Jaroslav Goll. The Historian's Role in Czech Society


A majority of the existing Czech researches emphasise an extraordinary role of Jaroslav Goll (1846-1929) in Czech historiography. The basic normative handbook Synoptic History of Czech and Slovak Historiography as well as the biography Jaroslav Goll by Jaroslav Marek are based - in line with the jubilee articles and necrologies concerning J. Goll - on the idea that Goll represents a new stage of Czech research, which only thanks to him achieves a level comparable with that of the European historical science of that time. The milestone - the beginnings of the Goll's School - is said to date back to the 1880s, when Goll opened a History seminar at the Czech Prague University established in 1882 after the former Karl-Ferdinand University split. That position was disturbed by Karel Kazbunda in his monumental work Department of History at the Prague University even before publication of the above-mentioned books, to a certain degree actually in as early as the 1960s, and Zdeněk Beneš and Jiří Štaif in their studies published in the 1990s.

The then interpretation formed by Jaroslav Marek following Goll's and Pekař's 19th century view of Czech historiography development was based on the idea that a chasm of decline was yawning in Czech historiography after the time of František Palacký's generation, which would be bridged over only by the generation of Jaroslav Goll and his contemporaries. However, that view disregarded the role of Wácslaw Wladiwoj Tomek and his contemporary, German professor Konstantin Adolf Höfler, in the formation of the course of History at the Prague University and in education of a new generation of researchers and the intellectual paradigms of their research works. Moreover, the view omitted the outstanding role of Goll's contemporaries (from the professors of the Faculty of Philosophy in particular Antonín Rezek and Josef Kalousek) before 1882 and the overall situation at the University, when the language aspect prevailed in interpretations and, thus, German seminars of History were ignored in the discourse interpretation. Nevertheless, it is the relationships and thought influences of Wácslaw Wladiwoj Tomek, Josef Kalousek, Antonín Rezek, Jaroslav Goll and Josef Emler that should be considered one of the key milestones in understanding the modern Czech historiography as the history of thinking, as a kind of intellectual history, at which long-range goal - even though not accessible yet - a similar research must necessarily aim.

Investigating history has a long and relatively strong tradition in Czech lands; historical thinking was part of the foundations of the National Revival. Undoubtedly, the intellectual legacy of František Palacký and his research works is the peak of romantic historical considerations. On the other hand, we should admit that many historians never supported Palacký's ideas or even took views that were very different from Palacký's liberal tendencies. On the contrary, the conservative branch, whose foundations were laid by Wácslaw Wladiwoj Tomek, was a particularly influential stream of Czech thinking among historians (e.g. in the works of Antonín Rezek, Josef Pekař or Zdeněk Kalista), as can be clearly observed already before 1848.

Thus, seeing Jaroslav Goll as the founder of a new level of Czech thinking concerning history, as the first Czech representative of positivistic thinking is more than questionable, and his History and Historiography was too overvalued in Czech historiography. In no case the said work is the constituting element of a new stage of historiography; on the contrary, it should be perceived as a codification of a paradigm threatened by new tendencies that are present in T. G. Masaryk's ideas and in the emerging Czech cultural history.

Positivism was considered one of the crucial resources of research work already by Josef Kalousek, and the so-called descriptive historiography, represented mainly by Wácslaw Wladiwoj Tomek, can - in Tomek's works - be derived from Leopold von Ranke's principles, from the tradition of German historicism, to which also Jaroslav Goll inclined.

Jaroslav Goll was born in a family of a doctor, in an environment close to aristocracy, even though his father was not much fascinated by that milieu. Thus, Goll got to know rather the lifestyle of the urban dignitaries. He left Chlumec nad Cidlinou to live in Mladá Boleslav, later in Hradec Králové and finally to study in Prague. He started his studies at the Faculty of Philosophy of the then Karl-Ferdinand University in 1864/65. The range of his interests was relatively wide: from history of literature and linguistics to aesthetics, arts (in particular Jan Erazim Vocel's lectures), philosophy, logic, geography and history. He was not the kind of student to specialise, to focus his interest on a single field of study. After all, he is known to see himself predominantly as a poet at that time; in the early 1870s he even published an anthology of Czech poetry and a collection of his poems. In 1874 he was an editor of Lumír, a journal of literature, and an important translator of poetry.

After completing his studies in Prague he shortly worked as a secondary school teacher and after the relationships between Austria-Hungary, France and Prussia calmed down, he was admitted to the Göttingen University, where he - in the winter term of 1871/72 - attended Waitz's General History of Constitution and History Seminar, Pauli's Contemporary History after 1815 and History Seminar, Wieseler's Interpretation of Selected Works of Art in Archeology Seminar and Müller's Paleography and Diplomatics. In the summer term he did not participate in any Waitz's courses, attending Pauli's History Seminar and History of English Constitution, Steindorff's Reviews of Old Imperial Resources, Stern's History of English Revolution, and Unger's Interpretation of Old Christian Art Heritage. Afterwards he became a research secretary in the services of George Bancroft, American historian and the then ambassador to Berlin, and made a short study & holiday trip to libraries and archives in Holland and London.

While the Berlin period and his trips can be seen as broadening his horizons or investigation of documents concerning Czech studies (in particular documents on J. A. Komenský), only his Prague and Göttingen studies are important for interpretation of Goll's approach to history and for evaluation of his following career as a teacher and researcher. Interpretation of World History - the future specialism of the docent (1875) and extraordinary (1880) and ordinary (1885) professor Jaroslav Goll - was at a very decent level already in Prague. Even though Konstantin Höfler was not the most significant investigator of Czech history, his knowledge of European and world history and, thus, also his lectures - although he is said not to be a gorgeous speaker - were very good or at least Goll believed so. However, in terms of factual information Goll appreciated Tomek's lectures more. In this respect, Göttingen period emphasized Goll's interest in constitutional history.

Goll's own lectures at the Prague University, as far as they can be evaluated on the basis of the documents kept in the Masaryk Institute - Archive of the Academy of Science - and some other resources (Josef Vítězslav Šimák, Josef Šusta), does not prove what is traditionally pointed out, i.e. that Jaroslav Goll linked Czech history to world history. Goll's lectures interpret English history, history of the Roman Empire, medieval history until the 16th century, and in exceptional cases other topics. He for example spoke - more or less on the basis of his article History and Historiography - also about the methodology of historical science, which appeared also in his interpretations in the seminar. Thus, his university lectures do not differ, in any aspect significant for research methodology or concept of history, from Konstantin Höfler's lectures. It is the language that is different; German lectures were replaced by lectures presented in the Czech language - and perhaps Goll's lectures show a level of conservatism lower than those of his teachers and colleagues. Also his focus on literature is slightly stronger, yet he presents mostly summaries and lists of works on the topic without any comprehensive evaluation thereof. On the other hand, compared with W. W. Tomek, Jaroslav Goll seems to be a dilettante in the area of cultural history if he arrives at the topic in his lectures at all, which is rather surprising in a man who is keen on contemporary theatre, literature, art, music and travelling. However, particularly impressive - although maybe only for a part of the audience - was the external effect, the theatre-like presentation of Jaroslav Goll's lectures, which transformed a mere explanation of facts into a kind of initiation into a secret science - history. The tradition of Czech thinking claims that Goll is the first significant researcher to integrate Czech history into European context. Nevertheless, it seems that also here inspiration should be looked for in W. W. Tomek, in his textbooks of Austrian History, where Czech history was indeed linked to the history of Europe, and in particular to Central European history, interpreted as an organic component of the Central European area, which was substantially facilitated by his synchronous approach to the interpretation of the Danube Monarchy development. Tomek's textbooks were a source of inspiration also for the second generation of Goll's "School" and partly for their followers, as Tomek's textbook was replaced by Josef Pekař's History of Our Land published immediately before World War I.

Goll's seminar of History represents another subject discussed in this book. However, it is not only the fact that the History seminar at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Czech Karl-Ferdinand University in Prague was not very important in the 1880s in terms of the numbers of its attendants and their results and did not reach its peak until the early 1890s, when it was led by three directors (Jaroslav Goll, Josef Emler, Antonín Rezek), it is mainly the question of whether the introduction of a seminar of History at the Czech University after the split of the former utraquist university indeed brought a significant change in the existing situation. We basically believe that Jaroslav Goll did not attend any seminar of History at the Prague University, that his knowledge of the seminar was based on his Göttingen studies, which the researchers have interpreted as if no History seminar was available in Prague before 1882. However, Jaroslav Goll did not show much interest in a research career during his studies, feeling rather like a poet; moreover no qualification work was required, only several examinations had to be passed in order to be awarded the degree of a doctor. Thus, the development of History seminars must be apprehended also in the sphere of transformations of the level of education in the statutory framework thereof; nevertheless we should above all admit that even if the seminar was not taught at the Prague University during Goll's studies, this is absolutely not true about the period starting from the early 1870s: next to Hirschfeld's courses there were in particular the continuously developed seminar held by professor Höfler (and partly by Antonín Gindely) even though it was not free from political motives. Exercises with sources, although unpaid, held by Jaroslav Goll, Josef Emler and exceptionally by Antonín Rezek appeared already in the 1870s. Nevertheless, we still have to admit that Jaroslav Goll attended in Prague a course similar to a History seminar; also in the 1860s the pedagogues of the Prague University (W. W. Tomek and K. A. Höfler) made attempts for research propaedeutics even though not every year, and also Jaroslav Goll participated in some of their lectures that were similar to seminars (this concerns in particular the Analysis of Important Parts of World History, which professor Höfler supplemented with practical work with sources).

