Wednesday, July 11, 2012

the last book I ever read (Madeleine Albright's Prague Winter, excerpt one)

from Madeleine Albright's Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948:

Oddly, the individual who would do the most for Czech independence—and also much to fight anti-Semitism—was the son of a Roman Catholic Slovak coachman. Tomáš Masaryk was born on the seventh of March 1850; he grew up speaking the local dialects but was instructed by his mother, a Moravian, to count and pray in German. As a youngest he was trained briefly as a locksmith, then a blacksmith. Years later, he recalled the skills demanded of a nineteenth-century boy: how to whistle, run, swim, walk on his hands, ride a horse, climb a tree, catch beetles, kindle a fire toboggan, walk on stilts, throw snowballs, skip stones, whittle, tie knots of horsehair, use a jackknife, and fight “all kinds of ways,” adding, “I can’t say what sort of life the girls lived, since we had nothing to do with them.”

When young Masaryk was not otherwise occupied, he was studying. A local priest taught him Latin and recommended that the boy be sent to school. While earning his way as a tutor, he ascended the academic ladder. In 1872, he graduated from the University of Vienna; four years later he earned a PhD in philosophy and moved to Leipzig, where he attended lectures on theology. Having met one challenge through meticulous study, he moved on to the next, borrowing from the library a stack of books about the psychology of women. Thus prepared, he met Charlotte Garrigue, a young American blessed with find auburn hair, a talent for music, and an independent mind. At first, she responded reticently to his courtship and left to vacation at a spa. Masaryk followed her there in a fourth-class railway car, took her for long walks, and soon won her over. The couple married in March 1878 in Charlotte’s hometown of Brooklyn, establishing not only a matrimonial connection but an international one between the people of the Czech lands and the United States. In a sign of respect rare then and since, Masaryk adopted Charlotte’s last name as his middle one. They had four children, the youngest a boy named Jan.

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