The Player (Fredro #1)

We will begin by sharing some social tactics from our today’s author:

Sometimes, neglect talking to your friend somewhat, by letters or in person; let him fear that he can be forgotten or insulted by you. But shortly thereafter you should receive him with friendliness, so he will not get used to living without you. As gold is purer when put in fire, so is friendship better after some strong emotions. Vines are also better when they are sweet and a little sour.
When you try to stop your adversary, but in vain, you should rather aid him and loudly offer your assistance, so you will seem to be his ally: thus avoiding showing your weakness. When you cannot resist some powerful enemy, you will seek his friendship (although far from a suspicion that you seek it), so that under such a disguise you will resist and obstruct him easier.

If people insists on something you do not like, first let them see that you agree and even praise the thing somewhat. Then, as on second thought, deflect, but not harshly. Those who overtly oppose the multitude, defeat themselves, not win. … One should imitate prudent sailors, who avoid sailing windwards … Instead, they cruise obliquely, always adjusting their sail … and thus they arrive to the port they desired, and mock the winds.

When one, or many offer you alliance, or seem amenable to help you in something useful, do not delay this, hurry to finish it as soon as possible. … What you delay, you may as well call fruitless. It is known that human passions fade away quickly, and rather wane than increase: and due to human inconstancy, we tend each hour to be different …

In a public assembly of people many accusations are averted by remaining silent; many by responding; and indeed, many by not hearing them. (1)
~ Andrzej Maksymilian Fredro (ca. 1620-1679)


In obscure academic books, you can find some dismissive mentions, that well, he existed, wrote “weird” or “demented” stuff, and was essentially the chief defender of that cursed golden liberty. His name, though, tends to be unknown even among students of history or literature.

What you get if you try to read him is… well, a rather peculiar hybrid of Sun Tzu and Edmund Burke, and above all, a theorist and practitioner of political influence. (It will be interesting to compare him with Orzechowski, who appears to me as a diabolical master of impression. Since convincing masses in the Republic made political sense, people really excelled in rhetoric.) As a thinker or writer, it’s a somewhat higher league that Karwicki’s–even if I went a little overboard with those analogies above. That being said, I do like Fredro’s views somewhat less.

Andrzej Maksymilian Fredro, on a painting from 17th century.

(Anyhow, there will be no posting on Karwicki today, sorry. I had a couple of busy weeks, would have to either rush the entry or completely break the schedule, which I did nevertheless. So instead I share recent fruits of my reasearch on Fredro.)

At his time, Fredro’s books were bestselling. The most popular one, Politico-Moral Admonitions, was reprinted 20 times during the first century from the first edition in 1664. They were published in Netherlands and Germany, among other places, and had a couple of contemporary translations. Not to Polish, though, despite the fact they were nearly all in Latin: fluency in that language was common in all educated Europe, and particularly in the Republic.

So what did make this author so attractive? The practicality of his “teachings” did play some role. Partly, it was his identification with a quite definite political stance. Fredro came to signify resistance against attempts to intitute an absolute power. It was a battle fought in one way or another in many places in Europe: let’s remind ourselves of the Fronde in France (1648-1653) and the civil wars in England (1642-1651, and ensuing Commonwealth and Protectorate until 1659).

And make no mistake, Fredro’s works contain lots of praise of monarchical leadership as such. It is an important part of their worldview, which is usual for the West in the period. (Although he points out the same connection as Karwicki between disrupting economic power of kings and extreme counterbalancing measures as unanimous vote.) But even if Fredro was less eager than some to think of the Republic from the republican angle, his royalism was of a very particular sort. We will see it in short in one of his most important public speeches.

The (first) Sejm of 1652

January 1652 saw the first Sejm of this year; and a weighty event for both Fredro and Republic. It was probably freezing cold on the streets of Warsaw, and one can suspect that there was something venomous in the air.

The nobility was recently triumphant in the civil war with Cossack and peasants, who were supported by the Tatar horde. Truth be told, it was largely a victory on behalf of Ruthenian magnates. Their desire was to keep strict servitude in their massive estates. During the conflict, the whole south-eastern part of the Republic was burnt and decimated by Tatars and Cossacks. Alongside muddy roads of Ukraine, there were impaled bodies, left by both sides. People knew that something has already changed in the country since 1647, before the Khmelnytsky uprising started.

