Josef Masařík



I met Jan Weiss through his friend from our Russian legions, Ladislav Plechatý, who Weiss writes about in his letter to brother Filipský.1)

Ladislav Plechatý, then a civil servant of the Foreign Ministry, was at the time, apart from other things, an editor of the fiction section of a legionnaire daily newspaper, Národní osvobození (National Liberation), where I published some of my works as well. Here stemmed Weiss’s interest in me, fuelled by the fact that I was at the time also an editorial-staff secretary (in fact, the main editor) of a legionnaire semi-monthly Legionářské besedy (Legionnaire Chats). The head of its editorial circle was a poet and writer, popular already in the legions, Rudolf Medek, at the time the director of Památník odboje (The Resistance Memorial) in Prague. (Later on, I became his adjutant in this office.)

I met Weiss (after telephone calls) in the literary café Tůmovka in Prague II, The Lazarská Street. Jan Weiss was at that time already the author of his first published novel, The Hut of Death, which surprised us by being published by such an unliterary publishing house as Volná myšlenka (Free Idea).

We have probably already then agreed that Weiss was going to contribute to Legionářské besedy and he soon handed in the manuscript of his theater play Penza, which was then published in Legionářské besedy.

The manuscript of Weiss’s drama was typed on the paper of octavo of the time. Weiss gave it to me as a whole, it was already finished. Therefore, a question arises whether Weiss’s drama Penza may be the very first legionary drama since Langer and Štěpánek’s dramas from the lives of the legions appeared (if I am not mistaken) later on.

Jan Weiss liked Legionářské besedy, and because at the time he was interested in a greater publicity of his name, he asked me if he could be placed on the title page of the ending first year also as a member of its editorial circle. This was done, both in the first and second years.

I met Jan Weiss almost every day for many years (never on Saturdays and Sundays). I introduced him to the chief editor of Legionářské besedy, Rudolf Medek and another editor of Besedy, J. O. Novotný, who was (which was important for Weiss) also the editor of the leading literary magazine of the time, Cesta (The Journey), specifically its critical part. These affectionate and very personal friendships made Weiss happy and cheerful. We used to meet J. O. Novotny then almost every day and we went to (after the office hours) various coffee shops (as well as wine shops) in the Old Town and Malá Strana in Prague. These were then little cafes with young waitresses (who the businessmen often alternated), not particularly luxurious or especially formal, thus with low prices. In some of these cafes, Jan Weiss even used to dance to gramophone music. And it was always tango, graceful and refined, that he chose. However, the leader during the dance was not himself but his dancing partner, yes? A girl! Sometimes, we used stay at these places (as they were one next to another in a street) quite late into the night. Weiss once told me that he tried to find some of these wine sellers by himself but he could not find a way in this mixture of lanes in the Old Town in Prague, so he (for instance) was not able to find the street where was the huge and famous Hendrych’s secondhand bookstore, or the Řetězová Street and so on.

The main topic of discussion during these so frequent meetings was of course literary matters and the critic J. O. Novotny often had the main say, bringing lots of interesting news from the editor’s office of the magazine Cesta, but also about other literary personalities (Šalda, Růžena Svobodová, Božena Benešová, etc.). He of course knew also everything about the young authors, who published in Cesta and elsewhere, stuff from their lives, interesting details about their origin etc. etc. This J. O. Novotný was among us called only “Jóťas”, a name invented by Medek, like the name “Jakub” given to Jan Weiss (only among us), like I used to be in this intimate trio only “Julek” (according to my prose piece, published in Cesta). Medek then naturally was, already in the legions, the “bárin”2)of all that.

Medek presented us in the Literární odbor Umělecké besedy (Literary Department of Artist Fellowship), where he also signed us up as its members. In the same way, he signed us as members of the Kruh českých spisovatelů (Circle of Czech Writers), which pleased Weiss very much, since in the board of the Literary Section of the time, thus at the meeting, there were Karel Matěj Čapek-Chod, the critic Miloslav Hýsek, Viktor Dyk, Hanuš Jelínek, the critic Karel Sezima and others. The people present at the meetings at other times were František Skácelík, Štěpán Jež and Jiří Mařánek, all of whom became Weiss’s friends and he liked them very much. After the board meetings of the Literary Section, we often went to a famous wine shop and so on. Only there did Weiss have a wonderful time, since here in particular he got to know Viktor Dyk and Hanuš Jelínek (“Hanouche”). – (It is interesting that Karel Sezima did not take part in these meetings because Dyk, Jelínek and Medek considered him to be an intriguer, faultfinder and egoist.) Rudolf Medek naturally always paid the bill for me and Weiss (“bárin”!), which Weiss liked very much; he even dreamed about how nice it would be if he himself (“Jakub”) was so famous one day and could do the same for others.

Later on, Medek was also a member of the fourth class of the Czech Academy. I know that here too Weiss was interested in Medek helping him achieve various awards and supports.

Ladislav Plechatý, as the Foreign Ministry civil servant and a literary personality had an influential job in the Radio Journal as well. Therefore, he asked Weiss and me to contribute to his broadcasting with short (“audio”) reports. Jan Weiss welcomed everything new like this, but I do not remember what or how many times he contributed.

Weiss’s friendship with me and Plechatý reached its peak on a family occasion when the two of us were the best men at Jan Weiss’s wedding. A photo from this wedding (the group in front of the Old-Town town hall) was then publicized by Plechatý in a certain illustrated weekly magazine, owned by Zamini3). Then I was entrusted with the task (as Medek’s adjutant, responsible for social things as well) to organize a reception festive enough, which I did. The wedding reception was in a certain significant restaurant in the Celetná Street (roughly opposite the Štorch publishing house), but I do not remember its name any longer. And – in return? Jan Weiss was the witness (godfather) at the official sing-up of my daughter Eve’s birth in February 1928, when he promised to dedicate to her all the books he had already written and he was still going to write; which eventually happened.

