Hanuš Jelínek (1878-1944)

Personality in the section of  Literature

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Translator, writer, diplomat (3. 9. 1878, Příbram – 27. 4. 1944, Prague)

Hanuš Jelínek was born on 3rd September 1878 in “U Sebastopolu” Coaching inn in Příbram to the family of the municipal clerk. After finishing primary school, he began to study grammar school. One of his classmates was Karel Toman named Antonín Bernášek back then.

He wrote his first verses during his studies at grammar school in 1893, and they were later published in Horymír Magazine. After graduation in 1896, he began to study Czech, German and French literature at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University. He studied six semesters in Bohemia and two semesters at Sorbonne in Paris as a scholarship holder. He became familiar with French literature and especially French poetry, improved his French and worked as journalist and translator. French magazine Mercure de France published his work on modern Czech poetry in 1990.

He finished his studies in 1900 and began to teach French at High School in Žižkov in Prague. From 1901 he taught French at Czechoslovak Business Academy in Resslova Street. He was appointed professor in 1905 and the same year he married Czech painter Božena Jirásková, the oldest of six daughters of Alois Jirásek.

In 1908 Jelínek obtained a doctoral degree for a doctoral thesis on Melancholics, Study on the history of sensibility in French literature. Thanks to this study he was offered to deliver lectures on Czech Literature at French Sorbonne. He left for Paris in autumn 1909 and gave his first lecture in January 1910. He re-established contacts with his former friends and became a correspondent of Comoedia Magazine where he informed French readers about cultural life in Bohemia.

Thanks to his perfect knowledge of French, he did a huge part in strengthening Czech-French cultural relations. His first poem translations were published in Lumír Magazine shortly before World War I. In 1919 he participated in Paris Peace Conference as member of the foreign commission and was appointed Trade Union Council of Ministry of Foreign Affairs only a year later. He worked in Geneva in 1925 and became government representative in Paris in spring 1926 where he remained until retirement. 

After translating Baudelaire’s Small Poems in Prose and anthology “Contemporary French Poetry from Symbolism to Dadaism”, the masterpiece of his translation work Zpěvy sladké Francie (Songs of Sweet France) which is an anthology of French folk poetry from 15th to 18th century was published in 1925. The work was successful thanks to Jelínek’s perfect knowledge of French and primarily Czech song. Jelínek also translated prose and drama, for example, The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal, Under Fire by Barbusse or dramas by Moliére and Musset. Furthermore, he published New Songs of Sweet France and three volumes of History of Czech literature in French with the timeframe from Rukopis zelenohorský and Rukopis královédvorský to author Vilém Závada.

Jelínek got affected by the cervical disease in 1927 after surgery lost his vocal cords and due to deteriorating health conditions had to request retirement in 1931. In the last years of his life, he almost lost vision, and even though he underwent eye surgery, he had to dictate part of his memoirs Zahučaly lesy. He died at the age of 65 on 27th April 1944 in Prague and is buried at Vyšehrad Cemetery. His memoir was published after his death in 1947.

Hanuš Jelínek was, unfortunately, more recognised abroad. He’s known in Příbram thanks to instrumental ensemble Chairé singing his musical poems from Songs of Sweet France. Jan Drda Library announces a competition of young literates bearing the name Příbram of Hanuš Janák annually from 1997.  There was a memorial sign placed on his birthplace in September 2010.


FRYŠ, Josef, 1944-. Dvanáct osudů čtyř staletí: Ryba, Slavík, Bosáček, Mrkvička, Jelínek, Brokešová, Týrlová, Vepřek, Zástěra, Máša, Beneš, Hrabě. Josef Fryš. Vyd. 1. Příbram: J. Fryš, 2008. 287 s. ISBN 978-80-254-3128-3.

Author: Hana Pegová, Jana Drda Library in Příbram