Above, the Lithuanian army, led by grand hetman Janusz Radziwiłł, recapturing Kiev from rebels in 1651. Below, a medal struck by Radziwiłł in memory of this event. You can appreciate how “Roman” Lithuanians felt (as well as the Republic as a whole). Of course, in reality they didn’t use ancient armors, aquila-like ensigns or curule seats. As far as I know at least.

When envoys (deputies) to the Sejm arrived to Warsaw, they discovered that the king, John Casimir, brought army to the parliament. Did he intend the Sejm to proceed at gunpoint? In any case, the Houses weren’t easy to be scared.

Andrzej Maksymilian Fredro was a thirty-years-old envoy from Ruthenian voivodship; he had already been an envoy six years ago, in 1646, and the marshal of his local sejmik a couple of times. In this 1652, he was elected the marshal of the Sejm (which was the title of speaker of the House of Envoys).

The welcome speech to John Casimir (after the thanking address to fellow envoys) was memorable supposedly not only because of things that happened later in that session. It began by recalling past victories of the Republic over Turkey, Sweden, Muscovy, Habsburgs etc., recently followed by the battle of Beresteczko in 1651, where the Cossacks were crashed by loyalists. Fredro reminds that after the battle of Chocim (with Ottomans) in 1621, the Pope gave Polish rulers the title of “invincible kings”. This was the more sugary part of the speech. The marshal then proceeds to yet another rehash of the ideology of soft monarchy, where love is everywhere and “no king was ever killed” (in my recent entry I reviewed how it was expressed by Zamoyski in 1605 and Karwicki around 1703). Fredro said that it is better for the king not to hold absolute power, because those who are feared by many, have many to fear themselves. He also observes that nations tend to take example of their monarchs, as good as well as in bad. Poles were used to live in peace and comfort in recent decades, but when John Casimir stepped forward as supreme commander, they became once again warlike (2).

So there was definitely a role for monarch to play, but the Republic was something above him. There is this charming passage of the speech, which presents the Republic as mother and king as her son:

Postąpiła ze swoiemi Krolami ta Rzeczpospolita iako mądra y miłująca Matka z ukochanym dziecięciem, które gdy przez pierzchliwość obaczywszy noż, lubo żelazo iakie, naprze się go do igraszki dziecięcey, nie z żadney niemiłości czyni Rodzicielka, że onego niebezpiecznego umyka dziecięciu żelazka, miększą zabawkę do ręki natomiast podaiąc, ale nie chce, aby przez niewładne siły y lata przy igraszce siebie, albo kogo pobliższego bystrym nie rozkrwawiło żelazem. Podobnym sposobem postąpiła ta Rzeczpospolita Wielka Matka z Krolami iako z Synami swoiemi, gdy onem absolutae potestatis ferrum … z ręku wyiąwszy, mollius & discretum regimen słodkiey munificencyi władzę y powagę na tomiast podała, aby snadź Ludowi od Boga powierzonemu iaką błędnością affektu uwiodłszy się, zaszkodzić nie mogli, y tym przez rozdraźnienie Narodow iakiego nie zgotowali sobie niebespieczeństwa.
Swada polska y łacińska albo Miscellanea oratorskie seymowe…, 13-14)
This Republic does to her Kings as a wise and loving Mother does to her beloved child. If he spots a knife and is eager to play with it, it is not by a lack of love that the Mother takes away the iron tool, giving the child instead something softer. She does not want him (with his strength and age unripe) to cut himself, or someone else, with the sharp blade.
And similarly, this Republic, as the Great Mother, treats Kings as her sons, taking away from their hands the sharp iron of absolute power, giving them instead a softer, circumscribed realm of gentle liberality. So they would not harm (led by some erroneous emotion) the People entrusted to them by God–and would not endanger themselves by upsetting the [Polish and Lithuanian] Nations.

There was apparently a fine line between this kind of lecturing the monarch (which was possible to get away with) and outright saying that among us the law reigns, not the king, and one should conform to the laws, not the will of the ruler (u nas lex regnat, non rex, nie trzeba się ad gratiam principis, sed ad leges conformare). The latter was said in that Sejm by Stefan Zamoyski, which enraged John Casimir: Fredro was forced to apologize for this Zamoyski.

