Czech literature dates from the 10th cent. The legends of St. Wenceslaus, composed in that century, were written in Old Church Slavonic. Until c.1400, Czech literature consisted mainly of Latin chronicles (Cosmas of Prague, 1125) and of Czech hymns, tales of chivalry, and romances in verse. The 15th cent. witnessed a poetic flowering that paralleled increasing national consciousness. In 1394, Smil Flaška of Pardubice initiated modern realistic Czech literature with an allegorical admonition in verse, New Council. In a similar vein were the sermons of Tomáš Štítný (c.1331–c.1401) and the works of the peasant mystic Petr Chelčický ( The Net of the True Faith, 1440–43).
The language reforms of John Huss helped to make Czech an effective literary language for the writers of the Renaissance, as in the works of the humanists, in the religious and secular writings of the Moravian bishop Jan Blahoslav (1503–71), and in the histories of Veleslavin (1545–99). The crowning glory of the age was the Kralice Bible, translated by the Czech Brethren and published from 1579 to 1593. The Thirty Years War (1618–48) brought wholesale destruction of Czech literary works followed by repression of national life.
In the 17th cent. the great educator Comenius (Jan Amos Komenský), like many other Czechs, worked in exile, and the language was gradually reduced to little more than a peasant dialect. In the late 18th cent. men like the philologists Josef Dobrovský and Josef Jungmann helped to rehabilitate writing in Czech. Jan Kollár led the Pan-Slavic revival in the early 19th cent., while Karel Hynek Mácha, considered the foremost Czech poet, expressed a Byronic romanticism developed further by the novelist Božena Nĕmcová and the poet Karel J. Erben.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.