Dr. France Prešeren – life and work
Dr. France Prešeren, the greatest Slovenian poet, followed Matija Čop’s advice, and started writing sonnets and romances. He became the first modern Slovenian poet and through his poetry Slovenians became equals, in the literary sense, of other European nations. Today, France Prešeren is known as the greatest Slovenian poet and one of our greatest symbolic figures. His poem “A Toast” (“Zdravljica”) was adopted as our national anthem, while we also run into him everyday, since his portrait adorns the Slovenian 2€ coin.
France Prešeren was born on 3rd December 1800 in Vrba as the third child, and first son, of Šimen Prešeren (1762-1837) and his wife Mina (1774-1842). The house where France and his sisters and brothers spent their childhood, was known locally as “Pr’ Ribč,” (At the fisherman’s).
He attended the primary school in Ribnica, where he lived with his uncle Jožef who was a priest and where his name appears in the Golden book of outstanding pupils. In 1813 his schooling in Ljubljana started. First he attended the third grade of elementary school, then he went on to the state high school in 1819. He completed a two year study of philosophy at the lyceum, which he finished in 1821, after which he left for Vienna. In the academic year 1821/22 he was already studying in Vienna, first completing the third year of philosophy then deciding to continue studying law, against the wishes of his family who wanted him to study theology. In 1826 he completed his law studies, finishing all his exams with honours, thus becoming the title of Doctor of Law, on the 27th of March 1827. During his studies in the academic year 1822/23 Prešeren was also a recipient of the Knafelj scholarship. He had already started writing poetry during his stay in Vienna, of which “The River-man” (“Povodni mož”), “Lenore” and “To the False Apprentices” (“Lažnivim pratikarjem”), are some examples. On the 12th of January 1827 he published his first poem “To the Maidens” (“Dekelcam” or “An die Mädchen) in the newspaper Illyrisches Blatt / Illyrian Pages, both in Slovene and in German translation.
In the glass display cases several biographical documents are exhibited, such as the entry of his name in the records of baptism in the Zabreznica parish, his school report card, his schoolwork in Latin, the Juventus paper and the famous letter he sent to his parents from Vienna in 1824. After his return from Vienna in 1828 he was employed as a drafter, or apprentice with Dr. Leopold Baumgartner (1794-1843). He was also employed by the Ljubljana Tax Office as an unpaid sworn-in drafting apprentice. From 1834 until he moved to Kranj he worked in the law office of his friend Dr. Blaž Crobath (1797-1848), where he met Ana Jelovšek (1823-1875) who later became the mother of his three children, Rezika (1839-1840), Ernestina (1842-1917) and France (1845-1855). He dedicated his poem “The Unmarried Mother” (“Nezakonska mati”) to her.
He became friends with Matija Čop, another Slovenian from Žirovnica, while still in Vienna (1797-1835). Their acquaintance deepened further in Ljubljana and led to Prešeren starting to take his poetry more seriously. It was through Čop’s encouragement that Prešeren started publishing his poems in Kranjska č’belica (The Carniolan Bee), a magazine established in 1830. During this time Prešeren and Čop were fighting the battle for the use of Slovenian Language in literature, known as the Alphabet War (Der slowenische ABC Krieg). In 1833 he met Julija Primic (1816-1864) in the Trnovo church, who greatly influenced his future poetry writing and also, partly, his life. He dedicated several of his poems to her, the most famous among them the 1834 “Wreath of Sonnets” (“Sonetni venec”), “Gazelles” (“Gazele”), “Doctor” (“Dohtar”), “Many a Pilgrim goes to Rome” (“Mars`ktéri romar gre v Rim”), “He Knew Not the Prayer, The Thick-headed Nobleman” (“Ni znal molitve žlahtnič trde glave”), “In Happy Times Passed the Year” (“Je od vesel`ga časa teklo leto”), and others. She later married Prešeren’s schoolmate Jožef Anzelm pl. Scheuchenstuel.
The hardest and most painful blow for Prešeren to bear was the death of his friend Matija Čop, who drowned on 6th July 1835 in the waters of the river Sava at Tomačevo in Ljubljana. Despite the sadness, depression and loneliness he carried in his heart he went on to, with a true poetic outpouring, write the elegy “Dem Andenken des Mathias Čop” –“In Memoriam to Matija Čop”. In the same year he vented all his sadness: over the loss of a friend, who supported his poetic aspirations, over the loss of his illusions of love, and over his support of the oppressed Slovenian nation, which led to the creation of his epic poem “The Baptism at Savica” (“Krst pri Savici”), which he published by himself in 1836.
The sudden death of another friend, Andrej Smole in 1840, propelled Prešeren into desperation, loneliness, apathy and listlessness. During this time he wrote some of his most famous poems, such as “Saying Goodbye” (“K slovesu”), “Lost Faith” (“Zgubljena vera”), “Orders” (“Ukazi”), “Below the window” (“Pod oknom”), “The Power of Memory” (“Sila spomina”), “The Sailor” (“Mornar”), “The Plea” (“Prošnja”), and so on. At the anniversary of their deaths he dedicated two elegies to his friends’ memory: “In Memoriam to Andrej Smole” (1830) and “In Memoriam to Matija Čop” (1845). Before he left Ljubljana he wrote the ballad “Undiminished Heart” (“Neiztrohnjeno srce”) in which he declared his artist’s credo, while in literary history it is known as his swan song.
