France Prešeren was a Slovene Romantic poet. He is considered the Slovene national poet. Although he was not a particularly prolific author, he inspired virtually all Slovene literature thereafter.
He was born 3 December 1800 (Saturday) in the Upper Carniolan village of Vrba, then part of the Habsburg Monarchy (today in Slovenia), to a relatively well-to-do peasant family. Already as a child, he showed considerable talent, so his parents decided to provide him with a good education.
At the age of eight, he was sent to elementary schools in Grosuplje and Ribnica, run by the local Roman Catholic clergy. In 1812, he moved to the Carniolan provincial capital of Ljubljana, where he attended the State Gymnasium. Already at a very young age, he learned Latin, Ancient Greek, as well as German, which was then the language of education, administration and high culture in most areas inhabited by Slovenes. In Ljubljana, Prešeren's talent was spotted by the poet Valentin Vodnik who encouraged him to develop his literary skills in the Slovene language. As a high school student, he became friends with the future philologist Matija Čop, who would have an extremely important influence on the development of Prešeren's poetry.
In 1821, Prešeren enrolled at the University of Vienna, where he studied law, against the wishes of his mother who wanted him to become a priest. In Vienna, he became acquainted with the western canon from Homer to Goethe, but he was most fascinated by Dante and the Italian trecentists, especially Petrarch and Boccaccio. He also read contemporary Romantic poets, and he was even fired from the teaching post at the Klinkowström's Jesuit institute for having lent a booklet of banned poetry to his friend Anastasius.
After acquiring a law degree in 1828, he returned to Ljubljana, where he got employment as an assistant in the firm of the lawyer Leopold Baumgartner. He was constantly striving to become an independent lawyer by putting in as many as six applications, but he was not successful. In 1832, he shortly moved to Klagenfurt in the hope of furthering his career, but returned to Ljubljana after less than a year. In the spring of 1833, he met Julija Primic, the daughter of a rich merchant, who would become the unfulfilled love of his life.
Around 1836, Prešeren finally realized that his love for Julija would never become mutual. The same year, he met Ana Jelovšek, with whom he entered into a permanent relationship. They had three children, but never married. Prešeren supported Ana financially and treated her as his rightful mate, but engaged in several other love affairs at the same time.
He also spent a lot of time travelling throughout Carniola, especially to Lake Bled, from the scenery of which he drew inspiration for his poems. In 1834, he began working as an assistant to his friend Blaž Crobath who gave Prešeren enough free time to engage in his literary activities. In 1846, he was finally allowed to open his own law firm and moved to Kranj with his family. He died there on 8 February 1849. Upon his deathbed he confessed that he had never forgotten Julija.
In general, Prešeren's life was an unhappy one. He was confronted with constant rejections, had an unstable sentimental life, and saw most of his closest friends die tragically. He lived in confrontation with both the civil and religious establishment, as well as with the provincial bourgeoisie of Ljubljana. His talent was far too high to be fully acknowledged by the contemporary culturally backward society of Slovenia. He fell victim to severe drinking problems and tried to take his life on at least two occasions. The motive of "the hostile fortune" is a frequent one in his works.
Prešeren's first serious poetic attempts date from his student years in Vienna. In 1824, he wrote some of his most popular poems, still under the influence of Valentin Vodnik and the rich tradition of Slovenian folk poetry. In 1825, he completed a collection of "Carniolan songs", which he showed to the philologist Jernej Kopitar. Kopitar was very critical of the young man's literary attempts, so Prešeren destroyed the whole collection.
Kopitar's rejection hindered the development of Prešeren's creativity; he did not publish anything more until 1827, when his satirical poem "To the Maidens" (Dekletom) was published by the German language journal Illyrisches Blatt. In 1828, Prešeren wrote his first important poem, A Farewell to Youth. It was however published only in 1830, in the literary journal Kranjska č'belica ("The Carniolan Bee"), established the same year by the publisher Miha Kastelic in Ljubljana.
In 1830, Prešeren's old high school friend Matija Čop returned to Ljubljana and re-established contacts with Prešeren. Čop soon recognized his friend's poetic talent and persuaded him to adopt Romanic poetic forms. Following Čop's advice, Prešeren would soon become a master of the sonnet. His poems were noticed by the Czech scholar František Čelakovský who published several highly positive critiques of it. Čelakovský's praise was extremely important for Prešeren's self-esteem and gave him the strength to continue in the path on which Čop had orientated him.
Between 1830 and 1835, Prešeren composed his esthetically most accomplished poems, which were inspired by the setbacks in his personal life, especially by the unhappy love for Julija Primic. Prešeren followed Čop's advice and transformed Julija into a poetic figure, reminiscent of Dante's Beatrice and Petrarch's Laura, as can be seen in this first stanza of his poem Gazele:
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