Another analogy to Zamoyski’s (the Chancellor’s) parting speech of 1605 (which I mentioned earlier) was the assertion that kings of Poland, while not hereditary, can be sure to obtain the throne for their offspring by earning love of the subjects. (Indeed, in the succession of Polish kings that were elected, we can see clear dynasties of Jagiellons, Vasas, Wettins.)

I’ll have to skip most of the details of that Sejm: suffice it to say that it was tumultous. Both Houses were very upset about the presence of soldiers. The marshal, on king’s behalf, was assuring them that the army was waiting to honor a diplomatic mission that was expected. (Historians argue to this day whether that was the case.) Debates degenerated into bickering about personal and private affairs. It was only made easier by the fact that Sejms had some ancient judiciary prerogatives. It was quite possible for criminal and civil cases to end up here.

The envoys required more and more breaks. Fredro was trying to push the matters of the state forward, but he could get only so far.

A contemporary view of the Royal Castle in Warsaw (which housed Sejms), to the right, and the Column of Sigismund III. Both are reconstructions, as Germans destroyed the originals during World War II. Credit: Diego Delso, License CC-BY-SA.

And came the 9th of March, where one of the envoys, Władysław Siciński from Lithuania, loudly denied his consent for prolonging the proceedings, and left. Initially, he marshal ignored this incident. Voices were raised that the Sejm cannot be carried out in absence of a member and against his will. Fredro pleaded that for the good of the Republic, the work shouldn’t be obstructed by ill will of one man. He managed to convince the House to resume the session on Monday, 11.03, provided Siciński will come back. He did not.

The loophole of “breaking” (Polish rwać literally translates to “tear apart”) the Sejm was thus exploited the first time ever. And its usage would only expand in the future. To make matters worse, an act of this kind also nullified all the decisions that were settled earlier during that particular session. The issue of breaking is, strictly speaking, distinct from the requirement of unanimous vote that existed in the Republic, but in a way stemmed from it. Because it was really one envoy just flipping the table and denying his consent to proceed further.

Sources relate that the marshal in his farewell address to the king was almost speechless, and close to bursting into tears.

Caput est nosse rempublicam

“Knowing the republic is the foremost matter” ~ Cicero, as in the mottos of Fredro’s Fragments of Works, or Notes on Peace and War and Karwicki’s Exorbitances

Probably this traumatic experience played a crucial role in shaping Fredro’s views and interests. Most of his writing consists of political and military advice, formulated in a concise, aphoristic way. He gained his wisdom mainly by observation and taking part in contemporary events, but was also an avid reader of the classics, like Livy, Sallust, Tacitus, Polybius, as well as modern (for him) authors from around Europe, like Justus Lipsius, Diego de Saavedra Fajardo, Francis Bacon, Philippe de Commines.

The time will come when I will elaborate on what Fredro has to say, but today I’ll leave you with an overview. He’s certain that the political system of the Republic, as is stands, is worth preserving. But he recognizes that one cannot accomplish much in such a system without a deep knowledge of laws and people in general. Most of Fragments of Works, or Notes on Peace and War is devoted to instructing king how to rule effectively. The Politico-Moral Adminitions are sort of a self-help book for citizens, telling them–according to the title page–how to live with few and with many, while preserving virtue, grace and authority.

Fredro is a vocal advocate of virtue and morality. At the same time, he sees humans as very much impressionable beings. In his works there’s plenty of suggestions on how to appear virtuous, how not to appear weak in various situations, and yes, how to outright manipulate your enemies and bystanders, when for example marching through some land with your army. For many people who were exposed to these works, the both sides of Fredro’s thought were hard to reconcile. He seems to stand next to a rift between what the world should be and what it actually is. He refuses to give up on accomplishing goals. Yet he despises those who pursue goals that are selfish or evil.

I find this dissonance very Machiavellian. Both men had clear, idealistic convictions, and made the methods of efficient political action public: accessible to anyone who would bother knowing them, as opposed to hiding them behind the closed doors of dynastic courts.

There is one episode that casts some light on Fredro. He was succesful in being massively popular and powerful in his (Ruthenian) voivoship, despite having a relatively modest estate. Citizenry often entrusted him with offices and making him their plenipotentiary. The voivodship (comprising some territories where today there’s Poland and Ukraine) was a violent place, where all manors were fortified, Tatar raids were endemic, and noblemen didn’t abstain from raiding each other.

