The First Czech Exile

Not only readers, but also literary historians usually associate Czech exile literature with the second half of the twentieth century. This conception is certainly accurate; however, we should not forget that the phenomenon of exile in Czech literature is much older, and that we will soon commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of the first exodus of Czech authors from their land – the mass exile after the defeat of the Estates’ rebellion in 1620. This exile provides a model case, which we find repeated to a certain extent at other times (and also in other literatures), and it is thus key to understanding the character of exile literature in general.

Before we attempt to characterize the Czech exile after White Mountain as a process of literary development outside of the domestic environment, it is essential that we define the terms we will be using, specifically “emigration” and “exile.” We are aware that these terms are often used synonymously; however, we feel it is expedient to differentiate between them. We understand the term “emigration” as denoting a departure from the homeland that is not en masse, and that is an expression of a decision to live in a foreign cultural environment more or less permanently, either for political or economic reasons, or in order to find a cultural context that better suits a writer’s work. By “exile,” on the other hand, we mean the departure of a large group of writers that is motivated by the impossibility of living and writing in their native land, and that, at least at first, is understood to be temporary, as a sort of intermezzo, after which the exiles (consciously and unconsciously) hope they will be able to return. It is in this sense – as exile – that we understand the departure of representatives of the Czech intelligentsia after the 1620 defeat at the Battle of White Mountain and again after the issue of the 1627 Renewed Land Constitution.

The usual evaluation of the exile literature of this period may be summed up in Arne Novák’s well-formulated thesis of “the cultural and ideological superiority of the Czech Reformation.”_1 This thesis has a long tradition in the evaluation of Czech literature and to a certain extent influences characterizations of its development to this day. It has led to wholly univocal views on the post-White Mountain exile, distinguished only by the their radicality. In popular histories of Czech literature we find particularly pointed examples of this attitude. For instance, in an older textbook by Pavel Váša we read: “Almost all of the most distinguished writers were among the emigrants, and thus the center of gravity of Czech literature shifted abroad. And just as a tree that is uprooted from the soil soon dries up, Czech literature in exile quickly died out.”_2 Even though this schoolbook has been long outdated, this citation aptly expresses what is continually repeated in various forms about the Czech exile after White Mountain, though in somewhat subtler formulations.

Nevertheless, Jan Jakubec, a leading representative of positivistoriented literary history, symptomatically entitled his chapter on literary development after White Mountain, “During the Catholic Reformation from Prosperity to Decadence.”_3 He unambiguously juxtaposes the literature of the religious exiles, who, he writes, “maintained much closer ties with the past and with old Czech literature,”_4 and the work of the writers who remained in the Czech lands, whose work, he asserts figuratively, bore “more barren ears of corn.”_5

By that time Josef Pekař had already demonstrated the untenability of the thesis that after 1620 culture in the Czech lands was in decline and the only real values could be found in exile literature. He had emphasized valuable works of domestic literature such as the letters of Zuzana Černínová, and rejected the characterization of the Counter-Reformation and the Baroque period as a time of darkness and the notion that “in the spiritual life of the land a solitary, bleak desert began with the victory of the Counter-Reformation.”_6 However, his understanding of the literary process after White Mountain is still dichotomous, insofar as he contrasts domestic literature with the work of the spiritual elite of the exiles, headed by Jan Amos Comenius. This trend continues in other purely literary historical studies of the modern period. Novák, for instance, considers the exile literature of the time as a continuation of the Czech Reformation tradition and literature in the Czech lands as proof of the triumph of the Catholic Baroque._7 In essence, this binary opposition continues to this day, as evidenced, for example, by the title of the chapter on the period in A Companion to the History of Czech Literature by Zdeňka Tichá, “The End of the Post-White Mountain Literary Tradition in Emigration and the Consolidation of Counter-Reformation Efforts in Domestic Literature.”_8

A new conception of the Baroque, especially in the visual arts, has brought a certain change in the evaluation of both exile and domestic literature after 1620. René Huyghe, among others, notes that Michelangelo, for instance, rightly considered a representative of the Italian Renaissance, towards the end of his life demonstrates personal and creative attitudes that point forward towards the nascent Baroque._9 In general, it is held that “Michelangelo brought the Renaissance to its culmination and at the same time most profoundly experienced the collapse of its ideals.”_10 This is the starting point for Jan Lehár’s conception of the Baroque not as the decline of the Renaissance, but, following Wölfflin, as a new epoch._11 He rightly distinguishes two branches of Czech literature at the beginning of the Baroque period, but he does not consider domestic literature to be inferior to exile literature, and he concedes that there was a period of flourishing in the Czech lands, particularly in the latter half of the seventeenth century._12

We do not wish to question the existence of two offshoots of Czech literature, at least in the first few decades after 1620, but we do wish to emphasize that these branches cannot be distinguished solely on the basis of pro-Habsburg and anti-Habsburg or Protestant and Catholic stands. We also wish to demonstrate that they are not two entirely distinct manifestations of Czech literature, but that their development is internally related.

A comparison of the political or religious views of individual authors at home and in exile should not be the starting point for comparing and contrasting them. It is evident that, with the exception of a brief period before the issue of the Renewed Land Constitution, in the Czech lands there was no Protestant, anti-Habsburg literature, and in exile there was no Catholic, pro-Habsburg literature. The question remains as to whether these non-literary factors should constitute the basic differentiating features of domestic and exile literature, and whether it would be more appropriate to use purely literary criteria. It would be possible, for instance, to determine the influence of the Humanist tradition and the nascent Baroque on both categories and ask ourselves what generic model was applied at home and in exile. Analysis of specific literary works shows the untenability of the thesis that the tradition of Renaissance and Humanist literature was continued in exile, while Baroque literature arose at home. Of course, we may discuss the scope of Humanist and Baroque features in works by individual authors, but there is no doubt that both Humanist and Baroque characteristics merge in the works of both groups. This is true not only of the first decade after White Mountain, when authors oriented towards Humanism and the Renaissance who remained at home, such as Mikuláš Dačický z Heslova, continued to write, but also of representatives of the Jesuit Order, who continued the Humanist tradition of occasional poetry in their schools and developed the tradition of school theater in the sixteenth century. On the other hand, the work of the most exceptional personality of exile literature, Comenius, exhibits features that have repeatedly led scholars to debate the extent to which Comenius may be associated with the Baroque. In an edition of The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart, Antonín Škarka, for instance, calls this work and others an embryo “of great Baroque drama.”_13

However, this finding in itself would not be sufficient proof of our thesis, because one might object that the share of Baroque characteristics in the two categories is not equal – that there are more Baroque and anti-Reformation features in the domestic literature of the time, and more traditional, Humanist and Reformation features in the exile literature. Nevertheless, it is necessary to take it into account, for it shows that there is no justification for the thesis, which has been repeated year after year, that the exile literature written in Latin continued the Humanist tradition, while the domestic literature written in Czech developed the Baroque style. If we concede that there are certain similarities between the literature written at home and in exile, we can no longer work with the principle of their opposition, and we must ask ourselves whether even more unequivocal features exist that link the two branches.

Thematics provide us with some evidence for our argument. In particular, it is noteworthy that authors in exile, like authors at home, write chiefly for an audience in their native land. This is typical of exile literature to the present day, even if the material itself has nothing to do with the Czech environment. In her commentary “The Opportunity to Vote,” appended to an edition of Karel Michal’s works, Milena Masáková, for instance, states that his drama written in exile, based on passages from Thucydides and set in ancient Greece, is “a play that is essentially about the mechanisms of struggle between a great power and a small nation, which understandably has a Czechoslovak subtext.”_14 Such thematic points of contact support the thesis of closer links between domestic and exile literature; however, they represent only one approach to comparing the literature of these two ramifications.

We must therefore find a set of arguments that unambiguously supports our thesis of a close affinity between the literature of the time in exile and at home. We believe that generic analysis provides the requisite set of arguments. The generic model of that period ranked historiography in first place, as the most significant genre. Some historiographical works were purely scholarly works, while some had ulterior political motives. This literary genre freely included memoirs.

All of these variants of historiographical prose may be found in both domestic and exile literature. Among the historians in exile, Pavel Skala ze Zhoře deserves the greatest recognition, not only for the exceptional range of his historical work (Chronology of the Church and History of the Church), but also for his attempt to evaluate the events of his time objectively, even though, as a religious exile, he supported the goals of the Estates’ rebellion. His critical defense of the rebellion may be characterized as ideologically oriented historiography, comparable to the work of Ondřej z Habernfeld’s Bellum bohemicum and Adam Hartman’s Historia persecutionum ecclesiae Bohemicae, which was written in Latin and later translated into Czech. The Latin historiographical works of Pavel Stránský ze Stránky u Zap (Respublica Bojema, Respublica Germanica, and Respublica Hungarica) are completely different. Although a defense of Czech Protestantism is not lacking even in Respublic Bohemica, a scholarly objective clearly prevails in the overall conception of this work and the two others._15 Unlike writers who worked to a greater or lesser extent with historical sources, a number of writers in exile endeavored above all to capture their personal experiences in memoirs. Jan Jiří Harant z Polžic a Bezdružic is the most famous of these writers, but there are many more, including Adam Tesák, Václav Nosidlo z Geblic, Matěj Krocinovský, and Jiří Kezelius. The latter’s exile was brief, however, so we may consider him to be on the border between exile and domestic literature.

