This study introduces the concept of vernacularization in the context of the literary history of Bohemia around 1800. National philologists, to some extent until today, examine this literature based on 19th-century national and aesthetic criteria (i.e. the notion of 'genius', originality etc.) which, as the author argues, do not suit an analysis of multi-lingual pre-Romantic culture. Without intending to replace the popular and politically relevant narrative of the National Revival, the concept of vernacularization attempts to generate a comparatively oriented discussion regarding the transition (beginning around 1760) from the multi-lingual cultures of a stratified society (the nobility, the clergy, the common people etc.) into separate, linguistically defined regional and subsequently national cultures and especially national literatures in the first half of the 19th century. Vernacularization is defined as a form of knowledge transfer between cultures considered to have different places in a European cultural hierarchy. The 'higher' or 'classical' cultures serve as the vehicles for the transfer of culture; they are supposed to be quite independent of regional contexts and thus can be interregionally recognized as exemplary; in a stratified society they are accessible mainly to the elites. That predestines them to serve as a means of representation. 'Vernacularization' indicates the efforts by a region's intellectual elites to make this arcane knowledge (or at least its 'useful' parts) accessible to their uneducated compatriots (in the Middle Ages mainly to the secular elite, in the 18th and 19th centuries above all to the 'folk'). This dissemination of useful knowledge in support of the general good is described aptly by Joseph Anton Riegger as the obligation of the ideal 'enlightened patriot.' Therefore, the 'logic' of vernacularization should not be limited to one country or one era; on the contrary, the concept should encourage comparison and simultaneously provide insight into the inner hierarchy of European cultures into which regional culture would be integrated. In this context, all 'mature' cultures (not only those of antiquity) can be considered exemplary or model cultures. The theme of knowledge transfer as a service to the homeland, in spite of significant differences determined by time and place, can be traced through various examples: from Cicero (Greece-Rome) to Dante Alighieri (Roman and Provencal culture to Italy), Du Bellay (Roman and Italian culture to France) and finally to Frederick II (Italian, English and French culture to protestant Germany), through the inaugural lecture (1765) of the Freiburg (and later Prague) professor of law Joseph Anton Riegger, whose detailed defense of his decision to lecture in German rather than in Latin is a central text in this study.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.