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Marcin Kromer - Polonia
Polonia or About the Geography, Population, Customs,
Offices, and Public Matters of the Polish Kingdom
in Two Volumes
People here are usually of light complexion, fair-haired or even verging on white; they are of average height or somewhat taller, of robust body build, and only women, especially from the most distinguished noble or burgher homes take great care so that by appropriate endeavors they make themselves look like slim reeds, as the famous poet says.
Besides this, they do not pay much attention to good looks, for making up one's face and dying one's hair is generally considered a shameful thing. But on the other hand, both for men and for women, a genuine color is their natural adornment.
The Poles have an open and sincere disposition, they are more likely deceived than they would deceive someone else; they are not so much inclined towards quarreling as towards harmony; one cannot see in them impudence and arrogance, on the contrary--they are even submissive, so long as they are treated politely and gently. They are most impressed by personal example and in general they listen to their rulers and officers. They are inclined to bestow upon others acts of kindness, courtesy, friendliness, and hospitality to such a degree that they not only willingly receive and entertain strangers and visitors from other lands, but they even invite them and offer all their help; they easily form social acquaintances and friendships with everyone; what is more, they eagerly imitate the customs of those they deal with, especially the foreign ones.
The upbringing of youth is somewhat too free and perhaps too little attention is given to it, but the good inborn features of character compensate for these failings. All people, both poor and rich, both nobility and common folk, especially burghers, endeavor to send young boys to schools and for practical instruction, to accustom them to Latin from the earliest childhood. Many keep tutors. Therefore even in the very center of Italy it is difficult to find so many people of all kinds with whom one could communicate in Latin as here. Also the girls learn either at home or in convents to read and write in Polish, and even in Latin; when they become more mature, they begin to get accustomed to household duties, especially pertaining to the kitchen and tending flock, and to spinning flax or wool as well as to weaving and embroidery. The young men learn to work in the fields or in some craft or trade and to hold office and prepare themselves to assume ecclesiastical or lay positions which fall to more affluent people. Many live at home with their parents and help them in estate matters, and after their parents' death fulfill their duties as the heads of family.
There are many people who, disregarding the expenses, deprivations, and all the troubles that accompany travelers abroad, go readily to far-off countries, bearing well the lack of conveniences as they find more attractions in those things which are abroad than in those in their own country. That is why they diligently and easily learn the languages of those nations which they visit, and also try to bring back from abroad something new pertaining to food, clothing, and customs, perceiving in it some reason for distinction on account of refinement. This plague has crept even into religion.
The Poles have quick minds capable of overcoming any difficulties, but they are more likely inclined to accurately master foreign ideas instead of managing to independently invent something new and gain a decisive superiority in some field. Maybe it happens because they are not very eager to devote themselves to one art or skill, but want to learn many disciplines or maybe because of carelessness, tardiness, and unwillingness to make an effort, characteristic of them in many a field, especially since the people, who on account of their functions occupy themselves with both liberal arts and mechanics, satisfied with average results, do not look too hard for accomplished craftsmen and the highest quality of work. Finally, maybe it is so because more affluent people succumb to careless inactivity and pleasant amusements, leaving to the poorer people the intellectual work and improvement of inventiveness. Those in turn, according to the words of the philosopher
who says that it is difficult to expect good work from a pauper, must look around everywhere for earnings that would secure their upkeep and fathom the studies and occupations which are at times foreign to their interests and not in the range of their abilities; additionally, when they achieve enough to be satisfied and when they conform to the way of life of the more affluent, they immediately begin to be distracted by matters connected with securing their possession by suits and legal tricks or by supporting the policy of the rich. And they do all this either because they cannot be left alone by their own ambition or because they want to find for themselves and their kin some absolute defense against the harm and insults from others that threaten them. Because I do not know how it happens that especially now, in the epoch we are living in, the goodness of mind and heart as well as the decrees and civil law do not effectively guarantee the acquisition of values that serve life and its adornment, let alone their essential defense.
Translated by Michael J. Mikoś
Text: Kromer Marcin,
Polska, czyli o położeniu, ludności, obyczajach, urzędach i sprawach publicznych Królestwa Polskiego księgi dwie
. Translated into Polish by Stefan Kazikowski, Olsztyn: Pojezierze, 1984, 68-72.