Taking a similar approach to domestic literature, we find a very similar picture. Historical Writings by Vilém Slavata z Chlumu a Košumberka, written in reaction to the memoirs of Matyáš Thurn, which he wrote in exile, was an attempt at a political defense of the opposition against the Estates. Slavata does not at all conceal his stand against the Estates, but, like the exiled historians, who took a critical stand on the historical events they described, he too worked with his material critically. Although he repudiated Slavata’s stance, Jan Jakubec did not deny that the first two volumes of his Writings in particular “remained the most valuable bequest to the future for their authenticity, detail, and statesmanlike grasp of historical events.”_16 In works written in the Czech lands during this period we do not find an analogy to studies intended principally to providing factual information, such as Stránský’s writings, but we do find them somewhat later in the literary works of Bohuslav Balbín and his contemporaries. Memoirs, on the other hand, were just as well represented at home as in exile. Those of the poet and playwright Václav František Kocmánek are certainly the most renowned, but other examples include the notes of Pavel Urbanides z Rohatce, the Valašské Meziříčí chronicle of Ondřej Sivý, and entire groups of younger authors such as Jan Kořínek and Jan Florián Hammerschmidt. The Diary of a Journey to Constantinople by Heřman Černín z Chudenic, the title of which implies that it is a travel account, deserves special mention in this connection. Černín actually devotes very little space to describing his travel experiences, however, and most of the narrative concerns negotiations with the Turkish sultan and detailed observations of life in Constantinople. He is clearly trying to highlight his own diplomatic merits, apparently in order to counterbalance the unfavorable opinion of his actions at home,_17 so in this case we are justified in speaking of a work that makes use of the memoir genre in the form of a memorandum. The travel account of Jindřich Hýzrle z Chodů, which also attempts to depict personal experiences while traveling, similarly falls on the borderline between the genres of the memoir and travel literature. Thus in the Czech lands, in addition to memoirs in the strict sense of the term, we also find borderline works exhibiting features of travel literature, sometimes with concealed political objectives.

In addition to memoirs on the lives of their authors written both at home and in exile, in the Czech lands we also come across various anonymous chronicles of towns, which, with their emphasis on autopsy, resemble memoirs, although they are somewhat more broadly conceived (e.g., the Holešovská Chronicle).

Ideologically oriented literature (which is just as prevalent as historiographical prose) includes both consolatory works written in exile and religious polemics, which were numerous both at home and in exile. The numerous consolatory writings, including the works of Comenius, as well as other religious exiles, such as Matěj Janda Čechtický, Jiří Galli, Ondřej Habervešl, and Šimon Partlic ze Šprincperku, were specific to exile literature. They were motivated by existential longing for the homeland, and thus naturally have no analogy in domestic literature. This does not hold true for polemics, which differed only insofar as the exiled writers defended religious and political goals promoted by the most varied branches of the Reformation (Samuel Martinius z Dražova, Jakub Jacobaeus, Jan Rosacius Hořovský and Vít Jakeš), whereas in the Czech lands religious polemics were waged in the spirit of the Counter-Reformation, as exemplified by the works of František z Rozdražova and Jiří Plachý.

Religious lyrics were composed both at home and abroad, as represented by Adam Michna z Otradovic in the Czech lands and the hymns of Comenius and Jiří Třanovský in exile.

Secular lyric and epic poetry was written both at home and abroad. Of the poets who remained in the Czech lands, Václav Jan Rosa is well known for his Discursus Lypirona and Kocmánek, for his historical composition on the murder of Wallenstein and his poems on the difficult situation of peasants at the time. Of those in exile, we should mention Jacobaeus’s Latin composition Otii vernalis aegrisomnia, with which he endeavored to earn the favor of Jiří Rákoczi, as well as Adam Benešovský’s Latin poem celebrating the Piešťany spas and the Czech and Latin poem on the death of Ondřej Sivý’s son, composed by Josef Heliades.

