Jan Potocki

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Portrait of Jan Graf Potocki

Jan Graf Potocki (born March 8, 1761 in Pików , Podolia , Poland ; † December 2, 1815 in Uładówka , Podolia, Russian Empire ) was a Polish explorer, historian, novelist and diplomat. Today he is best known as the author of the novel The Manuscript of Saragossa .


Jan Potocki came from the old noble and magnate family Potocki . He and his younger brother were brought up in Geneva in 1774 in Switzerland. As a 17-year-old he was briefly served in the Austrian army in Vienna. Then he made extensive trips in the Mediterranean. In 1784 he visited Egypt. He got to know Goethe and Herder in Germany. From 1785 he lived in Paris. In 1788 he joined the Polish army for a short time. At the time of the French Revolution , Potocki lived in Paris. He was instrumental in the Polish constitution of May 3, 1791 . From 1794 he did research in German libraries on the prehistory and early history of Slavicism, had contact with Klopstock and was a guest of Heinrich von Prussia at Rheinsberg Castle , where he began to write his novel The Handwriting of Saragossa . At the coronation of Tsar Paul I in Moscow in 1797 , he was now dutifully present as a Russian subject and then made an extensive research trip to the Lower Volga and the Caucasus . In the tsarist empire he acted as advisor to Tsar Alexander I in St. Petersburg , became an honorary member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences and took part in an expedition to Siberia , Mongolia and China , which was canceled. From 1805 preprints of his novel appeared.

Potocki was married twice. His first marriage to Julia Lubomirska (1764–1794) had two children, Alfred Wojciech Potocki and Artur Potocki. From the second marriage to Konstancja Potocka (1781-1852) the three children Bernard Potocki, Irena Potocka and Teresa Potocka were born.

In the last years of his life, the count, suffering from depression , withdrew to his country estates in Podolia and Volhynia . The end of his life is bizarre enough to come from his own novel: Potocki died by suicide by shooting himself with a silver bullet that had crowned his samovar and which he had worked over days to refine it into smaller and smaller sizes matched the barrel of his pistol . (Other sources name a silver sugar bowl instead of the samovar, which was given to Potocki by a clergyman.)

Potocki as a scientist

Potocki was one of the most important historians and ethnographers of the 18th and 19th centuries. Century and was one of the first scientists to study the prehistory and early history of the Slavic peoples . He was known to his contemporaries primarily as an explorer who visited remote areas of Europe, Asia and Africa and described them accurately in a series of books that were always in French . A list of his main works also provides information on his most important journeys and research areas:

  • Voyage en Turquie et en Égypte fait en 1784 , Warsaw 1788
  • Essai sur l'histoire universelle et recherches sur la Sarmatie , 5 vols., Warsaw 1788
  • Chroniques, mémoires et recherches pour servir à l'histoire de tous les peuples slaves , Warsaw 1793 ( digitized version )
  • Voyage de Basse-Saxe , Hamburg 1795 ( digitized version )
  • Fragments historiques et geographiques sur la Scythie, la Sarmatie et les Slaves , 4 vols., Braunschweig 1796
  • Histoire primitive des peuples de la Russie , Saint Petersburg 1802
  • Histoire des gouvernements de Volhynie, de Podolie et de Cherson , Saint Petersburg 1804/1805
  • Voyage dans le steps d'Astrahan et de Caucase , ed. von Klaproth, Paris 1829

For a long time (partly until today) all of these works were of great importance as careful collections of observations and materials. Heinrich Julius Klaproth named an archipelago in the northern Yellow Sea after Potocki.


Web links

Commons : Jan Potocki  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Felix Philipp Ingold : Between Enlightenment and Romanticism , in: NZZ , November 28, 2015, p. 27
  2. http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/termine/id=29431
  3. http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/termine/id=29431
  4. ^ Heinrich Julius Klaproth: Notice sur l'archipel de Jean Potocki situé dans la partie septentrionale de la Mer Jaune: Avec une Carte . Paris: Eberhart, 1820