Aleksander Majkowski is a well-known and respected Kashubian writer and author of poems, plays and novels. He was born on 17 July 1876 in Kościerzyna in Kashubia, the son of Jan and Józefina née Bask. He attended primary school and pro-gymnasium in his hometown, then moved to the gymnasium in Chojnice in 1895. After two years, the money was found to enable him to study medicine in Berlin. He spent three years there, experiencing either consciously or not European modernism. In Berlin he became acquainted not only with the world of science but also with the artistic Bohemia, among which the name of Stanisław Przybyszewski was particularly noted. Although it is not known whether they knew each other, it is certain they had the same tailor – Władysław Berkan, who mentioned both of them in his memoirs. Later Majkowski continued his studies in Gryfia (Greifswald), where he took an accelerated course in the history of Pomerania and Kashubia. Sent down from this institution at the end of February 1901 for patriotic activities, he moved to Munich and continued his studies in the autumn. As Munich was the second capital, after Berlin, of European modernism, the conditions were favourable for becoming acquainted with contemporary literature and art, and Majkowski took full advantage of this.
He was already the author of “Jak w Koscérznie koscenégo obrelë, abo pięc kawalerów a jednô jedynô brutka”, a satirical poem written in Kashubian during his Berlin period and published in Gdańsk in 1899. In 1903 he began work in Gdańsk on his next opus, for which the modernist aura of the city, and the Satanism which was not indifferent to it, were of some significance. This was a tale about the Kashubian devil, “Jak Smętk po swiece wędrowoł” (1903). This initiated the Kashubian epic about Remus, which appeared in subsequent years. The hero of this epic, wandering around Kashubia with his barrow, and Smętk had already appeared in his humorous poem about Kościerzyna.
After Munich, where Majkowski had finished his medical studies in 1903, the next stage of his European peregrinations, reminiscent of the wanderings of Remus around Kashubia, turned out to be Zurich. In this city he wrote his doctoral thesis on lead poisoning in blood, which he defended in September 1904 in Munich. He commenced medical practice as an assistant in the Hospital of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Gdańsk. It was there also that he began work as a journalist in 1905, editing in “Gazeta Gdańska” the Kashubian supplement “Drużba”. In Poznań he published a volume of poems, “Śpiewe i frantówci” (1905). He returned to Kościerzyna at the end of the same year. Between 1906 and 1911 he not only worked as a doctor in his hometown but also engaged in social work, cultural activity and anti-Germanisational activities. In 1908 he began editing the Kashubian “Gryf” and founded the Society of People’s Reading-Rooms in 1909.
In 1911 he moved to Sopot, where he was one of the organisers of the Society of Young Kashubians in Gdańsk and one of the founders of the Kashubian-Pomeranian Museum, established in Sopot in 1913. He also ran a medical practice here up to the outbreak of the First World War. He was called up into the German army, in which he served as an army doctor, initially in Chełmno, then in Piława, Królewiec and Kraków, later in Ukraine, Rumania and France. He returned to Sopot in July 1918 and almost immediately became involved in Polish and Kashubian affairs in Pomerania, editing the “Dziennik Gdański” in 1919 and being involved in the independence issue in 1919-1920. Among other activities, he served on the International Commission establishing the Polish-German border and set up in Grudziądz in 1920 the Pomeranian Council, over which he presided.
In 1921 he married and settled in Kartuzy. As the Poviat Medical Officer he conducted a practice and returned to his editorial and writing work. Between 1921 and 1923, and also in 1925, he edited “Pomorzanin” and “Gryf”. He wrote “Życie i przygody Remusa”, publishing fragments of this Kashubian epic in 1922 and 1923 in “Gryf” and “Pomorzanin”, among other places. The first part was published in 1930 in Kartuzy. He did not live to see the publication of the full work, dying, one year before its publication in Toruń, on 10 February 1938.
This novel, not without cause referred to by Majkowski as the “Kashubian mirror”, is made up of three parts: “Na pustkowiu”, “Na swobodzie i w niewoli” and “Smętk”. They tell the story of the vicissitudes of the life of the eponymous hero and represent the stages of his ideological and mental evolution. As the plot of the novel takes place in the second half of the nineteenth century in Kashubia, the hero desires to fulfil himself as a defender of the land and its people. The narrator remembers Remus from his childhood, when he would be seen with his barrow full of devotional articles and books in Kashubia. Everyone regarded him as being off his head, when he spoke in his garbled way of the princess and the ruined castle. We learn about his life story, which began with him as a shepherd in Lipińskie Pustki on Zabłocki’s farm and ended with the unsuccessful battle against Smętk, from his memoirs, which he left with a teacher in Lipno for those who wanted, like him, to rescue the princess from the enchanted castle. In the dream-tale of the figure of Remus, Majkowski presented not only the tragedy of the Germanisation of Kashubia, but also the idea of liberation and the return of the Kashubian lands to their former glory. In order for this to happen, the Kashubians would have to become strong in thought and spirit.
That this intention was not alien to Majkowski from the first period of his creative writing activity can be seen not only from his early poem and later verses, but also from the “Historia Kaszubów” (1938), written simultaneously with the Remus epic, and from the unfinished novel “Pomorzanie”. Kashubian matters also served Majkowski as material for his journalistic writings, such as the literary sketch “Hieronim Derdowski” (1911), the guide to the Kashubian Switzerland “Zdroje Raduni” (1913) and many articles written for numerous publications in Gdańsk, Pomerania and Poland. The manuscript “Pamiętnik z wojny europejskiej 1914”, which has only recently been published, was also not devoid of thoughts about Kashubians and their future.
translated into English by Tadeusz Z. Wolański
- A. Majkowski, Jak w Koscérznie koscelnégo obrelë, abo pięc kawalerów a jednô jedynô brutka. W osem spiewach, Gdańsk 1899.Aleksandra Majkowskiego. Materiały z konferencji naukowej. Wejherowo 4 X 1996, Pod redakcją Józefa Borzyszkowskiego, Wejherowo 1997.
- A. Majkowski, Wiersze i frantówci. Zebrał, opracował i słownikiem opatrzył Leon Roppel, Gdynia 1957.
- A. Majkowski, Żëcé i przigodë Remusa. Życie i przygody Remusa. Część I - III, Przeł. Lech Bądkowski. Wstęp Wojciech Kiedrowski, Oficyna CZEC, Gdańsk 1995.
- A. Majkowski, Historia Kaszubów, Gdańsk 1991.
- A. Majkowski, Pomorzanie, "Kaszëbë" 1958, nr 6; 1970, nr 3.
- A. Majkowski, Pamiętnik z wojny europejskiej roku 1914, Z rękopisu odczytał i opracował, wstępem i przypisami opatrzył Tadeusz Linkner, Wejherowo - Pelplin 2000.
- R. Ostrowska, I. Trojanowska, Bedeker kaszubski, Wydawnictwo Morskie, Gdańsk 1978.
- T. Linkner, Heroiczna biografia Remusa. W zwierciadle mitu i kaszubskich wierzeń, Oficyna CZEC, Gdańsk 1996.
- Życie i twórczość
- Majkowski Aleksander, w: Literatura polska. Przewodnik encyklopedyczny, t. I, Warszawa 1984.