In 1650s, certain Niezabitowskis, Ludwik and his son Krzysztof, moved here from deeper Ukraine and gained fame of ruthless pillagers. Niezabitowski the junior tried to break a sejmik in 1656, before electing a marshal. (Sejmiks in voivodships were similar to the Sejm, except for that any nobleman could attend.) We can now have to imagine Andrzej M. Fredro, the lover of classical books and art, drawing his saber and shouting:

What is the arrogance of this man, who just came among us! Slay him, people, slay him!

The noblemen, young and old, promptly rushed with their weapons to do just that. Niezabitowski, luckily for him, had some supporters who helped him to escape. That’s how things were done in the neighborhood; I think this picture shows exactly what is so puzzling about Fredro. He really didn’t play around once he made his judgement about what was the right thing in the moment.

The cover of “Politico-Moral Admonitions”, 1674 edition. The slogan, “Virtue demands one to know or speak the right thing, but [still] act” (Norma virtute scire aut loqui recte sed agere praestat), is quite fitting.

The value of simplicity?

When I mentioned Edmund Burke at the beginning, I had in mind Fredro’s defense of the old order, which seems somewhat akin to Burke’s critique of the French Revolution. The difference is of course that in 17th century Europe, the “new order” was absolutism being imposed by royal bureaucracy (most successfully in France), and the “old” one–some kind of (more or less) ancient and (more or less) feudal arrangement.

Against the royal plans of reforms that would strengthen the influence of the court, Fredro (in his “advices for kings” in Fragments of Works) condemns “new” politicians that try to change the government on speculative grounds. They draw (he writes) conclusions that are valid for the Plato’s “Republic”, he says, instead of this Republic that we live in and should care about. All nations have different strengths and inclinations, and their politics should be suited to this. Fredro’s political adversaries put forth projects, usefulness of which (according to him) was based purely on books and speculation.

Posiadałem w swoim czasie małe zegarki, którym często przyglądałem się, podziwiałem ich staranne wykonanie, delikatne mechanizmy nie większe od kasztana … pięknie chodzą, prowadzone nieustającym ruchem sąsiednich tarcz i dają nam znać o każdym kwadransie czasu. Wiele jednak razy miałem też okazję zauważyć, gdy tylko zawieje mocniejszy wiatr, nadciągnie wilgotniejsze powietrze, dołączy do tego najdrobniejszy pył lub puch (nie mówiąc nawet o tym, co by się stało, gdyby któraś z tarcz lub łączeń uległy niewielkiemu zagięciu czy złamaniu), jak całe to misterne dzieło nagle się psuje, tak że ledwo można je potem naprawić, a główną w tym przeszkodę stanowi jego własna misterność! Te zaś rzeczy, które rodzą się pod uderzeniami ciężkiego młota, wybierane przez nas nie z powodu ich delikatności, a dla pewnego i użytecznego zastosowania, trudniej jest zniszczyć i łatwiej naprawić. Mniej więcej to samo dotyczy i państwa, które łatwiej jest naprawić, jeśli kierować się ono będzie prostymi i praktycznymi zasadami, niż gdyby miała w nim panować niezachwiana (jak harmonia) zgodność, subtelne rozważania i nienaruszalne sekrety, wszystko wprawdzie doskonałe, jednak bardziej podatne na skażenie i trudniejsze do naprawienia. (Script. 135)
I used to have little watches that I liked to look at; I admired how skillfully were crafted their mechanisms, no larger than a chestnut … how they are beatifully regulated by the movement of gears, and inform us about each passing quarter of time. But so often I have seen how a strong wind, moist weather, a minuscule dust or fluff can make them suddenly stop; not to mention cases when some gear or connection gets bent or broken. When one of these things happens, it is almost impossible to repair these fine devices, and the greatest hurdle is their sophistication!
Things that are born under hits of heavy hammer, things that we choose for their sure and useful function, and not for their finesse, these are hard to destroy and easy to repair. And more or less the same can be said about state, which is easier to repair when it is governed by principles simple and practical, without a need for perfect concord or harmony of its parts, subtle analyses, intouchable secrets. [The latter things could yield a construction] that may be all perfect, but more prone to corruption and harder to repair.