The scope of dramatic writing is less evenly balanced, because conditions in the Czech lands were more favorable for the development not only of school theater (Jesuit and Piarist), but also of semi-popular theater, as we know, for instance, from Kocmánek’s interludes. However, theater was not outside of the range of exile literature; Comenius, at least, wrote a series of plays entitled Schola ludus for school theater.

Although it was usually not published, correspondence represented a significant literary genre, one that had been favored already by the Humanists. In exile Comenius in particular cultivated it, and at home it was represented by the well-known letters of the Czech noblewomen Černínová and Kateřina Žerotínová and the correspondence of Dorota Jínová Pacovská. Slavata’s correspondence is also not without literary value.

As for scholarly literature, at first there was no one at home whose work was as valuable as Comenius’s scholarly writings (particularly for their universality), but scholarly works are nevertheless represented in the Czech lands, though to a more limited extent. First we have the work of Marcus Marci and later, of Bohuslav Balbín, who approached, at least in the humanitarian sciences, Comenius’s universality.

Only the genre of the legend (Albert Chanovský, Plachý), for which the Reform churches lacked the conditions, as well as minor forms for youth serving the needs of the Counter-Reformation, distinguished literature at home from exile literature. The following table sums up in outline form which genres are represented in domestic and exile literature:

Domestic Exile
History, Memoirs + +
Ideological Writings
(Consolatory Works, Polemics)


Secular Literature, Epics + +
Religious Lyrics + +
Drama + +
Correspondence + +
Scholarly Works + +
Legends +
Minor Counter-
Works, Mainly for Youth


It is clear that from the generic standpoint the model for literature in the Czech lands, with minor exceptions (legends and religiouseducational works for youth), is analogous to the model for exile literature. They are thus not opposing trends of literary development, but a single trend, in which we perceive what we may term a mirror effect. The two branches are not distinguished by purely literary features, but by their religious, political, and cultural orientation (against the Reformation in the Czech lands and for the Reformation in exile). This means that the same model of literature basically served opposite purposes; the plus sign was changed to a minus sign without changing the literary essence of the work. Perhaps the clearest way to express this manifestation of Czech literature after 1620 is with the formula L (d+e), where L is the constant symbol of both domestic and exile literature, and d and e represent the set of extra-literary and partially literary variables.

This finding is relevant for later waves of exile and their literature as well. Our study of the exile after White Mountain leads us to the hypothesis that, like the first Czech exile, later generations created a literature of exile that assumed oppositional stances in extra-literary matters, but essentially did not go beyond the domestic model of literature of the time. We may therefore apply the results of this characterization of the first Czech exile generally to the study of the relation between exile and domestic literature in later periods as well.


Novák, A.: Mužové a osudy. Kniha studií a podobizen. Praha 1914, 28.

Váša, P.: Katechismus dějin české literatury. Brno 1927, 125.

Jakubec, J.: Dějiny literatury české od nejstarších dob do probuzení politického hl. 5, Brno 1911, 121.

Ibid., 131.

Ibid., 148.

Pekař, J.: O smyslu českých dějin. Praha 1990, 238.

Novák, A.–Havel, R.–Grund, A.: Stručné dějiny české literatury. Olomouc 1946, 82, 94.

Hrabák, J.–Jeřábek, D.–Tichá, Z.: Průvodce po dějinách české literatury. 2. dopl. vyd. Praha 1978, 123.

Huyghe, R.: Umění, život a ideje. In: Encyklopedie umění renesance a baroku. Praha 1970, 184.

Encyklopedie světového malířství. Věd. red. S. Šabouk. Praha 1975, 227.

Lehár, J.–Stich, A.–Janáčková, J.–Holý, J.: Česká literatura od počátků k dnešku. Praha 1998, 125.

Ibid., 127.

Škarka, A.: Nestárnoucí Labyrint. In: Komenský, Jan Amos: Labyrint světa a ráj srdce. Praha 1970, 211.

Michal, K.: Soubor díla. Vydavatel Milena Masáková. Praha 2001, 687–688.

Petrů, E.: Cesty pobělohorské historiografie. Česká literatura 31, 1983, 401–410.

Jakubec, J.: Op. cit., 129.

Petrů, E.: An der Gränze des Humanismus und Barock, Heřman Černín von Chudenice und seine Reisebeschreibung. In: Tschechisches Barock,
Sprache, Literatur, Kultur.
Frankfurt am M. 1999, 95–104.