Henryk Sienkiewicz

A man who leaves memoirs, whether well or badly written, provided they be sincere, renders a service to future psychologists and writers, giving them not only a faithful picture, but likewise human documents that may be relied upon.

Henryk Adam Aleksander Pius Oszyk-Sienkiewicz (5 May 184615 November 1916) was a Nobel Prize-winning Polish novelist, most famous for his novel Quo Vadis.

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Quo Vadis (1895)Edit

Quo Vadis : A Narrative of the Time of Nero (1895) as translated from the Polish by Jeremiah Curtin
My jests do not prevent me from thinking at times that in truth there is only one deity, eternal, creative, all-powerful, Venus Genetrix. She brings souls together; she unites bodies and things.
Eros called the world out of chaos. Whether he did well is another question; but, since he did so, we should recognize his might...
One may not believe in our gods, but it is possible to love them...
  • Pliny declares, as I hear, that he does not believe in the gods, but he believes in dreams; and perhaps he is right. My jests do not prevent me from thinking at times that in truth there is only one deity, eternal, creative, all-powerful, Venus Genetrix. She brings souls together; she unites bodies and things. Eros called the world out of chaos. Whether he did well is another question; but, since he did so, we should recognize his might, though we are free not to bless it.
    • Petronius, as depicted in the novel, speaking to Marcus Vinicius, in Ch. 1
  • Life deserves laughter, hence people laugh at it.
    • Petronius, in Ch. 2
  • Riches, glory, power are mere smoke, vanity! The rich man will find a richer than himself; the greater glory of another will eclipse a man who is famous; a strong man will be conquered by a stronger. But can Cæsar himself, can any god even, experience greater delight or be happier than a simple mortal at the moment when at his breast there is breathing another dear breast, or when he kisses beloved lips? Hence love makes us equal to the gods, O Lygia.
    • Marcus Vinicius to Lygia, in Ch. 2
  • Not Nero, but God, rules the world.
    • Lygia to Marcus Vinicius, in Ch. 2
  • I consider that in dialectics I am the equal of Socrates. As to women, I agree that each has three or four souls, but none of them a reasoning one.
    • Petronius to Marcus Vinicius, in Ch. 3
  • O Petronius, thou hast seen what endurance and comfort that religion gives in misfortune, how much patience and courage before death; so come and see how much happiness it gives in ordinary, common days of life. People thus far did not know a God whom man could love, hence they did not love one another; and from that came their misfortune, for as light comes from the sun, so does happiness come from love. Neither lawgivers nor philosophers taught this truth, and it did not exist in Greece or Rome; and when I say, not in Rome, that means the whole world. The dry and cold teaching of the Stoics, to which virtuous people rally, tempers the heart as a sword is tempered, but it makes it indifferent rather than better.
  • Whoso loves beauty is unable for that very reason to love deformity. One may not believe in our gods, but it is possible to love them...
    • Petronius, Ch. 72
  • No God has promised me immortality; hence no surprise meets me. At the same time thou art mistaken, Vinicius, in asserting that only thy God teaches man to die calmly. No. Our world knew, before thou wert born, that when the last cup was drained, it was time to go, — time to rest, — and it knows yet how to do that with calmness. Plato declares that virtue is music, that the life of a sage is harmony. If that be true, I shall die as I have lived, — virtuously.
    • Petronius, Ch. 72
  • Rome stuffs its ears when it hears thee; the world reviles thee. I can blush for thee no longer, and I have no wish to do so. The howls of Cerberus, though resembling thy music, will be less offensive to me, for I have never been the friend of Cerberus, and I need not be ashamed of his howling.
    • Letter of Petronius to Nero, Ch. 73