In other display cases one can see several original documents, newspapers and poems. We would especially like to draw your attention to the manuscript of the poem “The Three Wishes of Anastasius Grün” (“Tri želje Anastazija Zelenca”) (1838/39) and “Wreath of Sonnets” (“Sonetni venec”), the first edition of “The Baptism at Savica” (“Krst pri Savici”), the first publication of the poem “To the Maidens” (“Dekelcam”) in the Illyrian Pages, the Krajnsko čbelica and Čop’s dissertation on the Alphabet War, among others. We have also augmented the writings on the billboards and the museum artefacts with pictures of his friends Matija Čop (1829) and Andrej Smole (cca.1830), as well as of Julija Primic (1834). The three portraits are the work of the painter Matevž Langus (1792-1855).
In the poet’s former room there is a bed, a chest with three drawers, a table with a drawer and two chairs (a long-term loan of the National museum of Slovenia), as well as a gold-plated candle-holder along with scissors used for snuffing it out, a closet, a standing clock, a crucifix, and a chest with three drawers. In this chest the bedspread is kept – his death veil with an embroidered text (saying it is the cloth that covered Prešeren’s dead body).
The showcasing of the life and work of France Prešeren continues in the room during the time of the poet’s life occupied by his scribe Andrej Rudolf (1872-after 1883), the illegitimate son of his friend Andrej Smole. On the wallboards three themes are highlighted, namely: “A Toast”, “The Poems of Dr. France Prešeren”, and the “Move to Kranj”. “A Toast” was written around St.Martin’s day (November 11th) in year 1844, and was first published on the 26th of April 1848 in the Farming and Craft News (“Kmetijske in rokodelske novice”). Due to strict censorship, two lines were cut from it, and the poet refused to have it published in “The Poems”. When Slovenia gained independence in 1991 this censured seventh stanza “Žive naj vsi narodi” (“Long Live all Nations”) became the national anthem.
Prešeren fostered a burning wish to publish his own collection of poetry for many years. He gathered enough courage in the spring of 1846 when he submitted a printing application and two copies of his manuscript to the Ljubljana Government Office. The collection was printed by Jožef Blaznik in Ljubljana. “The Poems of Dr. France Prešeren” was published on the 15th of December in 1846, but bore the year 1847.
On 22 July 1846 a double decree was signed in Vienna, naming Dr. France Prešeren a self-governing barrister in Kranj. He took his new post in the autumn, moving to Kranj with his sister Katra and his scribe Andrej Rudolf.
He came to Kranj in October 1846, and rented an apartment on the first floor of a house owned by the Kranj merchant and beer brewer Franc Mayer. The house had the land registrar number of Spot 181, while the entrance to the apartment was from today’s Tavčar Street no. 8. Today the apartment houses a memorial exhibition. In the gallery space of the Gorenjska Museum there was, at that time, the Kranj Coffeehouse owned by the Swiss man Florian Pua. Prešeren’s illness worsened in the autumn of 1848, confining him to his bed by the end of the year. He was treated by the Kranj physician Tomaž Pirc (1813-1880). Prešeren died on the 8th of February 1849, and was buried two days later, at 10 o’clock, at the old Kranj Cemetery, today called Prešeren’s Grove. Originally, the poet’s grave was to the right of the entrance, by the wall, but his remains were dug up in 1852 and he was given a tombstone, which is deemed to be one of the most famous freestanding monuments of the mid 19th Century in Slovenia. In the middle of the grove stands the bronze bust of our poet, which was sculpted in 1969 by Lojze Dolinar (1893-1970).
Through an archway we enter the former law office of Prešeren. The room is decorated with the original furniture, namely a desk with two chairs and a filing cabinet, bought by the Gorenjska Museum from Dr. Anton Schreiner, a lawyer from Maribor. The pendulum clock was the one that used to hang on the wall in Vrba, while there is also an inkpot and a candleholder on the table.
The final exhibition space shows, on wallboards and in glass display cases, the following themes: Prešeren after Prešeren, the more important scholars of Prešeren, The poet and nation building, and Kranj at the 150th anniversary of the poet’s death in 1999. Here we would like to draw attention to two themes, namely that of Prešeren after Prešeren where several events are shown, such as the 1926 speech by Župančič, the erection of Prešeren’s monument in Ljubljana, the establishment of Prešeren’s Brigade, the erection of Prešeren’s monument in Kranj, the societies bearing Prešeren’s name, and others. In 1947 the giving of the Prešeren Award was inaugurated as the highest national recognition for artistic achievement. An almanac entitled “The Recipients of the Prešeren Award 1947-1997” was published at the 50th anniversary by the Prešeren Foundation and the Gorenjska museum in Kranj. The other theme we would like to highlight is the 150th anniversary of his death. There were many special events in Kranj at the time, the most important being the international symposium Prešeren’s Days in Kranj, which ran from the 2nd to the 5th of February 1999.