The creative heritage of Kristijonas Donelaitis makes us focus our attention on Prussian Lithuania as an ethnocultural region that provided the poet with significant creative impetuses; simultaneously, Donelaitis is associated with the Kingdom of Prussia as the space that formed his personality, the contours of his worldview, and his national self-awareness. To deeper understand the works of Kristijonas Donelaitis as a significant layer of Lithuanian cultural heritage, it is important to study in-depth the modern approaches to Prussian history and, in that context, the stereotypical interpretation of some aspects of the history of Prussian Lithuania in Lithuanian historiography of the 20th c., relevant to the present. The article analyzes the essential characteristic of Prussian history emphasized by its contemporary researchers, i.e. the spirit of contrast: the interchanging periods of modernity and regress have allegedly predetermined “the special way” of German history, Sonderweg, which preconditioned the dominance of nationalsocialism in 1933. Moreover, the issue of the contrast as the predominating motiff in the master narrative (Meistererzählung) which makes a strong impact on the collective memory is highlighted, as well as the reflection on the issue in the field of the studies of the history of Prussian Lithuania.
The article analyzes the links of the poetry of Kristijonas Donelaitis with the origins of European literature, and primarily with the literature of Antiquity (Virgil and Hesiod). The systemic reference to the genre of “The Seasons” leads to an assumption that the classic of Lithuanian literature, born in East Prussia, educated in Königsberg University, and having spent all his lifetime in the heterogeneous environment of Prussian Lithuania, wrote his masterpiece inspired by didactic idylls of Antiquity. Virgil was referred to and quoted by Donelaitis in his letter written in German, and Donelaitis could have read and analyzed Hesiod‘s Erga in the years of his studies. The juxtaposition of “The Seasons” and “Works and Days” demonstrates the layers shared by the two poets: in addition to the relationships of the structure and the genre, there are numerous links at the semantic level that intertextually thematize the categories of nature, time, work, and religion.
The article discusses the conscious choice of Kristijonas Donelaitis to become a priest of a Lithuanian rural community and to take care of the parishers’ faith and morals. The Enlightenment-related position of the poet predetermined the expression of his poetical vocation to a great extent. By recognizing the significance of each element of the world created by the will of God, Donelaitis consciously turned his glance towards ‘minor’ things or the ‘lowest’ substances. He consciously chose to write about the most deprived, the most backward peasant-boor of the remotest Prussian periphery: about him and for him, in the declining language of the minority. One might ask whether the choice of that conservative addressee, the ‘smallest’ in the Kingdom of Prussia, did not paradoxically account for the modernity of Donelaitis‘ works in the context of the that time poetry. By the violation of the aesthetical standards of his time, Donelaitis unexpectedly forced his way into the ranks of the best poets of Europe and not only became one of them, but far surpassed them. A rural priest of a Pussian province with his weak voice and poor health, unknown to Europe, for a wink of an eye became perhaps the greatest European poet. For a wink of an eye, as Europe at the time did not learn about him. However, he remained great for us, representatives of a small, declining, and emigrating nation, and stayed with us to remind us of the true values of life.
The article deals with the political and spiritual characteristics of Kristijonas Donelaitis’ epoch that affected the formation of the pioneer of the Lithuanian secular literature and made an impact on the content of his literary works. The significance of the political and spiritual reforms for the preservation of the language and culture of Prussian Lithuanians via the church and school is highlighted; attention is drawn to the fact the the modernization of the state had a positive effect on the linguistic and educational situation of ethnic minorities due to which the intellectuals of the Enlightenment epoch paid attention to the cultural and linguistic situation of the ethnic group of Lithuanians.
Donelaitis studied at Königsberg University at the time when the effects of the changes in the structure and staff of the Faculty of Theology started to surface. Due to the pro-pietist staff policy of Friedrich Wilhelm, the vacancies in the Departments were filled with the representatives of that trend; pietists had accounted for the majority of the body of professors since 1733. Donelaitis was likely to have mixed with professors Schulz, Kiepke, Salthenius, and Arnold more frequently than with their opponents Quant, Langhansen, and Lysius, especially because since the summer of 1736 Quant did not have any longer to give regular lectures. Despite the church and the higher education policies at the University, as well as the disturbancies caused in its environment by the implementation of the reforms, there were no significant theological differences between the seven heads of the Departments: all of them represented the traditional Lutheranism. However, one ought to pay attention to the specificity of their philosophical views. Unlike the pietists of the University of Halle, as well as Quant and Langhansen, Schulz was the first to advocate the synthesis of the Lutheran theology, the emphasis on the pietist praxis pietatis, and Wolffpromoted cultura intellectus. The efforts of Schulz to develop rational pietism that would be obviously related to Wolff’s philosophy not only by the methodological view, but also by the balanced ratio between the reason and faith, were especially supported by Arnold.
The present article is a contribution to the research in the intellectual biography of Kristijonas Donelaitis. It aims to discuss the environment of Königsberg libraries in mid-18th c. not only as an institutional, but also an intellectual environment of the studies of Donelaitis which ought to be analyzed more in depth than it had been analyzed before. The first part of the article summarizes the efforts of Lithuanian, German, and Russian schollars after 1945 to save and reconstruct the funds of Königsberg libraries destroyed during WW2. The second part presents the environment of the ancient Königsberg libraries as a space of communication opportunities where student Donelaitis could find the principal literature. The context raises another issue that is merely mentioned in the article: next to the “public“ libraries, there was a number of personal collections in Königsberg. Some of them belonged to professors of theology whose lectures were attended by Donelaitis. Therefore, one can reasonably raise a question about the impact of scholars in Königsberg on Donelaitis in the years of his studies.
Kristijonas Donelaitis (1714-1780), who was born and lived in Prussian Lithuania, was a Lutheran priest, therefore, it was not surprising that his poem “The Seasons”, as it was observed a long time ago, reflected the Lutheran ideology prevailing in Prussia at that time. To date, the links of Donelaitis’ poetry with the that time hymnals of Prussian Lithuania have not been paid sufficient attention to, although the texts of a high artistic level published in the hymnals, mainly translated from the German originals, were bound to contribute to the mature poetic expression demonstrated in the writing of the poem to be considered the first masterpiece of the Lithuanian belles lettres. The issue was raised in the monograph by L. Gineitis “Kristijonas Donelaitis ir jo epocha” [Kristijonas Donelaitis and his Epoch], however, the author did not indicate the particular hymnals by means of which Donelaitis could have become acquainted with the church hymns that influenced his poetic imagination. That is understandable, since, during the Soviet times. Some important hymnals stored in the foreign libraries were unknown to, or unavailable to, Lithuanian scholars.
The article explores the musical culture of East Prussia of the 18th c. in different forms of its expression. The epoch of Enlightenment provided a new impetus for the development of the culture in the region. The Protestant Lutheran hymnody was developing, and the tradition of Evangelical surinkimai (prayer hours held in private homes by lay preachers (German: Stundenhalters)) was progressing. Königsberg University was of great significance for the promotion of the regional culture. In the 18th c., the East Prussian school of composition was born, different techniques of instrumental ensemble and solo music making started developing, the house music making traditions were gaining popularity, and big cities had the first musical theatres. It was in that context that the personality of Donelaitis and the character of his cultural activity was maturing and developing.