Without Dogma (1891)Edit

I know that even the meanest person has still at his disposition high-sounding words wherewith to mask his real character.
Bez dogmatu (1891); translated by Iza Young as Without Dogma : A Novel of Modern Poland (1893) - Full text online
  • A man who leaves memoirs, whether well or badly written, provided they be sincere, renders a service to future psychologists and writers, giving them not only a faithful picture, but likewise human documents that may be relied upon.
    • Leon Ploszowski in his first entry in his diary, "Rome, 9 January"
  • I know from experience that to one who thinks much and feels deeply, it often seems that he has only to put down his thoughts and feelings in order to produce something altogether out of the common; yet as soon as he sets to work he falls into a certain mannerism of style and common phraseology; his thoughts do not come spontaneously, and one might almost say that it is not the mind that directs the pen, but the pen leads the mind into common, empty artificiality.
    • "Rome, 9 January"
  • My position is such that there is no necessity for me to enter into competition with struggling humanity. As to expensive and ruinous pleasures, I am a sceptic who knows how much they are worth, or rather, knows that they are not worth anything.
    • "Rome, 9 January"
  • I know that even the meanest person has still at his disposition high-sounding words wherewith to mask his real character.
    • 11 July
  • Aniela knows perfectly that I live for her only, exist through her; that all my thoughts belong to her, my actions have only her in view; that she is to me an issue of life and death; and in spite of all that she calmly decides to go away. Whether I should perish or beat my head against the wall, she never so much as considered. She will be more at ease when she ceases to see me writhing like a beetle stuck on a pin; she will be no longer afraid of my kissing her feet furtively, or startling that virtuous conscience. How can she hesitate when such excellent peace can be got, at so small a price as cutting somebody's throat! Thoughts like these spun across my brain by thousands.
    • 11 July
  • Aniela knew very well that her departure would be to me a more dangerous catastrophe than a wound on my head or the loss of an arm or leg; and yet she did not hesitate a moment. I was perfectly aware that it was all her doing. She wanted to be near her husband, and what would become of me was not taken into account.
    • 11 July
  • I often think that Aniela does me a great wrong, not to say that she calls things by wrong names. She considers my love a mere earthly feeling, an infatuation of the senses. I do not deny that it is composed of various threads, but there are among them some as purely ideal as if spun of poetry. Very often my senses are lulled to sleep, and I love her as one loves only in early youth. Then the second self within me mocks, and says derisively: "I had no idea you could love like a schoolboy or a romanticist!" Yet such is the fact. I may be ridiculous, but I love her thus, and it is not an artificial feeling.
    • 12 July
  • I felt within me a boundless wealth of this almost mystic love, and a belief that this earthly chrysalis would come forth in another world a butterfly, which, detached from all earthly conditions would soar from planet to planet, till it became united to the spirit of All-Life. For the first time the thought crossed my mind that Aniela and I may pass away as bodies, but our love will survive and even be our immortality. "Who knows," I thought, "whether this be not the only existing form of immortality?" — because I felt distinctly that there is something everlasting in my feeling, quite distinct from the ever changing phenomena of life.
    • 15 July
  • There is now resentment in my love. The thought is troubling my mind that she has a narrow heart, and that in this lies the secret of her unyieldingness. To-day, when I come to think it over more calmly, I go back to the conviction that she has some feeling for me, composed of gratitude, pity, and memories of the past; but it has no active power, cannot rise above prejudice, — even to the avowal of its existence. It does not respect itself, hides, is ashamed of itself, and in comparison with mine is as the mustard-seed to those Alps which surround us. From Aniela one may expect that she will restrict it rather than let it grow. It is of no use to hope or watch for anything from her; that conviction makes me very wretched.
    • 2 August
  • If it be a great misfortune to love another man's wife, be she ever so commonplace, it is an infinitely greater misfortune to love a virtuous woman. There is something in my relations to Aniela of which I never heard or read; there is no getting out of it, no end. A solution, whether it be a calamity or the fulfilment of desire, is something, but this is only an enchanted circle. If she remain immovable and I do not cease loving her, it will be an everlasting torment, and nothing else. And I have the despairing conviction that neither of us will give way.
    • 4 August
  • A time will come when under changed circumstances she will recover her beauty. I thought of it to-day and at once asked myself what would be our relations towards each other in the future, and whether it would make any change. I am certain it will not. I know already how it feels to live without her, and shall not do anything which might make her cast me off.
    • 9 November
  • In regard to this I have no illusion whatever. I have already said that since she changed our mutual relations into ideal feelings, they have become dear to her. Let it remain thus, provided they be dear to her.
    • 9 November
  • It is an altogether wrong idea that the modern product of civilization is less susceptible to love. I sometimes think it is the other way.
    • 10 November
  • Formerly character proved a strong curb for passions; in the present there is not much strength in character, and it grows less and less because of the prevailing scepticism, which is a decomposing element. It is like a bacillus breeding in the human soul; it destroys the resistant power against the physiological craving of the nerves, of nerves diseased. The modern man is conscious of everything, and cannot find a remedy against anything.
    • 10 November
  • I love her now beyond all words; she sees it, — she reads it in my eyes, and in my whole manner towards her. When I succeed in cheering her up, or call forth her smiles, I am beside myself with delight. There is at present in my love something of the attachment of the faithful servant who loves his mistress. I often feel as if I ought to humble myself before her, as if my proper place were at her feet. She never can grow ugly, changed, or old to me. I accept everything, agree to everything, and worship her as she is.
    • 11 November
  • Kromitzki is dead! The catastrophe has come upon us like a thunderbolt. God keep Aniela from any harm in her present state.
    • 12 November
  • There is within us a moral instinct which forbids us to rejoice at the death of even an enemy.
    • 12 November
  • It is not merely a question of sorrow after the death of a beloved being, but of the reproaches she will apply to herself, thinking that if she had loved him more he might have clung more to his life. Empty, trivial, and unjust reproaches, for she did everything that force of will could command, — she spurned my love and remained pure and faithful to him. But one must know that soul full of scruples as I know it, to gauge the depth of misery into which the news would plunge her, and how she would suspect herself, — asking whether his death did not correspond to some deeply hidden desire on her part for freedom and happiness; whether it did not gratify those wishes she had scarcely dared to form.
    • 13 November
  • Anxiety prepares the organism badly for an ordeal which even under more favorable circumstances would not be an easy thing to bear.
    • The doctor, to Leon, 15 November
  • Let there be at once also the end of the world! O God! if that is to be my punishment, I swear I will go away, never to see her again in life, — only save her!
    • 17 November
  • I should be blind if I did not perceive that some power as strong as the universe is parting us. What this power is, what it is called, I do not know. I know only that if I knelt down, beat my head on the floor, prayed, and cried out for mercy, I might move a mountain sooner than move that power. As nothing now could part me from Aniela but death, she must die. This may be very logical, but I do not consent to part from her.
    • 20 November
  • Do not be afraid, Leon, — I feel much better; but in case anything should happen to me I wanted to leave you something to remember me by. Perhaps I ought not to say it so soon after my husband's death; but as I might die, I wanted to tell you now that I loved you very, very much.
    • Anelia, to Leon, 21 November
  • Aniela died this morning.
    • 23 November
  • I might have been your happiness, and became your misfortune. I am the cause of your death, for if I had been a different man, if I had not been wanting in all principles, all foundations of life, there would not have come upon you the shocks that killed you.
    • Rome, 5 December
  • I follow you — because I must. Do you think I am not afraid of death? I am afraid because I do not know what there is, and see only darkness without end; which makes me recoil. I do not know whether there be nothingness, or existence without space and time; perhaps some midplanetary wind carries the spiritual monad from star to star to implant it in an ever-renewing existence. I do not know whether there be immense restlessness, or a peace so perfect as only Omnipotence and Love can bestow on us. But since you have died through my "I do not know," how could I remain here — and live?
    The more I fear, the more I do not know, — the more I cannot let you go alone; I cannot, Aniela mine, — and I follow. Together we shall sink into nothingness, or together begin a new life; and here below where we have suffered let us be buried in oblivion.
    • Rome, 5 December

Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1905)Edit

Address in Stockholm, Sweden(10 December 1905)
  • Nations are represented by their poets and their writers in the open competition for the Nobel Prize. Consequently the award of the Prize by the Academy glorifies not only the author but the people whose son he is, and it bears witness that that nation has a share in the universal achievement, that its efforts are fruitful, and that it has the right to live for the profit of mankind. If this honour is premous to all, it is infinitely more so to Poland. It has been said that Poland is dead, exhausted, enslaved, but here is the proof of her life and triumph. Like Galileo, one is forced to think when before the eyes of the world homage has been rendered to the importance of Poland's achievement and her genius.
  • This homage has been rendered not to me - for the Polish soil is fertile and does not lack better writers than me - but to the Polish achievement, the Polish genius. For this I should like to express my most ardent and most sincere gratitude as a Pole to you gentlemen, the members of the Swedish Academy, and I conclude by borrowing the words of Horace:

Quotes about SienkiewiczEdit

The greatest genius assimilates unconsciously the best with which it comes in contact, and by a subtle chemistry of its own makes new combinations.
  • Of the man Sienkiewicz there is little to be obtained. Like all great creative geniuses, he is so completely identified with his work that even while his personality lives in his creations it eludes them. He offers us no confidences concerning himself, no opinions or prejudices. He does not divert the reader with personalities. He sets before us certain groups of men and women, whom certainly he knows and loves, and has lived among.
    • Publisher's Preface to Without Dogma : A Novel of Modern Poland (1893), published by Little, Brown, and Company
  • Neither realism nor romance alone will ever with its small plummet sound to its depths the human heart or its mystery; yet from the union of the two much perhaps might come.
    We believe that just here lies the value of the novels of Henryk Sienkiewicz. He has worked out the problem of the modern novel so as to satisfy the most ardent realist, but he has worked it out upon great and broadly human lines. For him facts are facts indeed; but facts have souls as well as bodies. His genius is analytic, but also imaginative and constructive; it is not forever going upon botanizing excursions. He paints things and thoughts human.
    The greatest genius assimilates unconsciously the best with which it comes in contact, and by a subtle chemistry of its own makes new combinations. Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, and the realists, as well as all the forces of nature, have helped to make Henryk Sienkiewicz; yet he is not any one of them. He is never merely imitative. Originality and imaginative fire, a style vivid and strong, large humor, a profound pathos, a strong feeling for nature, and a deep reverence for the forms and the spirit of religion, the breath of the true cosmopolitan united with the intense patriotism of the Pole, a great creative genius, — these are the most striking qualities of the work of this modern novelist, who has married Romance to Realism.
    • Publisher's Preface to Without Dogma : A Novel of Modern Poland (1893), published by Little, Brown, and Company

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Last modified on 13 April 2014, at 07:54