to Oliver Cromwell. He had, indeed, not a little of the great Puritan's simplicity and courage, and even more than Cromwell's military sagacity. Think of the material that John Ziska had out of which to forge an army that should successfully defy the united armies of Europe. Peasants, small landowners, shopkeepers, priests who had renounced the Pope, -- these were the men who rallied around his banner and composed his invincible army that never knew defeat. What were their arms At first only flails shod with iron, or short spears, while their opponents knew the use of gunpowder, and had the best arms and coats of mail that Europe could supply.
Ziska invented a unique system of warfare, and may be called the father of the modern ironclad; but his ironclads ploughed not the`seas, but the Bohemian plains. Indeed, it was an early adaptation of the modern mailclad ship to the prairie schooner of the Middle Ages. The wagons of the Bohemian farmers were linked together by strong chains, and were plated with steel or iron. In these wagons were the warriors, and in time of battle the women and children took shelter in them. They formed a kind of movable fort or series of forts. Ziska also soon developed a body of sharpshooters with the best guns procurable, and stationed them next to the horses to pick off the oncoming enemy. His cannon, too, though we should consider them clumsy and ineffective, soon proved that they were aimed with more skill than those of the enemy.
The stories of these old battles read like romances. In one of the earliest of them Ziska's forces were surprised by the enemy, and he had barely time to back his ironclad wagons against a small hill, while they were secured from attack on another side by a fish-pond. The enemy came on with ten times the number of Ziska's troops, but were obliged to dismount from their horses.
The women spread their long veils across the only road by which the enemy could march, and these veils became entangled in the spurs of their opponents. Then they retired to their wagons, while Ziska's sharpshooters decimated the Catholic troops, who were finally routed with great slaughter.
Over and over again crusades were planned by the neighboring nations against the Hussites. Many electors of Germany, Hungarians and Poles united their forces, but could never prevail. The mailclad chariots, the brave warriors, and above all the military genius of Europe's greatest general, John Ziska, beat back no less than five of these formidable crusades. In one battle fully twelve thousand Hungarians, led by King Sigismund himself, were slain, and the whole army was routed.
Unfortunately, dissensions broke out in the Reformed party itself. They were divided into two hostile ranks, the Conservative Protestants and the Radicals. The latter destroyed churches, works of art, libraries, and treasures of all sorts, which they deemed an abomination. The Conservatives resented this, and sometimes were driven to fight their co-religionists. Thus at times John Ziska was waging a civil war; but when foreign invaders attacked Bohemia these moderates and radicals all united under their great leader, and when thus united were never defeated. How different would the fate of Bohemia have been had the people united their forces in later centuries, and found other great generals to lead them on to victory. She would to-day, doubtless, be a leading, independent, Protestant power of Europe, instead of being for centuries the football of misfortune, and in this twentieth century tied hand and foot to the most reactionary Catholic power in Europe.
John Ziska, who was of about the same age as John Huss, survived him by nearly ten years, and died of the plague near the Moravian frontier, whither he was marching at the head of his victorious army. During the last years of his life, while winning some of his most important victories, he, like King John, was totally blind, his eyes being pierced by an arrow in one of his early battles.
Catholic authorities assert that Ziska died blaspheming, and ordered that his body should be flayed, his skin used as a drum, and the carcass thrown to the wild beasts. The Protestant writers, quoting a contemporary and probable eye-witness, state that "he gave his last charge to his faithful Bohemians, saying that, fearing their beloved God, they should firmly and faithfully defend God's law, in view of his reward throughout eternity. Then Brother Ziska commended his soul to God, and died on the Wednesday before the day of St. Gallus." We will leave it to our readers to decide which version of his death is more credible, in view of the devout and godly life of the greatest military leader and patriot of his age.
One more great leader of the Bohemians must be mentioned, who led her armies before her sun began to decline. This was Prokop, called the Great,in distinction from another less distinguished general, Prokop the Less. Prokop the Great was the direct successor of Ziska, and adopted his tactics. He even carried the war into the enemy's country, invading Germany on one side and Hungary on the other, and rivaling both the Germans and the Hungarians in the desolation which he left behind him.
