Józef Rubin Wybicki was a writer and politician, best known as the author of the lyrics of the Polish national anthem – Poland Is Not Yet Lost. This piece granted him immortality and a place in the national pantheon. However, it also overshadowed the other accomplishments of one of the First Polish Republic's greatest authors.
Pisarz, polityk, znany najbardziej jako autor słów Mazurka Dąbrowskiego – polskiego hymnu narodowego.
Józef Rubin Wybicki was born on 29th September 1747 in Będomin, in the vicinity of Kościerzyn, in the noble family of Piotr Rogal and Konstancja Lniska. He studied in the Jesuit collegium in Stare Szkoty where he quickly experienced the effect that the unprogressive educational system had on him: he had to learn everything by heart, which excluded independent thinking. He and the other students also suffered from cruelty in the form of moral and physical pressure.
This led him to organise an attempt of a student mutiny and, in consequence, expulsion from the Collegium. His paternal uncle managed to secure him an apprenticeship in a law office which allowed him to continue his education as a lawyer. Again, Wybicki did not find his place there – studying law echoed his education in the Jesuit Collegium, it was mostly mechanical repetition of legal formulas without understanding them. As it turned out, his later endeavours tied his life with constituting and executing the law.
He became independent very early. In 1765, his paternal uncle Franciszek, who took care of Józef and his siblings, died. The 18-years-old Wybicki began adult life. As early as in 1764, he entered the world of politics by taking part in Stanisław August Poniatowski's election. Dramatic political events were to occur four years after that. In the years 1767-1768, Wybicki took part in the ‘Repninian’ sessions of parliament, named after Russia’s ambassador in Warsaw, Nicholas Repnin, who intimidated its partakers and enforced his laws. One of them was the recognition of the dissenters' laws, in fact aimed at giving privilege to the Orthodox Church which was supposed to become a tool for russification. Repnin caused the abduction and imprisonment of two Polish bishops in Kałudza: Kajetan Sołtyka and Józef Andrzej Załuski. Wybicki, barely 21 years old at the time, delivered his first public speech in which he denounced the lawless act and Russia's policies in relation to Poland. This made him famous – also because the young lawyer tried to employ the liberum veto rule – infamous at that time – for the public good. This had no effect – during the Repninian sessions of parliament, the liberum veto rule was not in force and the king, startled by the young deputy's courageous address, held off the parliament's session.
Because of this scandalous speech, Wybicki had to hide in Warsaw and sneak out of the capital. He took part in the Bar Confederation (1758) and was the confederacy's Gdańsk emissary (their help was needed in order to execute an insurrection). In 1770, under the fake name of Josephus Enkler, he studied law, natural sciences and philosophy at the famous Leiden University. However, in 1771 he returned to Poland where, under confederation's orders, he was establishing diplomatic contacts with the French deputation. He settled in Poland for good in 1772, after the confederation's defeat and the country's First Partition. In 1773 he married Kunegunda Drwęska, who was seventeen years older than him. However, the marriage lasted only for two years because of his wife’s death.
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Following this tragic event, Wybicki engaged in administration and political activity. The king bestowed him with the chamberlain's title, he inspected schools in the Vilnius County and, in 1776, he was entrusted with the formulation of the code of rights. This resulted in a work that is considered to be one of Wybicki's greatest achievements: Listy patriotyczne do Jaśnie Wielmożnego eks-kanclerza Zamoyskiego, prawa układającego pisane (editor’s translation: Patriotic Letters Written to His Highness Ex-chancellor Zamoyski, the Lawmaker). In these fourteen texts written in the years 1776-1777, Wybicki displayed his political views – the negation and deep critique of the Polish political system – but also postulated to free the peasants, abolish serfdom and replace it with a rent system. In that era, such a postulate was almost revolutionary.
