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Biegeleisen, Henryk

(1855–1934), literary historian, ethnographer, critic, publisher, journalist, and educator. Henryk Biegeleisen was born in Touste (in the Skłatat region in eastern Galicia; a town with a population of 2,139 in 1880, of whom 40% percent were Jews). His father Wilhelm, a physician, had been a member of the National Guard in Lemberg (Lwów) during the Revolution of 1848 and belonged to a small circle of acculturated Jews in Galicia. On his mother’s side, Biegeleisen was a grandson of Naḥman Krochmal.

Biegeleisen’s educational path took him from a primary school in Touste through high schools in Tarnopol and Brzeżany (Berezhany). From 1876 to 1880, he studied history and literature at Lwów University, continuing his studies at Munich and Leipzig and culminating in a doctoral thesis on the eighteenth-century Polish poet Stanisław Trembecki. Upon returning to Galicia, Biegeleisen taught at schools in Lwów and then served as principal of a high school for Jewish girls. He remained involved in education until his death.

Biegeleisen devoted himself to independent intensive and multidirectional studies on the history of Polish literature from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century. He conducted these far from university circles. Though his research enabled him to have significant influence on his contemporaries, his one attempt to obtain a university post was unsuccessful. His greatest achievements in the literary and publishing fields are his studies on poets of the Polish Romantic period—Mickiewicz, Słowacki and Krasiński—and annotated editions of their works. Despite difficult living conditions, he prepared a comprehensive study, Ilustrowane dzieje literatury polskiej (An Illustrated History of Polish Literature; issued in five volumes between 1899 and 1906) that simultaneously became a valuable compendium and a recapitulation of his research.

Biegeleisen was interested in European literature as well (Shakespeare, Dickens, and Ibsen). During his late yet very busy retirement he collected valuable ethnographic materials. Among the works he published between 1927 and 1931 were studies such as Matka i dziecko w obrzędach, wierzeniach i zwyczajach ludu polskiego (Mother and Child in the Rites, Beliefs, and Customs of the Polish Folk), Lecznictwo ludu polskiego (Medicine of the Polish Folk), Wesele (Weddings), U kolebki—przed ołtarzem—nad mogiła (At the Cradle—Before the Altar—By the Tomb), and Śmierć w obrzędach, zwyczajach wierzeniach ludu polskiego (Death in the Rites, Customs, and Beliefs of the Polish Folk). Biegeleisen’s literary and editorial legacy consists of 200 publications. While remaining faithful to Judaism, he considered himself a Pole and a democrat. He left two sons: Bronisław (an engineer and psychologist; born 1881) and Leon Władysław (an economist; born 1885).

Suggested Reading

Wilhelm Babrasz, Józef Gajek, Stanislaw Łempicki, and Jan Muszkowski, eds., Henryk Biegeleisen (Lwów, 1936), includes a bibliography of his works; Pamiętnik literacki (Lwów) 31 (1934): 244–247; Jan Muszkowski, “Biegeleisen Henryk,” in Polski słownik biograficzny, vol. 2, pp. 30–32 (Kraków, 1936).



Translated from Polish by Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov