France Prešeren

Portrait of France Prešeren

France Prešeren was Slovenia’s national poet who wrote poetry primarily in Slovene but also in German. He was born on 3rd December 1800 in Vrba, Holy Roman Empire (now Slovenia) and died on 8th February 1849 in Kranj, Austrian Empire (now Slovenia) aged 48.

Major Works

Dekletom” (To Maidens) (1827)
“Slovo od Mladosti” (Farewell to Youth) (1830)
“Ljubeznjeni Sonetje (Love Sonnets) (1831) “Zdravljica” (The Toast) (1846)
“Poezije dr. Franceta Prešerna” (The Poetry of Dr. France Prešeren) (1847)

Biography Timeline

France Prešeren was born on 3rd December 1800 in Vrba, Holy Roman Empire (now Slovenia). His father was a prosperous farmer and his mother was well educated and taught her eight children to read and write. Her brothers were Roman Catholic priests who helped out with their education.

1808: He begins elementary schools run by the Catholic church aged eight in Grosuplje and Ribnica.

1812: He moves to the Carniolan capital Ljubljana to attend the state gymnasium school where he learns German, Latin and Greek. The poet Valentin Vodnik encourages him to develop his writing skills. He becomes friends with the philologist Matija Cop and develops an interest in language formation.

1821: He enters the University of Vienna where he studies philosophy and then law against the wishes of his mother who wants him to become a priest. He studies the great western writers such as Homer, Boccaccio, Dante and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as well as the Romantic poets. His new friend and mentor Matija Čop introduces him to Slovene poetry and he writes an epic and a ballad in the language. He works as a teacher at the Catholic Youth Institute and as a private tutor to support himself but is expelled from a teaching post at the Jesuit Institute, run by Joseph Klinkowstrom, for lending banned poetry to his friend Anastasius Grun.

1824: He writes some of his most popular poems as a student.

1825: He completes a collection of Carniolan poems which he shows to the philologist Jernei Kopitar who is very critical and so Prešeren destroys the entire collection. 

1827: His satirical poem “Dekletom” (To Maidens) is published by the German-language newspaper “Illyrisches Blatt” (Illyrian News).

1828: He passes his law degree and returns to Ljubljana to work as an assistant for the lawyer Leopold Baumgartner’s firm. His attempts to start his own practice are thwarted several times by the Austrian authorities because of his background. He writes “Slovo od Mladosti” (A Farewell to Youth).

1830: He meets up with his old school friend Matija Čop once more who encourages him to be more Romantic. He becomes noticed by the Slovene reading public when he publishes several poems in the literary journal “Kranjska Cbelica” (The Carniolan Bee) including “Farewell to Youth” and “Povodni Moz” (The Water Man). The Czech scholar Frantisek Celakovsky praises his work.

1831: He publishes the cycle “Ljubeznjeni Sonetje” (Love Sonnets). 

1832: He briefly moves to Klagenfurt hoping for a career move but returns to Ljubljana after less than a year.

1833: He meets Julija Primic, the daughter of a rich merchant, in the Trnovo church in Ljubljana and falls for her. He becomes a member of the Casino Society.

1834: He meets Julija again at a dance and at the theatre but can’t find the courage to show her his feelings. He publishes “Sonetni Venec” (A Wreath of Sonnets). Many who read them are scandalised by the inclusion of an acrostic spelling the name of Julija and the girl herself is less than impressed. He begins working as an assistant for his friend Blaž Crobath and meets the Czech romantic poet Karel Hynek Macha and the Slovene-born poet Stanko Vraz. Becoming more embittered he publishes Sonetje Nesreče” (Sonnets of Unhappiness). 

1835: His best friend Matija Čop drowns while swimming in the Sava River. Julija marries another of his schoolfriends, von Scheuchenstuehl, a wealthy nobleman and judge and his benefactor great uncle Jozef dies. On top of all this he falls out with Miha Kastelic the editor of “Krajnska Čbelica”.

1836: His epic-lyric poem “Krst pri Savici” (The Baptism on the Savica) dedicated to Cop is published. He meets Ana Jelovšek and they go on to have three children together but never marry.

1837: He meets the Polish political activist Emil Korytko who introduces him to the work of Adam Mickiewicz which becomes a major influence. They translate one of Mickiewicz’s poems, “Resygnacja”, from Polish to Slovene.

1839: His daughter Terezija is born. One of his friends, Andrej Smole, returns home after many years of living abroad. The two spend the winter on Smole’s estate in Lower Carniola planning projects such as producing a Slovene newspaper and publishing Anton Tomaz Linhart’s banned comedy “Matiček’s Wedding”. Both projects failed. The journal “Ilirske Novice” is blocked by the Viennese censors. 

1840: Andrej Smole dies suddenly in his arms whilst celebrating his fortieth birthday. Terezija also dies.

1842: Birth of daughter Ernestina. 

1843: The conservative Slovene politician, journalist and doctor Janez Bleiweis starts publishing a new daily journal in Slovene and invites him to write for it.

1844: He writes “Zdravljica” (The Toast).

1845: His son France is born.

1846: The authorities finally allow him to open his own law firm and he moves to Kranj with his family. His book “Poezije” (Poetry) is published but “Zdravljica” is removed by the censors.

1847: “Poezije dr. Franceta Prešerna” (The Poetry of Dr. France Prešeren), a collection of his best Slovene work, is published.

1848: After the 1848 Revolution Zdravljica” is allowed to be published.

France Prešeren died destitute and alone on 8th February 1849 in Kranj, Austrian Empire (now Slovenia). He was buried at the Old Kranj Cemetery (now Perseren’s Grove). It was not until 1866 that his reputation gained hold and “Zdravljica” (The Toast) became Sloveneia’s National Anthem in 1989.