The First Lithuanian Book in America

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Mykolas TVARAUSKAS

 

The First Lithuanian Book in America

Fax. Edition – Vilnius: Mintis,
1997, 226 pp

The Editor: Romualda Brastavičienė

Design by Alfonsas Žvilius

 Mykolas Tvarauskas (1844 – 1921), a Lithuanian public figure in America, founded a Lithuanian print-shop, published the first Lithuanian book and periodicals in this country. Here lies the historical significance of his activities and merit, for which he deserves to be remembered and honoured today. 


 

The Committee of Lithuanian Community in USA for Commemoration of
the 450th Anniversary of the First Lithuanian Book

NIJOLĖ MARTINAITYTĖ-NELSON, Chairman
DALIA S. ANYSIENĖ
Dr. JURGIS  ANYSAS
RAMŪNAS BUNTINAS
Vysk. HANSAS DUMPYS
Dr. ALGIMANTAS KELERTAS
EDMUNDAS KULIKAUSKAS
RŪTA KULIKAUSKIENĖ
LAIMA PETRAUSKAITĖ VANDERSTOEP
DALIA ŠLENIENĖ
Dr. GIEDRIUS SUBAČIUS
VILIUS TRUMPJONAS
AUŠRA VELIČKAITĖ
Dr. PETER PAUL ZANSITIS

Sponsors and Supporters

GEDIMINAS BALANDA

BRONĖ BILYTĖ ir PETRAS MARTINAIČIAI

GRAŽINA GUDAITYTĖ ir JAMES LIAUTAUD

MARIJA JANUŠKAITĖ KRAUCHUNAS

JANINA MONKUTĖ ir IRA MARKS

The WOMENS GUILD of the BALZEKAS MUSEUM

of LITHUANIAN CULTURE

PETER PAUL ZANSITIS


A Book is the Fruit of the Tree of Fertility

A Lithuanian book is our most loyal companion and an ally. For ages it has fostered our language and nation and kept the the world informed of our country. During hard times it defended us against oppression and oppressors. The book has been and continues to be the most vital link between Lithuania and Lithuanian communities dispersed throughout the world. Therefore, no matter where we may live, we respect, support and care for it. And it will live as long as the Lithuanian nation exists.

For the first time the book spoke up in Lithuanian in Königsberg in 1547, in the Lithuanian lands owned by Prussian dukes and called Lithuania Minor. 450 years has passed since this memorable event. It is a period of history that has witnessed our ascents and descents, spoken up in the voices and words of thousands of talented creators, who through the printed letter have comforted and consoled us, stimulated our mind and the sensitiveness of our heart. More than 100,000 books have been published in Lithuanian: original and translated works representing all literary genres and fields of science, devoted to the young and the old. Today every one of us has his or her own book, which can be found in our friends’ house and in the world over.

The Lithuanian book crossed the borders of Lithuania quite early on in its existence – the borders of Lithuania Minor and those of Lithuania Major: in England, the Lithuanian word was first printed 1660; in Germany (excluding Lithuania Minor, ruled over by Prussia) in 1729; in Poland, in 1781; in Latvia, in 1803; in France, c. 1835; in Russia, in 1837, and in the Czech Republic, in 1856. Later the Lithuanian word, written and printed, was spread all over the world by the rebels of the 1863 uprising and immigrants. The Lithuanian book did not feel solitary of forsaken. It rallied Lithuanian communities in Europe, North and South America, Australia, protected their national identity, taught them the wisdom of living in foreign countries and stressed the importance of maintaining close links with their motherland and state. Thanks to the book Lithuanian immigrants considered themselves citizens of Lithuania even during the blackest years of its occupation.

A peculiar fate and burden befell the book of the Lithuanian community in the USA, the origins of which can be traced back to the English – Lithuanian and Lithuanian – English dictionary by Mykolas Tvarauskas, the first American Lithuanian writer, englightener and publisher. The dictionary was intended for those who did not lack the courage to try out the hard lot of a newcomer. One cannot help but notice that this books bears a resemblance to “Catechismusa prastus szadžius, makslą skaitima raschta yr giesmes...” (lit. “The simple words of the catechism, the teaching of reading and chanting”), prepared and published in Königsberg several centuries before by Martynas Mažvydas. Similar to its predecessor, it was a book of instruction and it addressed the reader in verse. Like, Mažvydas, Tvarauskas employed literary paraphrase. In the name of the dictionary he wrote:

Asz pyrmas atejnu pas jus,
Tlumoczidamas angielckus žodžius...

(lit. “I am the first to come to you, explaining the English words”)

By Tvarauskas’ efforts the beaten path of the Lithuanian word soon grew into a wide highway of Lithuanian press. It has been estimated by our careful bibliographers that by 1910 alone 80 Lithuanian periodicals and 1,366 books and booklets had been published in the USA. This is great treasure. It consists of works on Lithuanian history (the outstanding authors are Jonas Basanavičius, Simonas Daukantas, Motiejus Valančius), works of Lithuanian classics (Kristijonas Donelaitis, Maironis, Antanas Strazdas, Žemaitė), translations of the works of the nations of the world into Lithuanian (Daniel Defoe, Victor Hugo, Adam Mickiewicz, Lev Tolstoj, Upton Sinclair), hundreds of other works devoted to a spiritual relief and everyday life. The Lithuanian book gained even greater strength when the ranks of the Lithuanian community were joined by a large number of 20th -century Lithuanian emigrants. The causes and ways of their arrival on the American continent are well known, but the intellectual wealth amassed by them since 1910 has not been taken stock of. This enormous work has yet to be accomplished.

The 450 th anniversary of the first Lithuanian book has promted a more careful analysis of the whole granary of the printed word with a view to pinpointing the most important events in the life of the Lithuanian book and the most significant publications. To such an event we can attribute a book which same out in the USA in 1875. The book has been much discussed in the press, particularly by Dr. Bronius Raguotis, and at scientific conferences, and remembered again at the meeting of Lithuanian and American Lithuanian workers of culture, held at the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture on March 21 st, 1996. It was suggested then and later docided that the first Lithuanian book, published in the USA, be reprinted photographically. An impulse to the work was given by the state book program occasioned by the anniversary and also by the fact that there existed only one extant copy of Tvarauskas’ dictionary, a copy accessible to a few readers only. The dictionary, reprinted in a large edition, will return to its motherland, the USA. It will meet the needs of the scholars of Lithuania and book – lovers in general. It will be among us again.

The first USA Lithuanian book has been published anew by the joint efforts of many like – minded people. They all deserve gratitude, particularly Mrs Nijolė Martinaitytė-Nelson, whose persistence has enabled to lay down a material foundation for turning this idea into a reality. The common work has demonstrated again that Lithuanians living in Lithuania and abroad remain the fertile branches of the same tree, and the present book is its most beautiful fruit.

Domas KAUNAS

Secretary of the State Commission
for the Commemoration of the 450 th
Anniversary of the First Lithuanian Book


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