1547 1997

 

SPEECH BY VYTAUTAS LANDSBERGIS

AT THE 450th ANNIVERSARY OF THE FIRST LITHUANIAN BOOK

Opera House, Vilnius, January 8, 1997

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The first Lithuanian book is four hundred and fifty years old-this is an occasion for us to share our joy that significant publications have appeared and remarkable events have been organised, and at the same time to collect our thoughts and think a little. What does a book mean to a nation, a state, to the multinational human civilisation? What did the first book mean to our people, including the fact that it was Lithuanian, almost entirely in Lithuanian; and what did it mean with its wonderful manifold contents?

Any book is a created innovation, and, simultaneously, an accumulation and reflection of different things that existed before it. Books store and convey the knowledge and the wisdom of the people's community and the whole humanity. A book becomes a written language of a nation and a continuation of its spirit, and this gives another stimulus for a new creative work.

Martynas Mažvydas understood the special significance of his period, even its national-cultural meaning: a Lithuanian book is coming out! Having completed the Catechism, he ads as if a postscript "To the Reader":

"Brolau mielasis, skaitydams tatai žinosi,
Jog tasai liežuvis dabar reiškiasi".

"My dear brother, you will realise while reading
that now this language manifests itself".

And the preface written in verse announces joyfully:

"Ko tėvai niekada neregėjo,
Nūn šitai viss jūsump atėjo!"

"What our fathers have never seen before
now came to you ".

He understood especially well a twofold value of the book, that is, the contents conveyed by it and the form given to it. Here are the teachings of Christ and my work, Martynas Mažvydas states explicitly at the end of the Catechism, the main part of the book. It is his reminder to the readers, and even a forewarning in the name of Jesus Christ:

"Prašau aš jus, Lietuvinikus ir Žemaičius, milosius bralius ir seseris, ... idant tą trumpą makslą išmaktumėt, ... a šitą mana darbą ir prakaitą už ger preimtumbėt, prašau".

"I beg you, the Lithuanians and the Samogitians, my dear brothers and sisters...., to learn this short teaching, ... and to accept this work of mine and my efforts in good faith, I beg you."

Mažvydas could indeed take pride in his well thought and consistent work as an author and a compiler. Let us take a look at it and we shall understand it better. His book is systematic and contains as if four parts. The introductory, problematic part - about the purpose of work - is a dedication to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, an encouragement and an explanation in Latin to Lithuanian priests, and the famous rhymed introduction in Lithuanian which is as if a speech of "the little book itself" "to the Lithuanians and the Samogitians".

Then a very short or, as Mažvydas puts it, "cheap and short teaching in reading and writing" follows; four pages altogether and this is "the end of this teaching". This ABC book contains an alphabet, an explanation of "vowels, diphthongs and consonants", formation of syllables and a final didactic warning: "A wise teacher will no longer encumber a child with syllabisation. Instead, he has to teach him immediately to read."

Teach from what? - here this practical question can be put.

From reading-books, of course. They are those simple words of the catechism that we find on the next page, for simple people and "especially for the farmers' sons and household members ".

As simple as this. If you do not learn to read you will not be able to read the catechism. And, on the other hand, while learning to read you are already reading the catechism. You add vowels to consonants and learn both teachings: the earthly and the divine.

This is the most important, the main part of the book. It contains Ten Commandments, the Credo, the Lord's Prayer - Our Father, the Sacraments and the fifth stanza of the catechism "about the law of stewards, life of every man, how one should live in his standing by the will of God." These are the principles or orders to the rich, the farmers and the servants, men, women and children, their mutual obligations.

Then a book of hymns and music follows, with beautiful explanations by Mažvydas, like the one where at long last he identifies the language of the book by its name: "Patrem" in Lithuanian should be sung on the same note as "Wyr gleuben all an einen Got" in German. But for the sake of the students I spared no time to write down the music." Therefore, there are eleven hymns more, and almost all of them with music.

The work of Mažvydas is composed of several parts, although it is referred to as a little book which introduces so itself in the preface written in verse. However, on the title page he also emphasises the word "catechism", and we can see that in the book's metrics he uses singular masculine: "išbruktas" in Karaliaučius through Hans Weinreich. Not a book or a little book, but a catechism was "išbruktas", that is, printed 450 years ago in Karaliaučius.

In addition, in this metrics - in the first printed Lithuanian text - an old Lithuanian name of the city is testified. The Prussian language still existed, although the Prussian city's name Tvanksta was probably already out of use.

The rhymed preface is full of contents very important to the Lithuanian literature. "Take and read me, and learn me while reading " - this is an expectation and an entreaty of every book, the high purpose of each of them, and especially of that which declared: "This is how the word of the Kingdom of Heaven will reach you".