To be more specific, the most prominent “new” idea that appeared around the time where these words were written, around 1660, was a vivente rege election (though it wasn’t new really, Sigismundus II Augustus was elected this way more than 100 years earlier). It meant to elect the next king during the reign of the previous one; the plan was pushed by John Casimir in 1660s, against a wide resistance. In Henrician Articles from 1572, which were sworn by all monarchs, this kind of election was explicitly ruled out, as it allowed tampering with by the current king. The contention led to the so-called Lubomirski’s Rokosz (or Rebellion, 1665-1666), where royal forces were defeated by mobilized nobility (pospolite ruszenie in Polish: this was a sort of levée en masse or militia that formed the core of the military). The vivente rege scheme was thus killed, for the time being.

In defense of unanimous vote

The most important political works of Fredro were published in the period of uncertainty in the early 1660s. (Admittedly they contain some passages suggesting that the author didn’t want to burn all the bridges, in case John Casimir would smash the opposition.) In the introduction to Fragments of Works Fredro gives excuses that he didn’t polish all the pieces comprising this book because he feared the drafts could be destroyed.

Let’s also mention that it was a yet different Republic that it was in early 1650s–the second half of that decade saw a catastrophic war with Sweden and Muscovy, in which the whole country collapsed and fell under foreign occupation, except for some Polish and Ruthenian highlands. It then had to be painfully fought back by reorganized army greatly aided by guerrillas.

The corpse of Władysław Siciński, the first Sejm-breaker, was allegedly rejected by the earth and preserved a mummy until 19th century–as seen on the engraving above.

At that time, Andrzej Fredro was probably the most known writer who attempted to articulate views of the opposition. As we could see, he chose to justify that stance by conservatism (altough he makes appeals to practicality and almost never to tradition–there’s an interesting fragment that he argues that countries should be honored regarding their actual power, not some hitorical criteria like the year when their first king was crowned). This choice is what, I think, led him to eventually defending liberum veto as a political institution.

Our author invents examples from Roman Republic, where, as he says, anyone could block a decision. That’s because, according to Sallust, there were times were everything was done with involvement of one man, either Cato or Caesar. If this argument doesn’t seem too strong historically, it’s because it isn’t. But plebeian tribunes indeed could block any legislation. Fredro reminds that even instuting this office required had to be forced by plebs on patricians. He is one of the probably few political authors of the Republic who justified an outright rebellion if necessary (even if the Henrician Articles left room for denying obedience to the king if he breaks the law). Mind you, it was with a conflict with Cossacks still ongoing, and a mere year after the fall of younger Cromwell in England.

Then he makes a more general case, stating that in any generation, there are very few statesmen that are actually capable of carrying out the matters of republic. Most citizens are impressionable, led by emotions and private interests. This judgement shouldn’t surprise us by now in this author. The statesmen have to either laboriously convince them, which is difficult but preferable, or just block dangerous decisions of the people. According to Fredro, they have to be able to do the latter in emergencies. The more contemporary argument for unanimous vote is, as Fredro points out, that Polish kings with their power to freely give away money and offices could easily bribe a majority.

So, at the end, Fredro defends a right to inhibit things by contradiction of one man, but seems ready to slay people who would try to overuse it. It looks an interesting stance, I have to admit, and I only look forward to a more extensive investigation of this author–sometime in future.

(1) Monita: II.10, 12, I.50, II.6, II.73.

(2) This may be alluding to first, famously amateurish, efforts against the Cossack uprising.

Monita = Politico-Moral Admonitions, edition: A.M. Fredro, Monita politico-moralia / Napomnienia polityczno-obyczajowe, translated by Rev. Jan Ignacy Jankowski, Łódź 1999. Jankowski published his translation in 18th century, but I couldn’t hunt down a scan in Web. I use the original numbering of the “adminitions”.

Script. = Fragments of Works, or Notes on Peace and War, edition: A.M. Fredro, Scriptorum seu togae et belli notationum fragmenta / Fragmenty pism, czyli uwagi o wojnie i pokoju, translated by Jagoda Chmielewska and Bartłomiej Bednarek, Warszawa 2015. I use pagination of this edition.

I took most of the background information on Fredro from the introduction to Script. The sejmik episode with Niezabitowski is from Władysław Łoziński’s Prawem i lewem, Lwów 1931, t. I, p. 33-34. —

/-/ Popiel.

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