Karel Hynek Macha

On September 16, 1836, Karel Hynek Macha arrived in Litomerice, where he was thinking of settling for some years. He wanted to be there among the hills and mountains of the Czech Middle range to prepare for the rigorous exams of law school in Prague, so he accepted a position as a legal assistant in the law firm of Filip Duras. Death, however, prematurely severed all the plans of the talented young poet, and Macha's astay in Litomerice was measured only in days - it was only 38 days later when Karel Hynek Macha died on Saturday, November 5, at 11 p.m.

Karel Hynek Macha's grave, click for close-up

His very sudden and untimely death was connected to a fire in Litomerice, during the extinguishing of which he caught a chill and died as a result of it. In a letter from October 21 to his parents and fiancee Lora in Prague, Macha wrote: "In the evening, I was lying on Radobyl, one of the high peaks behind Litomerice, it was already dark, and flames appeared in Litomerice. I saw it from that peak. So I ran quickly down to Litomerice, I had to run about three-quarters of an hour to get there, and I was still one of the first ones to the fire. Eleven barns, full of grain, burst into flame, and the wind was blowing into them terribly. Such clarity and heat I've never seen in my life. The wind was driving the flames across the road, such that no one wanted to run through it. So four of us ventured into it. I removed my hat and coat, someone wet my hair so it wouldn't catch, and I ran around the burning barns and behind me the other three. We were right on time. I climbed up on the crest of the roof of a barn like on a horse, and my companions were passing me water to pour all over the roof so it wouldn't catch fire, though I was barely able to stay there with the heat and wind. Always before I poured out the water, I had to wet my face and drink some of it. So we saved the barn and the whole line of homes behind it. Only then did the horses with the fire engines come." That night, Macha went to sleep in his room all wet without any ill effects, which testifies to his strong health.

In spite of this, however, Macha wrote his last letters about through oficial channels on November 2, one to his parents and brother and the second again to Lora. None of them even suspected that the end of the poet's life was approaching. Two days later, he was struck ill with diarrhea, but he didn't see a doctor and continued going to the office. But his condition quickly worsened, he began vomiting and, despite medical treatment, he died before his 26th birthday, in the early hours of November 6, the exact day he was supposed to marry Lora Somkova. Due to a suspicion of cholera, however, the date of death was moved back a day to November 5 so the funeral could be held a day earlier.

The cause of Macha's unexplained death remains vague, though it still seems unlikely that he died as a result of a chill he caught while fighting the fire. More likely he was infected by drinking the water intended for fightig the fire, and it's also possible that he died from acute appendicitis, which may have burst. This mystery has stayed hushed up, as well as the appearance of this romantic poet, since not even one portrait of him has survived. To the following generations, he was only described by words, as a dark, tall, thin man with a full beard and dark, bewitching eyes, exotically dressed in a dark cloak and hat.

The only thing that's certain is that one of the most talented Czech poets,a pioneer of romanticism in Czech literature, died much too young. His collection of poems, "Maj" (May), which was published at his own expense shortly before his death, was judged by his contemporaries to be immoral and a threat to the healthy development of national society. However, for the generation to follow, Macha became an idol and a symbol of romantic rebellion against society.