Mažvydas says there that fathers had always wanted education, but they could never attain it in any way. Now there is a way [to achieve this] - through your own language, our language, just take and read it!

Read! All of you who had been left in darkness, untaught, who worship all kinds of devilries and goddesses, like the countryman quoted by Mažvydas as answering his priest: he'd rather eat a rooster with a holy witch than go to church to listen to the invitations of those preachers...

For the harvest, the countrymen would address pagan gods žempačiai and lauksargiai, and for health - goblins, just like nowadays. It seems that they took great care of their health because the book says in a commanding tone:

Sveikatą, visus daiktus nuog to Dievo turit,
Kurio prisakymus čia manip regit.
... Sveikatą ir palaimį tasai gal priduoti.
... Aitvars ir deivės to negal padaryti.

Health and all other things come from that God,
whose commandments I have laid down.

... He can give you health and blessings.
... Brownies and goddesses cannot do this.

Amid the various joys and sorrows, reprimands and advice, we also find the book giving the following instruction:

“Jei kas šventą giesmę nor giedot,
mane po akimis savo tur turėt”

‘If anyone intends to sing a holy hymn,
they must have me in front of their eyes’

This is a short preliminary introduction into the hymnal to be found at the end of the book. Everything in this book is functional.

This first book marked the start of the Lithuanian written language which in itself meant many other starts.

The Lithuanian language, which ‘now manifests itself’, is perceived as common for all, used by both the Lithuanians and Samogitians. What did Mažvydas have in mind stating that [the language] ‘now manifests itself’, did he mean that this manifestation is taking place only now, or that it will continue from now on? Both senses are adequate and significant.

The first Lithuanian guide to religious beliefs came into being, which, among other things, contained the rules of a Christian way of life, indeed, the ‘instructions’ for all ranks and classes, as if representing some moral code.

The first primer - a text-book for reading in Lithuanian - appeared, which also contained a hymnal, the source for studying the musical language, the notes, meant for ‘the young ones’.

The first poem was there with an invention contrived in it already, an acrostic, as well as ethnographic insight into the bad habits of Lithuanians and Samogitians.

There were the first dictums in the shape of epigrams, disapproving of (!) laziness:

“Sūneliai, mokykitės veikiaus, nepateikit (=netingėkit),
Pateikaudami tėvų lobio netrekit (=tinginiaudami nešvaistykit)”

‘Dearest sons, learn, do not idle,
Do not waste your fathers’ wealth idling’.

The first neologisms were in this text, which illustrated an attempt to avoid loan-words, enrich the language from its own resources (as Mažvydas did not have the word ‘letter’ (raidė), from an action verb he derived a word ‘reading’ (skaitytinę), he was introducing the scientific terminology in Lithuanian language: vowel and consonant).

There also was the first urge to educate oneself responsibly - even women and servants should educate themselves, that is all without exception democratic Lithuanians and Samogitians, and the first didactic instructions to the educators.

The first permission of a Lithuanian author to correct and improve his work (if only not the last).

The first Lithuanian writer’s friendly address to his critics, asking for help:

“Todrin, jei rasi kokį paklydimą,
Pataisyk be visokio užvydėjimo.”

‘Thus, if you find a mistake,
Correct it without any jealousy.’

The first book is not so very much removed from our times, as it may seem from a 450th anniversary’s perspective. Even as a text-book of Lithuanian it had been used comparatively recently, as when someone in Odessa decided to learn Lithuanian, a unique copy of Mažvydas was discovered on the bookshelves...

The book became known, returned to Lithuania.

Thus, today we reflect on the book, but not just the book. In the first place on the people, since the book, in any way, is the monument to their activities, sometimes to the works even of a single person.

Martynas Mažvydas’ pastoral, cultural and educational work linked Vilnius with Königsberg, Lithuanian Proper with Lithuania Minor. It forms a valuable part of our Baltic region heritage, which should become known more widely in order to enrich people of different nations. For that end we will have to keep returning to the book again and again.

Two decades ago the West was being told that the Gutenberg’s Galaxy, that is, European and broader civilisation, based on the publishing of books, was expiring, and only the TV was to remain.

However, this did not come true. We recognise the old and the new shape and role of the book. The young ones and the students of our times read and write on computer monitors, they list the Internet pages throughout the entire globe. We take part in the civilisation’s problems and changes. Lithuania does exist in this world, as does the Lithuanian book and its forefather Mažvydas.

Lithuania survived for the reason that there was the Lithuanian language and book, and that there was Mažvydas.

It is good there was Mažvydas.

Recording of the speech  by prof. Vytautas LANDSBERGIS, a fragment of 45 seconds

The Programme of the Official Commemorative Meeting at the Opera House


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