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Timotei Cipariu(1805-1887)

TIMOTEI CIPARIU (1805-1887) Philologist, journalist, and professor of philosophy and theology. Born into a peasant f amily, he received a splendid education between 1814 and 1825 at the Greek Catholic (Uniate) schools of Blaj, the principal cultural center of the Romanians of Transylvania in the first half of the nineteenth century. He was ordained a Uniate priest in 1827 and became professor of philosophy at the lyceum in 1828 and of dogmatic theology at the seminary in 1830. He was to remain in Blaj all his life.

Cipariu was in many ways a typical representative of the Romanian generation of 1848, of those intellectuals who came to maturity in the 1830s and 1840s. Like his colleagues, he had no doubt that the Romanians were a part of Europe and he viewed their strivings for political and social emancipation as but one aspect of the general European movement for progress. Yet, he maintained a sense of proportion, for he was acutely conscious of the gulf that separated his own "backward" world from the "rationality" and "enlightenment" of the West. Although German and French and, occasionally, English ideas and experience offered attractive models to be followed, Cipariu and his fellow forty-eighters shunned wholesale imitation, preferring instead to borrow and adapt in accordance with Transylvanian realities.

Those very realities, moreover, proved decisive in shaping his own career. At first, he was attracted to Romanticism and belles-lettres at a time when the Enlightenment still exercised a strong hold over Romanian intellectual life. He admired the works of French and Eng lish Romantics, and his intense study of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish languages and literatures suggests his integration into the general currents of Romanticism. But after composing numerous love poems and meditations in the Romantic style, he abandoned literature as a vocation.

Like many Central European intellectuals of the time, he was guided by a stern sense of moral obligation to serve his people. He thus imposed upon himself a social mission to rescue the "descendents of the Roma ns" from their material poverty and cultural backwardness, a task which left little room for literature as an aesthetic experience. Henceforth, his goals were those of the Enlightenment■to inform and to teach. Besides his studies of the Romanian language and his tireless work as professor and administrator at Blaj, in 1847 he founded one of the first Romanian newspapers in Transylvania, Organul Luminarii (The Organ of Enlightenment), whose main purpose was to keep intellectuals abreas t of current cultural and literary developments at home in Western Europe.

Although Cipariu left political leadership to others, he did not hesitate to defend his nation's rights when he thought them threatened. In 1842 he drew up a vigorous protest to the Emperor in Vienna against a law passed by the Transylvanian diet which mandated the introduction of the Hungarian language into all branches of public administration and education, even the schools of Blaj. He warned that such a law, if put into effect, would not only curtail the Romanians■ intellectual and spiritual life, but would endanger their very existence as a distinct nationality. The law failed to gain imperial sanction, but the passions it stirred presaged the struggles of 1848. Nonetheless, Cipariu sought conciliation and urged Romanians and Hungarians to live side by side as brothers as the only means of assuring their future well-being.

During the spring and summer of 1848 Cipariu espoused moderation. In March he welcomed the program set forth by Hungarian liberals, who promised civil rights and representative government to all the citizens of historical Hungary, as the beginning of a new era for the peoples of Transylvania. He was convinced that the Romanians had nothing to fear from the demand of these same liberals for the union of Transylvania with Hungary, for the new parliament, to be chosen in accordance with modern principles, would surely guarantee the right of all the peoples of the land to develop as distinct nationalities. At the same time he urged his fellow Romanians to organize and thus to begin the task of emancipating themselves. But he drew back from revolution and urged constitutional means as the most effective weapons of progress.

Later, as the idealism of March gave way to the harsh realities of national struggle, Cipariu joined numerous colleagues in sounding the alarm about the impending union of Transylvania with Hungary. He warned that it must not be accepted until the Romanians had been recognized as a nation, as equal in rights to the Hungarians and the other nations of Transylvania. It was all very well, he argued, for the Romanians to accept civil and political rights as individual citizens in the new, liberal Hungary, but, in doing so, they would expose themselves to rapid assimilation. Thus, he concluded, true emancipation must be collective; it must encompass all members of the nation as one.

During the rest of 1848, Cipariu wa s an important player in the effort by Romanian intellectuals to secure a solid constitutional foundation for the Rumanian nation. He helped to plan the agenda for the national congress at Blaj in May, at which Romanian nationhood was proclaimed, and he was deeply concerned with social issues, especially with the desperate economic and moral condition of the peasants. But he opposed violent solutions, urging, instead, gradual reform through legal means, accompanied by improvements in rural educati on. He tried to win over the peasants themselves to his point of view in the columns of the weekly Invatatorul Poporului (The People's Teacher), the first Romanian newspaper intended specifically for the common person, which he published from May to October. He served as a member of the National Committee chosen at Blaj to organize the struggle for emancipation, and in the summer he took part in negotiations with the Hungarian government intended to bring about a peaceful settlement o f the dispute over the union.

A compromise of Hungarian-Romanian differences came too late to prevent armed conflict in Transylvania, and as Hungarian revolutionary armies occupied most of the principality in March 1849, Cipariu fled to Muntenia. But his services to the national cause did not end. In the fall of 1849 he and numerous colleagues travelled to Vienna to seek the recognition of Romanian nationhood from the Emperor and his bureaucracy. But all their efforts were in vain, for the triumphant Habsburg conservatives had no intention of recognizing the principle of nationality.

In the decades following the revolution Cipariu devoted himself primarily to scholarly pursuits. His works on Romanian grammar were pioneering. He was one of the leaders of the so-called Latinist current, which sought to replace words of Slavic origin with those derived from Latin as preserved in old manuscripts and printed books, but he avoided the extremes of many contemporaries who sou ght to "cleanse" the language completely of its "impurities." In the 1860s, when the political absolutism of the preceding decade briefly gave way to an attempt by the imperial bureaucracy in Vienna to cultivate good relations with the Slavs and Romanians, he resumed his public activities. In 1861 he was one of the founders of the Transylvanian Association for the Literature and Culture of the Romanian People (ASTRA), and in 1863-1864 as a deputy in the Transylvanian diet he strove for legislation assuring the Romanians political equality with the other nations of Transylvania and recognizing Romanian as an official language. In later life he received numerous honors for his long service to the nation. Perhaps the crowning moment came in 1866, when he was invited to be a founding member of the Romanian Academic Society in Bucharest, the forerunner of the Romanian Academy.
Keith Hitchins


Stefan Pascu and Iosif Pervain, eds., George Barit si contemporani sai, Bucuresti, 1978, IV.

Valeriu Nitu and Traian Vedinas, Timotei Cipariu Cluj-Napoca, 1988.

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