In the fall of 1934, I was displaced to Mukačevo on business (Medek, thanks to his extravagance of a legion hero and famous writer, could not have been moved there, therefore at least his reliable adjutant was taken from him) and after my repeated displacement to Prague to the Vojenský ústav vědecký (Army-Science Institute) in 1936, I almost did not meet Weiss, which was the result of MNO4) not wanting me to meet Medek.

My meetings with Weiss resumed then after the liberation of our republic in May 1945, again in the Literary Department of Umělecká beseda. I used to go to Beseda regularly, once a week, like Weiss. Naturally, we were happy and merry again and had lots of literary and political talks. We agreed. I know that at that time Weiss still did not like the official literary gods and their “pen-clubs”, while he began to love more and more Olbracht, Vančura and other writers of their kind. As to painters, he personally knew Jan Slavíček (already from Medek’s circle) but he especially loved Jan Zrzavý. He was not interested in classical music very much.

(Weiss was not interested in sport either. – – He hated the press of Jiří Stříbrný and Czech fascists.)

Jan Weiss pleasantly surprised me by a comment in press made for my fiftieth birthday, which appeared in the second issue of a new magazine of the Literary Department of Umělecká beseda, Doba (The Era). He knew that my novel work about Leoš Janáček was going to be published in the Otto publishing house, that it was supposed to be announced to the book market in the monthly of this publishing house. He did not know, however, what obstacles were made to its publication.5)

Apart from what is already known, you will probably not learn more about Jan Weiss’s life in the Russian legions. We did not talk to each other much about those (for us already past) times. As far as I know, Weiss did not participate in any fighting, he knew only his office duty. Neither did he ever speak about personally meeting Jaroslav Hašek. As far as I am informed, he did not publish anything in our magazines in Russia. And I hope this is a final truth because, already in Russia and later on more at home, I knew all the members of our editorial staff in Russia, I therefore know a lot about their whole organization and work.

I do not know when he started to publish at home but, as I have already mentioned, it was the literary section of our legionnaire magazine, directed first by Ladislav Plechatý and then Josef Kopta. He placed his more extensive prose works, as I have already mentioned too, in Cesta, where his novel The House of One Thousand Floors was gradually published, and then another novel, Bianka Braselli. Of course, he also regularly contributed to the magazine of the Literary Department of Umělecká beseda, Lumír and, after the upheaval in 1945, to the magazine Doba.

Since he used to meet J. O. Novotný (“Jóťas”), it is not impossible that he published in the Sunday fiction section of Národní listy too. And he may have published in other literary magazines as Weiss’s greatest effort then was to achieve the greatest publicity of his name.

And this is probably everything that I remember about Jan Weiss these days (when I am so painfully ill). Considering the unfavorable circumstances I live in here in the countryside, I am not able to impart anything from his correspondence, nor any facts about his literary development and final portrayal. The summary is: Jan Weiss was a very gentle, nice and honest man. He loved people in general. He did not like arrogance, genteelness and pride. He loved modesty and merry frankness. Away from the nobility, closer to the ordinary people. And only with people and only with people – housekeepers, artisans, masters of their fields. He wanted the same thing for the intelligentsia. No bureaucratic office work! And read, read. Literature is the provider of a different life! Indeed? With this life! And – that was what he tried strived for. Let there be an everlasting honor to his good memory.

Zlenice, May 15 and 17, 1977



1) Legionářské besedy, 1926, 11–12, August, 332–333.

2) TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: The word “bárin” comes from Russian, meaning a member of a privileged class, a lord.

3) TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: Most probably the author means Ministerstvo zahraničních věcí (The Foreign Affairs Ministry).

4) TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: Most probably the author means Ministerstvo národní obrany (The Ministry of National Defence).

5) Once it was the shortage of paper, allotted by the publishing house, another time the paper was given by the publishing house to a different work, in their opinion possibly more profitable one. When the work was already being published at Strojil’s in Přerov, I fell ill with such a deadly illness that I was no longer able to make press corrections, so the book work was swept (it was a Christmas market) and the publication of the book again postponed. Otto’s publishing house was soon after that (1948) taken over by the army administration and changed into the publishing house Naše vojsko (Our Army), while I was told that the manuscript of Janáčkův žák (Janáček’s Pupil) was sent to the Ministry of Enlightenment and Culture, which, however, did not give me any information about it. And when I sent the counterpart to a certain prominent publishing house, whose name I do not remember any longer, I was told that the work cannot be published for certain serious reasons. I understood this in such a way that the “tendency” of my work does not suit the need of the time since in my work Janáček is presented as the teacher of an organ school, as a teacher of church music, which made his fervent attitude towards this kind of composition obvious, yes, fervent, convincingly fervent. This was why I stopped any further attempts at having the extensive Janáček’s Pupil published. Regretful that I did not obey the request of Dr. Pavel Eisner who, after reading my work in manuscript (1945), asked me to take the work back from the Otto publishing house and to give it to him, that he will immediately publish it in the Girgal publishing house. I would have done so, but why did I hesitate? In deference to Dr. Miloslav Novotny (an editor of the Družstevní práce publishing house), who (after a review) recommended my work to the Otto publishing house, and thus it was accepted and the contract signed.