Joachim Lelewel

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Joachim Lelewel
Born(1786-03-22)22 March 1786
Died29 May 1861(1861-05-29) (aged 75)
Resting placeRossa Cemetery
Occupation(s)Historian, bibliographer
RelativesKarol Maurycy Lelewel (father)
Academic background
InfluencesZorian Dołęga-Chodakowski
Academic work
School or traditionRomanticism
Lelewel School [pl]

Joachim Lelewel (22 March 1786 – 29 May 1861) was a Polish historian, geographer,[1][2] bibliographer, polyglot and politician.


Born in Warsaw to a Polonized German family[a], Lelewel was educated at the Imperial University of Vilna, where in 1814 he became a lecturer in history, with a brief sojourn at Warsaw, 1818–1821, where he joined the Warsaw Society of Friends of Learning. His lectures on Polish history created great enthusiasm, as shown in some lines addressed to him by Adam Mickiewicz that led to Lelewel's removal by the Russians in 1824.

A sketch of Lelewel

Five years later, Lelewel returned to Warsaw, where he was elected a deputy to the Sejm of Congress Poland. He joined the November 1830 Uprising with more enthusiasm than energy, though Tsar Nicholas I identified him as one of the most dangerous rebels. He is considered the author of the motto: "For our freedom and yours".[3] On the suppression of the rebellion, Lelewel made his way in disguise to Germany and subsequently reached Paris in 1831. The government of Louis Philippe ordered him to quit French territory in 1833 at the request of the Russian ambassador. The cause of the expulsion is said to have been his writing of revolutionary proclamations. He went to Brussels, where for nearly thirty years he earned a scanty livelihood by his writings.

In 1846 Lelewel joined the Polish Democratic Association and before the 1846 Kraków uprising he wrote an appeal "To my countrymen in the Ukraine".[3]

In 1847, he, together with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, became a founding member and Vizepräses (vice president) of the Demokratische Gesellschaft zur Einigung und Verbrüderung aller Völker (Democratic Society for Unity and Brotherhood of All Peoples), seated in Brussels. The anarchist Michail Bakunin was strongly influenced by him.

During the first years of Alexander II of Russia as the Emperor of Russia, Lelewel laid some hope on the beginning of liberalization.[3]

Lelewel died 29 May 1861 in Paris, where he had moved a few days earlier. First interred there, his body was transferred to the Rasos Cemetery in Vilnius, in accord with his wishes.


His literary activity in Polish and, to a more international audience in French, was enormous, extending from his Edda skandynawska ("The Scandinavian Edda", 1807) to his Géographie des Arabes (1851). One of his most important publications was La Géographie du moyen âge (5 vols., 1852–1857), with an atlas (1849) of fifty plates entirely engraved by himself, for he attached such importance to the accuracy of his maps that he would not allow them to be executed by anyone else.

His historical works were popular in Ukraine especially among members of the Ruthenian Trinity and the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius (particularly historian Mykola Kostomarov).[3]

His works on Polish history are based on minute and critical study of the documents; they were collected under the title Polska, dzieje i rzeczy jej rozpatrzywane (Poland, Her History and Affairs Surveyed), in 20 vols. (1853–1876). He intended to write a complete history of Poland on an extensive scale, but never accomplished the task. His method is shown in the "little history" of Poland, first published at Warsaw in Polish in 1823, under the title Dzieje Polski, and afterwards largely rewritten in the Histoire de Pologne (2 vols., 1844). Other works on Polish history which may be especially mentioned are La Pologne au moyen âge (Poland in the Middle Ages, 3 vols., 1846–1851), an edition of the Chronicle of Matthew Cholewaski (1811) and Ancient Memorials of Polish Legislation (Księgi ustaw polskich i mazowieckich). He also wrote on the trade of Carthage, on the geographer Pytheas of Marseille, and two important works on numismatics (La Numismatique du moyen âge, 2 vols., 1835; Etudes numismatiques, 1840). While employed in the Warsaw University library, he studied bibliography, and the fruits of his labors may be seen in his Bibliograficznych Ksiąg dwoje (Two Bibliographic Books, 2 vols., 1823–1826).

Lelewel's characteristics as a historian are great research and power to draw inferences from his facts. His style is too often careless, and his narrative is not picturesque, but his expressions are frequently terse and incisive.

He wrote an autobiography (Adventures while Prosecuting Researches and Inquiries on Polish Matters), printed in his Polska (Poland).


A room at Vilnius University library is named in his honor.

See also[edit]


a.^ Lelewel's original family name was Lölhöffel von Löwensprung [de]. His father, Karl Moritz, left Prussia and became a citizen of the Kingdom of Poland. In 1768 he was recognized as a Polish nobleman and adopted a shortened Polish version of his German name.[1]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wilczyński, Witold (2009). "On the necessity of the history of geographical thought". Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series (11): 6.
  2. ^ Plakans, Andrejs (2011). A Concise History of Baltic States. Cambridge University Press. p. 185. ISBN 978-0521541558.
  3. ^ a b c d Joachim Lelewel at Encyclopedia of History of Ukraine

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lelewel, Joachim". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 16 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 407.