František Gellner

6-7 2001 Dějiny English
obálka čísla

    People born in the sign of Gemini are very versatile, which causes them many problems when choosing a profession in their youth. They are sociable, and have a sense of humour and good powers of concentration. They are good speakers with a talent for words. They are not fanatical and orientate quickly in any situation.
    I am going to tell you the tale of a man whose life and works have always fascinated me. He was born in perhaps the most beautiful month of the year, May, in Mladá Boleslav into the family of Jewish tradesman Gellner, which was not over-endowed with property. The boy was named František. On a town house in the old town there is a inconspicuous plaque in commemoration of the poet, painter, caricaturist and prose writer. As a student of the same grammar school that the young František Gellner attended, I often stood in front of the house and imagined the slim rebel who in his verse attacked authority and the conservatism of his environment. After school, he switched between several different universities - Vienna, Příbram - but did not complete his studies at any of them. The desire for artistic freedom was stronger. He belonged to a generation who sympathised with anarchism and wanted to change the world: "And this I know for sure: That if I was a woman today, I'd face up to the phlegm of the world and with a spiteful laugh and a hitched up skirt go out into the streets to sell my body."
    He certainly caused many worries to his parents who wanted to make of him anything, but not an artist. His rebelliousness was close to me in an era constrained by a single ideology. I was charmed by his verses about the confusions of growing up, which hid under the easy lasciviousness of the internal world of a person discontented with the world, with himself, with his way of life, with his unfulfilled emotion. "For a wife I would take a gorilla. I think we would get along. She has a heart as wild as I, and like me also without religious faith."
    His verses similar to street ballads have been close to me in the epic of the tales they tell. When reading about his life, it made my flesh creep to read of the venereal diseases he contracted and successfully overcame with careful treatment. Thanks to him, I discovered an unknown world of the beginning of the 20th century, a century which promised so much only in the end to take so much. Trapped in the grey reality of a single ideology that many of my generation did not believe in, we did not have any experience of the Protectorate. Enchanted, I read verse and articles written for Lidové noviny, where he found work and according to his colleague A. Heinrich was getting on superbly as an editor: " a few days I observed that I did not know Gellner at all and that in him Lidové noviny had acquired an asset of the first order. He was loyalty and precision in service personified, an independent worker with lots of initiative, wide education, political insight, and on top of all that a good and honest friend, always willing to fight and good natured to a childlike extent. František Gellner, who had grown disillusioned with so many universities after hardly starting to attend them, was a conscientious and even diligent worker, a free-spirited rebel, a front-line soldier, brave and cheerful, as a soldier should be." What can be added to a characterisation written by his colleague? Perhaps only that the reality of war does not permit cheerfulness and changes everything.
    And what about the tall, blonde- haired, blue-eyed and without doubt attractive man, and women? A good few of them passed through his youth, but he felt true feeling for only one of them. It is to her that the touching verse "Elegie" is dedicated: "You were not one of those that are forgotten for others... I know today: no other woman on earth..."
    The life of this promising artist of truly renaissance talent was, however, brought to a shockingly swift end by World War One. His exact fate was never made clear. Regimental doctor Dr. Fiala wrote to friends in Brno: "...I saw him as a casualty on a vehicle for those incapable of marching on the retreat from Lvov between Zamosc and Tomaszov." From 13 September 1914 he is listed as missing. Only one month had elapsed since the outbreak of war.
    A number of conjectures or rather legends were told about his end. Probably the sensitive soul of the artist could not stand the horror of killing and retreat, or the rebel in him refused the senseless order of some officer, who shot him for disobeying orders. But these are only guesses. We shall never know just how many excellent men were killed by the two world wars and the two dreadful totalitarian systems.
    We can tell something about the character of the man who left the world that unhappy September 1914 from these verses of his poem "The Overflowing Cup".

I hold a cup in the palm of my hands,
full of foam and overflowing.
I hold a cup in my hands,
waiting for the lips of a person.
Waiting to see if the wine
flows over into dry trenches;
if it hangs its drops
on dreamy flowers in other worlds.
I hold a cup in the palm of my hands,
waiting for the lips of a person.
I hold a cup in the palm my hands:
my heart which overflows...

František Gellner was a mere 33 years when his life was cut short on the battlefield!

Jana Volfová

Vydavatelem Českého dialogu je Mezinárodní český klub

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