From the New World to Prague

The more common way was, of course, from Prague to the New world. This was the case of the Czech travellers and settlers since the 17th century. It is good to note that, at least as far as Czech literature of the time suggests, the New world was not a very big issue in Prague or the Czech Republic as a whole. The main concerns of the 18th and the 19th century were the European situation, the Czech position in it and the ways to regain Czech independence (at least cultural), including questions concerning relations with other Slavic nations.

When in 1854 a then-popular Czech playwright published his America- set adventure/tragedy featuring Native American tribes, he met with a lack of Czech equivalents for the terms describing American reality (including a term for the Native Americans themselves).

Czech – American cultural exchange

That is to say the Czech- American cultural exchange was sporadic. Hard to find in Prague architecture, the capital’s background was mainly created by the neighbouring powers’ influence. In the American case, we may only speak of interesting minorities.

There’s an example from the end of the 18th Century, when two highly situated soldiers from Latin America visited Prague, their attention being drawn mainly to the Klementinum library, the scientific laboratories in Karolinum and the hospital on the Charles Square, famous at the time.

What seems to be more substantial was the Czechs’ movement westwards. One Czech- born scientist fought for Bolivian independence in the first decades of the 19th century and before he was killed, he tried to found manufactures of the central European style in the New world.

The musician Filip Heinrich moved to America in 1811, absorbing influence from Native American music. Two generations later, we have the most famous case in front of us: Antonin Dvorak moved to the United States and expressed his fondness for the place in his New World Symphony, possibly one of the most famous classical compositions and certainly the most well- known Czech composition in the world.

After the monarchy suppressed the 1848 riots, one of those forced to flee was Albert Fingerhut, known as Vojta Náprstek, who studied the American tribes and his collection of artefacts was the bases of his Prague- situated Náprstkovo (Náprstek’s) museum”. Though renowned, he also faced disapproval, as his US- influenced modern views on the role of women and tolerance towards ethnic minorities were in contrast to the dominating opinions of the 19th Century Austrian society (Czechs notwithstanding).

In diplomatic circles, the most famous personality of Czech- American origin was Charles Jonas, who served as a US consul in Prague and later became vice- governor of Wisconsin. It’s also worth a notice that the wife of the first Czechoslovak president Masaryk, the Brooklyn- born Charlotte Garrigue, came from an old German- American family.

It is well known that Prague was a cultural centre during the first four decades of the 20th century (excluding the protectorate years of course). There American influence was minor, since the Prague German authors, the Prague linguistic circle etc. were European. What’s of interest is the case of the poet Pablo Neruda. His name is inspired by the 19th century Czech novelist and journalist, closely tied to the Lesser Town.

Aug 19, 14:22 (Filed under: Foreign influence in Prague )

« The Story of Prague Castle Exhibition | Temporary exhibitions in the Klementinum Gallery »