Approaches to Translation in Čelakovský’s Česká včela and Tyl’s Květy

Rachel Harrell, University of Michigan

The Czech Revivalists’ reliance on translation of foreign literature as a means of extending and enriching the national language is well known. Yet from the movement's beginnings, this program was accompanied by a healthy skepticism towards translation, sometimes harbored even by its most ardent advocates. Josef Jungmann, considered the founder of the National Revival, felt compelled to add a defense of translation to the second edition of his literary handbook, Slovesnost, but conceded (under the heading “Are translations detrimental to nationhood?”), “When we speak of a nation’s literature, we always ask: what is original in it? [...] The reader invariably prefers an original book to a translated one.” Josef Kajetán Tyl put it even more bluntly: “You will never reach the literary heavens by mere translation; until you start to have faith in your own powers, you will never earn the respect of other nations.”

This strain of revivalist resistance to translation reached its peak in the 1830s and early ‘40s, a period also marked by the first blossoming of Prague literary journals. Contrasting attitudes toward the practice of translation can be traced in the pages of two of the most prominent, Česká včela and Květy. Česká včela, the journal of the sentimentalist and pre-romantic literary establishment of the time, relied heavily on translation, particularly from other Slavic languages, publishing very little original work. It was edited from 1834-1835 by František Ladislav Čelakovsky (the intended recipient of Tyl’s barbed comment). Its competitor, Květy, edited by Tyl from 1833-36 and again from 1841-45, was considered the organ of the younger generation, closely associated with the Romantic writers Karel Hynek Mácha and Karel Sabina. Both the editors of the journals and their contributors often found themselves at odds, but as Vladimír Macura has observed, though “[…] generally considered a fundamental generational disagreement, […] it was essentially a dispute over approaches to translation and the language question.” Although in its first issues, Tyl’s Květy published only reviews of translations – invariably unfavorable – by the early 1840s, translations, particularly from such Russian writers as Lermontov, Puškin, and Gogol’, began to appear in its pages with some frequency.  

Against a background of the translation practices of Česká včela, this paper will examine the development of translation tactics – both those advocated in reviews and exemplified in translated texts – in Květy under Tyl’s editorship, and their place in the literary culture of the final years of the National Revival.