THE FIRST LITHUANIAN BOOK AND ITS HISTORICAL CONTEXT
MAÞVYDAS, MARTYNAS. Catechismusa prasty Szadei, Makslas skaitima raschta yr giesmes del kriksczianistes bei del berneliu iaunu nauiey sugulditas... – Königsberg: Hans Weinreich Publishing House, 1547. – 79 pp.
The first Lithuanian book did not appear suddenly from nowhere. Long before its appearance there was a period of the development of the spoken Lithuanian language, which gave a name – Lithuania (mentioned for the first time in the Quedlinburg chronicles in 1009) to the country and the language itself. Over the same period there was also an abundance of the writings (the most monumental of which were the Matrix of Lithuania, the Statute of Lithuania and the Chronicles of Lithuania) in Latin, German and Byellorussian, which were created simultaneously during the establishment and consolidation of the state. Alongside the use of those other languages in writings traditions of the written Lithuanian language were being formed. The Lithuanian written word began to penetrate into state and legal documents, literary historical works, religious ritual books, and in the writings by which the christening ceremony in Lithuania were documented, the written Lithuanian language started to dominate. It is supposed that Franciscan monks were the first to use the Lithuanian written language: manuscript texts, phrases and words found on blank pages and margins of the ancient books belonging to the libraries of their monasteries make up the great part of the earliest Lithuanian writings.
The appearance of the first Lithuanian book was promoted by Reformation movement and Duke of Prussia Albrecht of Brandenburg. Duke Albrecht supported the Reformation movement in Lithuania and Poland, taking care of the enlightened, and making efforts to ensure the training of Lithuanian pastors who could work not only in Prussia but also in Lithuania. In 1544, he founded Königsberg University, which he also advertised widely in Lithuania. The idea and possibilities of writing and publishing the first Lithuanian book must have been born in this environment. Soon Martynas Maþvydas was invited to Königsberg University.
It is supposed by scholars that the primary purpose of M. Maþvydas's arriving in Königsberg was not the studies, but the desire to prepare as soon as possible written religious literature necessary for the strengthening of the young Protestant Church and its Lithuanian community. He managed to accomplish his task in a very short period – in a half a year from the beginning of his studies, as the title – page of "Catechismusa..." shows the exact publishing date – January 8th, 1547. The appearance of the first Lithuanian book was not too late: other European nations also had their first books published in the first half of the 16th century.
The book of M. Maþvydas's writings was composed of some pieces meant for different purposes: fhymed dedication to his Fatherland, address to the clergy, rhymed foreword, ABC book, catechism (it made up only one fourth of the text) and a book of church songs. Therefore, it is possible to maintain that the first Lithuanian book was not just a catechism. It was a complex textbook for teaching the fundamentals of writing and faith. From this point of view it surpassed many of the first books of the other nations. It is supposed that only about 200 – 300 copies of M. Maþvydas work were published and just two copies, one of which came into the possession of the Library of Vilnius University, survived to our times.
The book by M. Maþvydas marks the beginning of Lithuanian press, religious and secular literature, standardisation of Lithuanian written and literary language and represents one of the most prominent monuments of national culture. The author was already appraised by his contemporaries. His creative heritage became a subject of scientific studies in the 18th century, when the historians of Prussia, affected by the ideas of the Enlightenment epoch, got interested in the history of Lithuanians and Prussians, and the copies of "Cathecismusa..." from stocks retained by the Library of Königsberg appeared onto the market. A.Schleicher was the first to reprint a part (in 1857) of the text, and in 1874 A. Bezzenberger reprinted the whole text of the first Lithuanian book for scientific purposes. Later on the book was studied by many linguists of various countries, specialising in the Lithuanian language, and Lithuanian scholars.
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