Another great crusade by the allied armies was planned, and one hundred and thirty thousand seasoned soldiers were sent against Bohemia in the last desperate effort to subdue her. Prokop could not muster half as many Bohemians to oppose them, but his courage and generalship were worth a hundred thousand troops. The invading crusaders were encamped on a plain when they heard the ominous rattle of the mailclad wagons of the Bohemians, and heard their war-song, "All ye warriors of God," which the whole army chanted in solemn measure and with stentorian lungs. More than two miles distant these sounds struck terror to the hearts of the allied armies, and they fled in dire confusion, leaving large stores and all their camp equipment behind them, while the Bohemians, with scarcely the loss of a man, pursued the flying enemy. This was the bloodless victory of Domazlice, and marked the climax of Bohemia's Golden Age. She had Europe at her feet. She could dictate her own terms. But she was content with ridding her own soil of invaders, and never attempted to impose her rule on her neighbors.
From this date, 1431, the power of Bohemia gradually declined. No other great leader arose, either as statesman, theologian, or warrior, to take the place of King John, John Huss,John Ziska, and Prokop. But the deciine was very gradual, and was brought about by internal causes quite as much as by external pressure. The nation at this date was almost wholly devoted to the Reformed religion, what was called, after Luther's day, "Protestant." But this faith showed the serious weakness which seems to adhere in Protestantism: the people could not agree among themselves. Warring sects arose among the Reformers. The Catholic Church itself was reformed in some particulars.
The Jesuits became exceedingly active, and undoubtedly were the most influential cause in driving Bohemia back to the ancient church. Austria's power was wholly exerted to this end, when the House of Hapsburg succeeded to the Bohemian throne.
Many Bohemian nobles married Spanish and Italian wives, who threw their influence in favor of the Jesuits, whose proselyting zeal knew no bounds. In later years Spain, Italy, Poland, the Catholics of Germany, and even Saxony, whose people had become Protestants of the Lutheran type and who hated the Calvinists of Bohemia even more than their Catholic neighbors, united to crush out the national life of Bohemia. This was nearly two hundred years after the glorious days of Huss, Ziska, and Prokop.
In the kaleidoscopic changes of the Bohemian throne, Frederick, the son-in-law of King James the First of England, had become, by election, King of Bohemia. Even King James was lukewarm in the support of his son-in-law, and while he dallied with the situation and wrote letters of good advice, he became "the laughing-stock of the Catholics of Europe."
Such was the situation when the great battle of the White Mountain occurred in 1620, the battle so fatal to Bohemian prosperity and national aspirations, from the effects of which, though nearly three centuries have rolled by, she has not yet recovered. The causes of this disastrous defeat are not far to seek. Since the days of Huss serfdom had been introduced into Bohemia. The peasants were no longer freemen, but slaves of the soil. The spirit of democracy which animated the people in the early days had fled.
The battle of the White Mountain was fought by mercenaries on both sides, but the mercenaries of the enemy were better paid and better equipped. King Frederick was a weak and pusillanimous ruler, who was actually entertaining some foreign envoys at a banquet in Prague when the battle of the White Mountain was being waged and his people were being slaughtered. The Protestants were-disheartened and divided, the Calvinists and Lutherans hated each other bitterly, while the Romanists, embracing all the forces of the allied armies, were united and confident. All these causes were enough and more than enough to account for the terrible disaster of that fatal Sunday, November 8, I620, When the independence of Bohemia was lost, and she became a vassal of the Hapsburg Dynasty.
Ferdinand, the conquering emperor, who now annexed Bohemia to his domains, was not slow in making his power felt in a hideously cruel way. All the leading Bohemian nobles were captured, and a few months afterwards, one after another, were led to the market-place in Prague and there beheaded.
No one of them showed the white feather, but like the bravest Bohemians of former days, as Huss and Jerome would have done, pleasantly bade good-bye to one another, as they were taken from prison to the executioner's block, "just as if they were preparing to go to a banquet or some pastime." Their heads were nailed to the bridge tower of the old town, where they remained for ten years, a ghastly proof of the destruction of Bohemia and her liberties. Then in 1631, in the temporary triumph of a Saxon invasion of Bohemia, they were removed by the returning exiles, and solemnly buried in a church of Prague. These twenty-seven nobles have been enrolled by the people of Bohemia in later years, by Protestants and Catholics alike, in the national temple of fame among Bohemia's greatest heroes and martyrs. "These melancholy executions mark the end of the old and independent development of Bohemia," we are told. "The destiny of the country was henceforth in the hands of foreigners, who had neither comprehension nor sympathy with its former institutians."
The year of this disaster of the White Mountain is significant. On the very day that the Pilgrim Fathers were drawing near to America to found a great, free democracy, the democratic forces of Bohemia were defeated, and her star went down in bloodshed and carnage. We cannot dwell at length on the melancholy years that succeeded. The Thirty Years War followed, or at least twenty-eight of these dreadful thirty, for the battle of the White Mountain was one outstanding event of its early years. Bohemia and Moravia were ravaged time and time again. Whole towns and villages were blotted out, fields were left untilled, industries were destroyed, Prague itself, once the proudest city of Europe and the capital of a vast empire, became almost a deserted village, and the population of the Czech countries of over three millions was reduced to less than one.
The Thirty Years' War was a religious conflict, and of course the Protestants of Bohemia were the sufferers under the new regime. They were despoiled of their possessions, driven from their homes, exiled from their country, and murdered on every pretext. It was the boast of Ferdinand III that he would not rest until he had killed or driven out of Bohemia every Protestant heretic. He nearly succeeded in carrying out his threat, and, contrary to the general opinion that persecution cannot kill a religion, Bohemia is an example of a country where, by means of the sword and the inquisition, one faith has almost entirely supplanted another.
Little by little the Austrian Government not only suppressed the religion, but abolished all the rights and liberties of ancient Bohemia. At last she attacked the spirit of nationality at its fountain-head, and a hundred years ago forbade the use of the national language in every school and law-court in the land. In this, however, she overreached herself, and by this act of foolish tyranny promoted a reaction in favor of the Czech language. Through this, the national spirit has been revived, and the old flames of patriotism have been kindled afresh. Since then, a new Bohemia has arisen, not yet free from Austrian domination, but an industrious, prosperous, comparatively happy Bohemia, that honors its ancient heroes and glories in its ancient history.
Prague has regained much of its old importance, not as the capital of an empire, but as the capital of the Czech race, and as a city famous throughout the world for its modern schools and its public institutions, as well as for its thrilling history and its checkered career of victory and defeat.
The present Emperor, Francis Joseph, who began his reign in I849 as a reactionary of the severest type, has been obliged by force of circumstances to give the Czechs more and more liberty and constantly augmented privileges. Their beloved language has been restored to them in the schools and the courts; local government has been accorded them; and though they have not yet achieved an independence like that of Hungary, the Czechs look forward to the time when they shall be equally free from the dominion of Austria.
It should have been said that serfdom was abolished more than a century and a quarter ago. Now free and compulsory education has been adopted. Manufactures, many of them under purely Czech management and capital, are springing up everywhere, and there are today few more prosperous sections of Europe than the ancient Kingdom of Bohemia. It may be asked, If this is so, why the constant and swelling tide of emigration to America? Many answers may be given to this question. When such a stream once starts, it is hard to stop its flow. Brother calls for brother across the Atlantic. The children, when they become prosperous, send for the old folks to join them. Neighbor writes home to neighbor, telling of the vastly greater opportunities for enterprise and industry in the new world, and the American neighbor is soon joined by the old neighbor from the old home. The spirit of adventure urges the most enterprising to try their fortunes in the new world. The agents of the steamship companies are constantly soliciting patronage for the steerage. The dislike of military conscription drives others to take ship for America.
Thus all these causes, working together, keep up the supply, and the steerage accommodations of the ships that sail from Trieste and Hamburg, Antwerp and Bremen, are never vacant.
"On the whole," says a careful writer, who has personally investigated the matter on the ground, "I found surprisingly few cases of emigrating ne'er-do-wells, and in nearly ten months' investigation, I could hear of only one case of assisted emigration." Most of the emigration from Bohemia has been from the southern slopes, where the soil is poorer and the climate more rigorous than in the north.
Here, too, wages are much smaller than in the cities like Prague and Pilsen, and we cannot wonder that laborers are willing to exchange the twenty-five-cent wage for a day of ten hours for an eight-hour day and a two-dollar wage, even if the expense of living in the United States is large enough to eat up part of the difference. No wonder that a domestic servant, who can earn two dollars a month in Bohemia, is attracted by the tales of importunate and humble mistresses in New York, Boston, and Chicago who will, figuratively speaking, get down on their knees to persuade the newly arrived emigrant to grace their kitchens at a stipend of six dollars a week.
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