Klementyna Tanska Hoffman

Klementyna Tanska Hoffman

From The English Cyclopedia; a New Dictionary of Universal Knowledge. (1856)

A distinguished authoress, who has been sometimes called the Polish Miss Edgeworth, was born at Warsaw, on the 23rd of November 1798. The form and arrangement of her name conveys to a Pole that her maiden name was Tanska, her father’s being Tanski, and that she married, and her husband’s name was Hoffman. The practice of retaining the maiden name in conjunction with the married one might be adopted with advantage in other countries; and an example has been set by a very distinguished authoress in our own language, Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, formerly Miss Harriet Beecher.

Just before Klementyna’s birth, her mother Maryanna z Czempinskich Tanska, had been reading “Sir Charles Grandison,” and was so charmed by the story that she determined if she had a son he should be named Charles and if a daughter, Clementina. The father of the family, Ignacy Tanski, who was the translator into Polish of parts of Virgil and Goldsmith, died in 1805, and the daughter received an excellent education under the care of her mother.

Klementyna Tanska’s patriotic sentiments in regard to the national language appear to have awaked with unusual energy about her twentieth year. She commenced keeping a diary on the 1st January 1818, the first entry in which is on the subject of language; “Frenchness, of Frenchism (Francuzczyzna), is going out of fashion, and many persons now feel, think, speak, and write in Polish…I grew up in the false opinion that it was quiet an unbecoming thing for a lady to write a letter or anything else in Polish.; I am now convinced how erroneous the opinion was, and that we may express ourselves as well in Polish as in French. I am ashamed of my long continued blindness, and would willingly exchange my power of French composition for a good Polish style, free from errors, and thoroughly Polish.”

“We have,” she afterward says, “few women who write Polish; but I doubt after all if they do not surpass in number those who read it.” This state of affairs was soon changed by her own agency. Her first work, ‘Six Historical Tales,‘ was followed in 1819 by her ‘Memorial of a Good Mother’ (‘Pamiatka po dobrej Matce’), which had the most astonishing success. It is written in the character of a dying mother giving her last advice to her daughter; and the original idea was taken from a German work of the same character, which the Polish imitation must have far surpassed in execution, as it was itself translated into several languages, Russian included. The ‘Pamiatka’ still continues a standard book to put in the hands of Polish ladies. It was followed by a series of works, one of which, ‘Amelia, a Mother,’ a Catholic religious novel, proved a failure; but others raised her so high that a pension was granted her by the government, and when in 1827, a normal school for governesses was established in Warsaw, Klementyna Tanska was named superintendent, and was also appointed visitor of all the boarding-schools for young ladies.

Her success as an authoress was very remarkable in another point of view. “As it is a thing sufficiently rare,” she says in her diary of the 1st March 1829, “that a woman born in the higher ranks of society should be able to maintain herself suitably by literary labour, I have resolved to note down my pecuniary history.” The sum total of her gains by the pen in the course of ten years was 41,873 Polish florins (zloty), about £1,040.

In 1829 she was married to M. Hoffman. The marriage appears to have been a very well-assorted one: she writes in her diary a few months afterwards, “I say it in the sincerity of my soul, and before God whom I have in my heart, that I am so happy that I do not know what else to wish for, except that it may last.” The Polish insurrection which broke out in the following year, changed the entire aspect of affairs.

Klementyna Tanska Hoffman and her husband joined in the movement, and she was head of the committee of ladies to scrape lint and attend to the wounded. After the suppression of the insurrection she followed her husband who had escaped to Dresden, and they afterward settled at Paris, which became their permanent residence.
At one time she was coming on a visit to England, but circumstances prevented her; she was however enabled to make a tour in Switzerland and Italy. She died in Paris on the 20th September 1845, in the arms of her husband, and was buried at Pere-la-Chaise. Though her most popular work was written in the character of a mother, she never has a child.

There are two collections of her works, occupying 19 volumes. The first, ‘Wybor Pism,’ etc. (‘ A selection of the Writings of Klementyna Hoffmanowa’), 10 volumes, Breslau 1833, contains the ‘Memorial of a Good Mother,’ two volumes of historical tales, the subjects taken from Polish history; two volumes of moral tales illustrating Polish manners; a collection of short Polish biographies; two volumes of letters describing tours in Poland; a series of letters on education; and a volume of ‘Varieties.’ The second collection, ‘Pisma Posmiertne’ (‘Posthumous Writings’), 9 volumes, Berlin, 1849, comprises three volumes of memoirs, consisting chiefly of extracts from her diary, three volumes of essays on the duties of women, and three volumes of extracts from her common-place books. The chief interest of these works in the eyes of a foreign reader will be found in the completely national character of their subjects. Her letters descriptive of tours to Warsaw, Krakow, Lublin, etc., are the best, almost the only book for acquiring some general and yet familiar notions of Polish topography. Such books are extremely rare in the language. “Who travels to France or England,” she says in the first page, “is of course in duty bound to write a journal. But what, say some, will you put in a book of travels in Poland! What is there curious in our country! What can one do in travelling here but get a good sleep in one’s carriage, wake up in time for refreshment—stopping of course at a filthy inn—amuse oneself with some French or English novel, or get another sleep if the roads will allow.”

The volume of biographies of eminent Poles has also the recommendation of supplying a desideratum. Her own memoirs and diary afford a glimpse of the life and manners and tone of society at Warsaw—a mixture of heroism and frivolity, sincerity and shallowness—which cannot easily be obtained from other sources. The style of her works is throughout easy and agreeable.

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