Karel Sabina

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Karel Sabina (1871)
Tomb of Karel Sabina on Olšany Cemetery in Prague

Karel Sabina (pen names include Arian Želinský and Leo Blass), (29 December 1813 – 8 November 1877) was a Czech writer and journalist.


He grew up in poverty as an extramarital child of a daughter of a sugar producing factory's director in the family of a bricklayer and a washerwoman. He claimed he was an illegitimate son of a Polish noble. He studied philosophy and law at a university, but did not graduate. In 1848 he became one of the leaders of the Czech radical democrats, the founder of a secret radical political circle "Repeal" (whose name was inspired by Irish revolutionaries),[1] a member of the National Committee and the Czech congress. He wrote articles (several of which were censored) to many magazines during this period.

In 1849 he was arrested for taking part in the "May Coup" (a plan to make an uprising, inspired by Bakunin, then present in Prague)[2] and in 1851 sentenced to death together with 24 other men; but these sentences were changed by the Emperor to 18 years in the Olomouc prison; in 1857 he was released, following the Emperor's general amnesty of May 8. He came back to Prague and lived as a freelance writer.

In 1870 the newspaper Vaterland published a letter which indirectly said that Sabina was a police informant. Sabina won a trial against the newspaper, but in 1872, in an unofficial trial, a jury of eight Czech prominents (including Jan Neruda and Vítězslav Hálek) found him guilty of being an informant and he, unable to find exile abroad, was forced to live in hiding in Prague. He denied the accusations, but now it was taken for proved that he really had been a police agent since 1859.[3] The reason is not quite clear; it was probably a combination of disillusion after the unsuccessful revolution and his extreme poverty.[4] He became an outcast - his books were no longer sold, on posters (such as the one for the Prodaná nevěsta - whose libretto was seen by some people as Sabina's refutation of the accusations until Miroslav Ivanov's investigation in 1971 published in Ivanov's book Labyrint proved them incorrect) his name was replaced by his initials, and he risked physical attacks whenever he appeared on the streets. However, he continued to write under pen names, some of which are unknown today, thus greatly complicating the historians effort to make Sabina's bibliography of articles complete. Sabina died in poverty and scorn in 1877. The report of his death gives "exhaustion" as the cause.[3]

Selected works[edit]

As a journalist, he wrote mainly for Květy, Moravský Týdenník, Humorist, Lípa, Pražské noviny and Wčela (he was an editor in the last two, replacing Karel Havlíček Borovský in both of them).


  • Hrobník (1837), Sexton
  • Blouznění (1857), Rapture
  • Hedvika (1858), Hedwig
  • Jen tři léta! (1860), Three years only!
  • Na poušti (1863), In the desert
  • Oživené hroby (1870), Enlivened Graves, inspired by his imprisonment, his best novel
  • Morana čili Svět a jeho nicoty (1874), Morana or The World and its Nothingnesses


  • Černá růže, The Black Rose
  • Inzerát, Advertisement
  • Šašek Jiřího z Poděbrad, Jester of Jiří z Poděbrad
  • Maloměstské klepny, Smalltown Gossipmongers


  • Obrazy ze 14. a 15. věku (1844), Tales from the 14th and the 15th century
  • Povídky, pověsti, obrazy a novely (1845), Stories, legends, tales and novellas



  • Básně (1841), Poems
  • Úvod povahopisný (1845), Introducition to a temperament - a very important book, being the very first study on Karel Hynek Mácha, who was Sabina's friend. This book recognised and illustrated Mácha's importance and genius.
  • Duchovní komunismus (1861), Spiritual Communism - about everyone's right for education
  • Dějiny literatury československé, The History of the Czechoslovakian Literature

Sabina in popular culture[edit]

Karel Sabina is mentioned in several poems in prose by Ivan Wernisch.

References and external links[edit]