In 1780 he remarried. He wed Estara Wierrusz-Kowalska, who was ten years younger than him. In the following year, he purchased an estate in Manieczki where he settled (Będomin, his family town, was a part of the Prussian annexation at that time). He did housekeeping and had time for pursuing a literary career. Wybicki created two drama theatre works in Manieczki: Zygmunt August, a tragedy, two comedies titled Kulig (editor’s translation: Sleigh Ride) and Warro na Wsi (Warro in the Countryside) and librettos for the opera: Kmiotek (Coon), Polka, Samnitka and Pasterka Zabłąkana (A Lost Shepherdess). Not many of these works reached the professional scene. Wojciech Bogusławski staged Kulig and Polka in the National Theatre in 1783. Wybicki's other works were staged at an amateur theatre in Manieczki. Offering himself to the domestic bliss did not mean that Wybicki withdrew from the public life. Even though he was not a part of the Great Sejm, he did join the delegacy working on the so-called Stanisław August Codex. In the same year, in August, he represented Poznań during the Sejm's proceedings – he had to join the bourgeoisie for this to be possible. He joined the Targowica Confederation immediately after it launched. However, soon after he joined the opposing side, having understood that the confederation was merely Russia’s tool being used against Poland.
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In 1793, Manieczki – the town which was his asylum from the public life – was included in the Second Prussian Partition. Wybicki's family moved to Krobowo, located close to Warsaw, in the vicinity of Grójec. Here, Wybicki witnessed the Kościuszko Uprising and the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising (in 1794). At that time, a fateful encounter occurred. It would later grant him immortal fame – he met general Jan Henryk Dąbrowski, the future founder of the Polish Legions in Italy. Their first meeting took place in exceptionally dramatic circumstances – he was accused of treason and sentenced to death during the war department's session on 1st May 1794 (because of joining the Targowica Confederation). Wybicki's fervent speech saved his life and cleared him of all the allegations. Dąbrowski offered Wybicki his limitless trust and appointed him as the government's plenipotentiary for his troops. Wybicki served a key role in the First Polish Republic's last uprising – he wrote Kościuszko's appeal to the citizens of the Greater Poland region delivered in August 1794, in which Kościuszko called for their participation in the fight.
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The fall of Warsaw and the uprising's defeat forced Wybicki to leave Poland. In 1795, he made it to Paris by taking a detour through Lviv, Prague and Basel. In Paris, he increased the numbers of the emigrant faction which aimed to restore the political system based on the Constitution of 3rd May in Poland. He also persuaded Dąbrowski to emigrate and come to Paris – the general arrived in Paris in February 1796. Together, they initiated the talks with the Directorate about forming the Polish Legions. They were formed with big difficulties, as money was scarce.
Finally, on January 1st 1797, Dąbrowski, with Wybicki's contribution, signed the agreement with the Transpadane Republic and created the Legions. Napoleon also gave his signature on the document. This document is the beginning of the creation of Wybicki's most famous work. On July 16th 1797, he took part in the ceremony to adjoin Reggio to the brand-new Cisalpine Republic which replaced the Transpadane Republic. For the first time, the Polish Legions took part in the ceremonial parade which went through the city. The sight of Polish uniforms made a great impact on Wybicki.
Most scholars agree that that was the time when the first version of the Poland Is Not Yet Lost song, nowadays known also as the Dąbrowski’s Mazurka, was created. Since 1921, it is the official anthem of Poland. However, other scholars believe that the Mazurka was born a few days earlier – some witnesses wrote about Wybicki singing this song on 10th July 1797, in front of the Legion's elders. The Mazurka immediately gained popularity. On August 29th 1797, Dąbrowski wrote to Wybicki from Bologna: 'The soldiers are more and more in favour of your song'. Today we know that the Dąbrowski's Mazurka spread in a flash – it was known around all the partitioned Polish lands already in 1798. It appeared in print for the first time in Gazetka Legionowa (editor's translation: the Legionary Gazette) in early 1799. It was sung in 1830 during the November Uprising, during the January Uprising in 1863 and during the revolutions in 1848 and 1905. It empowered the people during both World Wars in the 20th century. It was translated into seventeen languages. Karol Kurpiński incorporated Mazurka’s musical theme into his fugue for organ. Wagner used it in his famous Polonia overture.
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Cover of the national anthem's score. Chant national polonais: Poland is Not Yet Lost, Józef Wybicki (1747-1822). Source: Polona.pl
The modern lyrics are different from the canon version written by Wybicki:
Polish History in Images [PART 1]
Poland has not yet died,
So long as we still live.
What the foreign power has seized from us,
We shall recapture with a sabre.
March, march, Dąbrowski,
To Poland from the Italian land.
Under your command
We shall rejoin the nation.
Like Czarniecki to Poznań
Returned across the sea
To save his homeland
After the Swedish partition.
March, march, Dąbrowski,
We'll cross the Vistula, we'll cross the Warta,
We shall be Polish.
Bonaparte has given us the example
Of how we should prevail.
March, march, Dąbrowski,
The German nor the Muscovite will settle
When, with a backsword in hand,
'Concord' will be everybody's watchword
And so will be our fatherland.
March, march, Dąbrowski,
A father, in tears,
Says to his Barbara
Listen, our boys are said
To be beating the tarabans.
March, march, Dąbrowski,
All exclaim in unison,
'Enough of this captivity!'
We've got the scythes of Ratswavitse,
Kościuszko, if God wills.
In 1806, Wybicki and Dąbrowski took part in the talks with Napoleon in Berlin. On 3rd November, he promised them to restore Poland's independence. On this same day, he had issued an appeal to Poles from the Poznań Voivodeship in which they were asked to start an uprising. Officially, it was signed by Dąbrowski and Wybicki, but in reality only Wybicki placed his signature. On 6th November, Polish armies entered Poznań – Wybicki was among the soldiers. On 27th November, Wybicki travelled to Warsaw on Napoleon's command (the emperor wanted to use Wybicki's legal knowledge). Here, he began forming the new administration. He worked in Napoleon's Governing Commission and took car of victualling and oversaw the Police. He had also supported the Great Army which was arming itself for the war with Prussia. His work was appreciated by the emperor – he wanted to offer Wybicki lands and a high permanent pension in the amount of 6,000 francs. However, Wybicki refused and asked only for the return of his beloved Manieczki.
Polish History in Images [PART 2]
Napoleon's defeat in 1815 was Wybicki's personal catastrophe as he was a very engaged follower of his. He was chased by the Prussian authorities and there was a high bounty for giving him away. He avoided danger thanks to prince's Adam Czartoryski who mediated with Tsar Alexander the First.
He spent his final seven years in his beloved Manieczki and took two more important positions – in 1817, he became the president of the Supreme Court of the Polish Kingdom. It was the most important position he ever held – it lasted for three years as he resigned in 1821. His final public position was the membership in the so-called Legislative Commission which was responsible for developing new penal and civil law. The civil codex he devised was revolutionary for his time – it legalized divorce which brought the church's anger upon him. Its representatives demanded Wybicki's dismissal while the progressives insisted on leaving him in the position. Wybicki, clearly tired of this ethical war, resigned on 4th September 1821. He spent the last months of his life in Manieczki, where he also died on 10th March 1821. At first, he was buried in the church in Brodnica. However, one century later, on 14th October 1923, his body was exhumed together with the bodies of other partakers of the Napoleon wars. Wybicki's body was then placed in the Crypt of the Distinguished Citizens of Greater Poland in St. Stanislaus's church in Poznań, also known as the 'Poznań Rock'.
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Wybicki's literature, his political and judicial works, and also poetry and theatre plays, are today almost completely forgotten – besides Dąbrowski's Mazurka, he left numerous commentaries, sejm speeches, appeals, political treatises and journals. A number of these works was published in his lifetime, but most of them (including the drama works) were printed only in the 20th century.
Originally written in Polish by Tomasz Mościcki, 2016, translated by Patryk Grabowski, October 2018