Jaroslav Goll got in touch with the Commission for Newer Austrian History (Kommission für Neuere Geschichte Österreichs), organised investigations in archives in Bohemia, as a university professor he was involved in administration bodies of the Museum of the Bohemian Kingdom etc. However, it should be noted that he held those positions with a delay, at the turn from the 19th to the 20th century, the Prague society being well aware that Goll had an influential patron, Antonín Rezek, minister and Goll's former university colleague, whom he largely consulted about the development of the branch.

The Manuscripts fight, i.e. the dispute concerning genuineness of the old-Bohemian literary works that occurred in the mid 1880s is perhaps the only thing to clarify the sharp cut between Jaroslav Goll and his followers and previous generation of W. W. Tomek. Goll's participation in the Manuscripts conflict represents one of his most distinct and courageous research initiatives and illustrates his critical acumen and ability to fight with an open visor, yet it reveals Goll's conceit. Jaroslav Goll - feeling offended by Josef Kalousek replying to his book study only through a newspaper article or by W. W. Tomek's review in the Journal of the Museum of the Bohemian Kingdom (even though one can read much more savage reviews from his colleagues today) - communicated only with those who either supported him or at least did not oppose him radically. For long years he closed himself in the world of the University and "his students" and e.g. in 1891 he did not accept his appointment as an extraordinary member of the Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts; despite justifying his refusal by organizational non-readiness of the newly established Academy it is apparent that Jaroslav Goll's feelings were hurt by his appointment as an extraordinary member while his opponents (Josef Kalousek, W. W. Tomek and others) were appointed, by the Kaiser, as ordinary members already when the institution was being formed. Thus, Goll deliberately refused to engage himself in research activities that were supposed to be a compromise between the two parties to the Manuscripts dispute (apart from other things he e.g. refused to participate in working on Otto's Encyclopedia).

However, Jaroslav Goll's creative efforts were hindered by various things. Already as a young man he complained about frequent, in particular mental fatigue in letters to his father. The mother's family's disposition probably left its traces in him; the death of his son Marcel (1886-1891) - from which he recovered mainly by taking refuge in poetry correspondence with Jaroslav Vrchlický - was another blow. Besides he suffered from an eye disease, which required several operations and which was depriving him of strength to work with sources. His history-related works include Die französische Heirath (1876), his "habilitation" thesis demonstrating Goll's insight into the 17th century European politics, to mention a crucial one. In the 1880s, in the prime period of his research work, he published - in addition to the book A Historical Analysis of the Králův Dvůr Manuscript Poems: Oldřich, Beneš Heřmanův, and Jaroslav (1886) - several notable studies concerning the 15th century Unity of the Brethren, which came out in a book called Chelčický and the Unity of the Brethren in the XVth Century in 1916. The year 1897 witnessed the publication of Bohemia and Prussia in Middle Ages, Goll's most cited work by the following generation, which links Bohemian, Polish and Prussian history in a single context and in this regard ranks among the most significant works of the late 19th century Czech historiography. In the following year Goll was - within preparations for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of František Palacký's birth - concerned with the historian's personality and works in several studies. On the occasion of his installation in the position of Rector he elaborated the history of the University in 1882, i.e. the issue of division of the Prague University. The work he had been preparing for all his life - A War for the Lands of the Bohemian Crown I - was at last published in 1915 and followed only by smaller studies and collected papers including translations of articles concerning Czech historical production from the French Revue historique.

