LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 49, No.1 - Spring 2003
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
Copyright © 2003 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Stone, Daniel. The Polish-Lithuanian State, 1386-1795. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001.
Long awaited this book fills one more gap in the series "A History of East Central Europe," a series so near to its completion that unfortunately the editors Peter Sugar (d. 1999) and Donald Treadgold (d. 1994) did not live to see to its completion. Originally, this volume had a different author and title: The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1000-1795. Stone dropped the word Commonwealth and substituted State in its place. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth only came into existence in 1569 with the Union of Lublin. The term Commonwealth could not have included the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania before 1569. For that reason, the author uses the rather vague but appropriate term State. Knowing that different concepts as to the nature of that union exist, Stone uses neutral but imprecise phraseology such as, "when Poland and Lithuania came together in 1386." (83)
Stone presents a history of the region rather than a national history of Poland. He puts Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine into their proper relationship with each other. Besides providing a political history from the first Lithuanian Grand Duke to become the king of Poland, Jogaila, to its last monarch, Stanislaw Poniatowski, Stone introduces us to the socio-economic and cultural history of the Polish-Lithuanian State.
As the author introduces the reader to the important names in the arts, he often tries to make a connection between the West and the Polish-Lithuanian State claiming that it was a part of the mainstream of European civilization. When one reads about Eastern Europe, one gets the impression that scholars can only validate Eastern European culture by comparing it to the West. The only way Poland-Lithuania can be considered a civilized nation is if it imitates or uses Western European styles. However, here again Stone's approach is balanced. He brings in various examples of Russo-Byzantine influences into the culture of Poland-Lithuania, "because of its extensive contact with Russian and Ottoman civilization." (213) Often Poles and Lithuanians hide their socio-cultural connections to Russia, but Stone observes correctly that the mythical notion of Sarmatism allowed Poles and Lithuanians to mix and match Eastern and Western cultural influences as the situation required.
Stone also addresses the issues of national consciousness among the Lithuanians and the Ruthenians in this period, but one wonders at the validity of doing so in a time period before the age of nationalism. When dealing with national prejudices, Stone has a very slight Polish bias, but Lithuanians must eventually concede the dominance of Polish over Lithuanian culture. However, Stone's dispassionate presentation gives the reader a more realistic view of the Polish-Lithuanian State. He includes all the usual heroics of Polish-Lithuanian historythe battle of Grunwald, the miracle at Częstochowa, Kosciuszko at Raclawice, Rejtan's effort to block the ratification of the First Partitionbut without nationalist biases. This book may, in fact, become a model of fairness in the national arguments between Polish and Lithuanian historians.
One can split hairs about his interpretations of the nature of the Union of Kriavas and the reasons for the partitions but in general his analysis is evenhanded. In his attempt to be comprehensive the author occasionally titillates the reader with headings like "The Treatment of Perceived Deviance: Witchcraft, Ritual Murder, and Homosexuality," but admits that not enough information exists about these issues. This book is not without factual mistakes, as when Stone claims that "Vytautas's father had contested Jogaila's father's rule." (10) Kęstutis, Vytautas's father, contested Jogaila's rule, not Jogaila's father's,. Algirdas's rule. Most books on Polish-Lithuanian history have some errors with Lithuanian diacritic marks, and Stone's book is no exception. Although Stone provides historical maps of Poland-Lithuania he might have included a section on Polish-Lithuanian geography. The East Central Europe series has a historical atlas compiled by Robert Magosci, but one is left wondering how climate and topography have shaped the history of that region. One wants more from an excellent book like this. Conversely, Stone's bibliographic essay contains a solid summary of works in English that includes the latest scholarly and popular works.
Inevitably, this book will invite comparisons to the first volume of Norman Davies's God's Playground: A History of Poland. Although not as bold or florid as God's Playground, Stone's book is better organized. The student and the non-specialist will be able to understand Polish-Lithuanian history better than from Davies's book. Specialists who focus only on the national histories of Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, or Prussian Germany will be able to put their studies into a broader context. Lithuanian scholars will also find this volume useful and interesting. Lithuanian historiography has gone through various stages where it has divorced itself from Poland's history to a more neutral position of giving Poland and its culture a place in Lithuania's history, yet Stone goes farther by giving Jews and Ruthenians their due in the Polish-Lithuanian State.
The History of East Central European series never intended to cover Lithuania's history systematically, and yet between this volume and Piotr Wandycz's The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1795-1918, the reader gets a solid introduction to Lithuania's history. Those interested only in Lithuanian history will find the names of Daukša, Mažvydas, Donelaitis, and numerous other Lithuanian cultural heroes in this book. One can only concur with Stone that the significant personages of Polish-Lithuanian history "deserve to be as well known in the West as they are in their home countries." (ix)
In spite of any minor criticisms of this volume, Stone presents the most successful and comprehensive up-to-date synthesis of the Polish-Lithuanian State that can be expected in a book fewer than four hundred pages. There is no doubt, that this volume will become the standard for many years to come.