The late 19th and early 20th century historical science was based on the endeavour to keep pace with the historiography of Western Europe. However, it did not omit the development of historical science to the east of our country either. Paying attention to the history of the Hungarian Kingdom, Balkan or Russia was considered commonplace. The historiography of the 19th century and later also the historiography of the 20th century until the last years of the First Czechoslovak Republic witnessed a penetration of two directions, two lines of historical research, reprehended by František Palacký and Wácslaw Wladiwoj Tomek - on the one hand Palacký's daring spiritual concepts with interest in Slavism, on the other hand W. W. Tomek's dispassionateness of Ranke's type - when Czech historiography received non-reflected nationalist elements or unclear terms such as "spirit of the period". The Goll-time Czech historiography is filled with a conflict of both the tendencies; thanks to Goll and Rezek the direction based on views that were actually against Palacký - even though he probably often did not realize it - prevailed in Czech historiography. Jaroslav Goll's positivistic positions thus de facto followed the traces of W. W. Tomek. Nevertheless, it is Jaroslav Goll who is seen - by Josef Pekař, already in the 90s - as the teacher to be followed, Pekař adopting the terminology of Goll, who privately talked about his school. Therefore, the problem is a definition of the so-called Goll's School. Many historians of the after-Goll generation did not share Goll's opinions or rather disagreed with Goll in human terms (e.g. J. V. Šimák or, to a lesser extent, Jaroslav Bidlo supported Antonín Rezek more); the cultural history group - at the University represented by Čeněk Zíbrt - sought patronage rather from Josef Kalousek. However, Goll was the authority to discuss those in principle Tomek-type postulates in the History seminar and forward the same as a message of science. Yet, also the fact that Jaroslav Goll liked to talk about "his followers" plays an indisputable role in the Goll's School phenomenon, which fact could be hardly opposed to as in the institutional sense of the word they indeed were his students, followers and often also participants in his seminar - but by far not only (of) his. However, this book also attempts to point out that supporting Jaroslav Goll was, above all, a strategy to attain a university position; a majority of the most significant texts celebrating Goll's spirit and "School" appears around his sixtieth birthday, which was - however - also the time when young historians had the opportunity to become professors at the only Czech university. This was not possible without support from conceited Jaroslav Goll. Proclaiming Goll's importance was in particular a way to increase one's "social capital", not to promote his methodology. Besides, the phenomenon of the so-called "Goll's School" can be defined only negatively as an alliance against the romantic illusions of František Palacký and Tomáš G. Masaryk, which - even though philosophically inspiring - cannot be credibly documented in historical terms. Not even this definition is true absolutely, though; and some historians did not clearly incline to Goll's and Pekař's positions even during the dispute concerning the sense of Czech history. Thus, it seems that if wishing to achieve a deep understanding of its development, the future Czech historiography will have to free itself from the misleading term "Goll's School".

It should be also noted that Jaroslav Goll was reluctant to participate in significant historical national and research polemics in the early 20th century; in those he was usually represented by Josef Pekař. Goll started to move his polemic pen towards politics and political science at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1902 he addressed researchers of the entire Danube Monarchy with his polemic paper Der Hass der Völker und die österreichische Universitäten, which - as far as can be judged from the letters sent to Jaroslav Goll - met with some response and had its place not only in the then fight for another Czech university (in Brno). His status as a court counsellor and teacher of Archduke Karl, successor to the throne and from 1909 a member of the House of Lords in the Vienna Parliament, corresponded to the conservative views he defended. Also in this he was a follower of W. W. Tomek, though.

After the termination of publication of Rezek's Historical Journal (1883-1886) Jaroslav Goll also lacked a platform where he and his followers could publish, as he kept away from the Journal of the Museum of the Bohemian Kingdom.

Thus, the birth of the Czech Historical Journal (in 1895) is another factor uniting but also dividing Czech historical science. While before the existence of the Journal Jaroslav Goll would offer the results of his seminar for publication in Moravia, in the Moravian Foundation, Antonín Rezek and historians who were well-disposed towards him (Jaroslav Bidlo, Josef Vítězslav Šimák) as well as Zdeněk Nejedlý, Kamil Krofta or Václav Zdeněk Tobolka regularly appeared also on the pages of the Journal of the Museum of the Bohemian Kingdom. We should really admit that a uniform Goll's School is a fiction that actually never existed. Instead there was indisputable mingling of influences of several authorities - Jaroslav Goll, Josef Kalousek and Antonín Rezek - each of whom largely affected some historians of the following generation; moreover also Josef Emler played an important role. However, many intellectual and methodological influences came from Tomek's time.

The aforesaid implies that the "School" established by Jaroslav Goll and Antonín Rezek can be understood as a new stage of historiography probably only in connection with the institutional background of historical science, with the shift of the focal point from the Museum of the Bohemian Kingdom to the Czech University, i.e. with the split of the University in 1882, with publication and personnel possibilities, opportunities to study abroad, etc. It is indeed a change occurring in this generation but the change should not be overestimated. The differences were quantitative rather than qualitative. And last but not least, there were also shifts in influence of certain groups of historians when the young generation starts to "win" in research environment in the early 20th century however still needs Jaroslav Goll to confirm their positions; and J. Goll needs them to maintain his influence at the University and partly also to assert himself outside it. /Translated by M. Fialová/