Lives Journal 13

Davorin Zhunkovich





To this day, Ivan Topolovshek generally remains nearly completely unknown among Slovenian people as well as among Slavs in general. The man is overlooked, despised in spite of having splendidly elevated the glory of the Slovenian nation in the field of linguistics. Topolovshek joins linguists such as Popovich, Kopitar, Miklozhich, Trstenjak, Caf, Oblak, Gregor Krek, Shkrabec as an equal and in one aspect even surpasses them all: He constructed his works on the sturdy basis of Slavic autochtonism and with the realisation that Slavic languages stand in organic relation with the primordial language of humanity.

This scholar’s life was so lonely and modest that it can be described in a mere few sentences.

The author of these lines could never have imagined that he would one day become the only one with the honourable task of describing this scholar’s life. And yet matters have come so far that even though Slovenians now possess our own University, no man has come forth who would devote but a few lines to this scholar. In mid January of 1921 in Nish, I learned in newspapers that this scholar passed away; I called upon certain Slovenian newspapers to publish a few lines to commemorate the Slovenian linguist. My good intentions failed; though it boggles the mind, no one came forth, who would know or write but part of the scholar’s story. The most informed among them knew only that Topolovshek wrote some book, but that it was condemned by Dr Jagich who labelled it in an unusual manner for scientific circles as utterly worthless with no consideration as to who of the two of them was actually in error; and it was for that same reason that afterwards no one would put themselves in the position to be exposed in error. So, the Slovenian press announced the scholar Topolovshek’s death in the usual way adding that he was a writer. Topolovshek was not one to tout his own horn; he worked silently and ceaselessly towards the greater scientific goal, giving little thought to how the world perceived him.

If, however, Topolovshek’s life was akin to the life of a recluse, unable to fill many chapters, this very fact lends us material enough to penetrate it somewhat deeper. I mostly only had to hand as much as I learned from his brother Joseph, from what I was told by the court councillor at the Ministry of Interior Dr Kamilo Susan, and lastly what I was able to learn from writing. The data may be scarce, but it paints a picture about this Slovenian linguist’s life and work. It will prove difficult to find anything to add let alone to correct.


I. From Topolovshek's life


Ivan Topolovshek was born on 16 April, 1851 in Marija Gradcu near Lashko. His father Jakob was church keeper at the local parish and his mother Eva was a highly pious Slovene and planted the seed of piousness deep into her son’s heart. As a boy he attended the first three grades at the primary school in Lashko and fourth grade in Celje. Because he was very talented, the then chief priest at Lashko Anton Zhuzha according to the custom of the time, proposed that Ivan’s parents send him to the grammar school in Celje. The suggestion appealed to his parents, particularly since Chief Priest Zhuzha covered all the young man’s expenses for food and lodging out of pocket. Ivan finished two grades of grammar school in Celje before moving to Novo mesto. He concluded grammar school in the town of Bozen in Tyrol. He only passed his maturity exam in 1880, in Innsbruck; this is believed to have been because he joined a monastery as a novice immediately after finishing his studies obliging is parents’ great desire to become dedicate to the priestly calling. But it also appears that he left the monastery and devoted himself to religious studies in Salzburg, though he did not persist in them. It seems that he audited the Salzburg Faculty of Philosophy, where he attended lectures of professors Jurgl, Ivan Muller, Zingrele, and Wildauer. By then he had already thoroughly committed himself to comparative linguistics, he focused on studying Sanskrit, Avestan and also Lithuanian, Hebrew etc. In 1833 he moved to Vienna to audit linguistic lectures of Friderick Müller, Miklozhich and Büller at the University. He concluded his studies in 1869 and received a diploma, which was located in his estate. He was not however, able to rise to the challenge of also passing the prescripted exams, which would result in lending him financial support, being that he already exclusively studied comparative lingusitcs, which he considered more important than exams.

After he was done with his studies, he got what appears to be his first employment as prefect at a private grammar school in Fresitadt in Upper Austria where he remained until 1887. As Dr Susan reported, Topolovshek had particularly bad memories of this period in his life; this comes as no surprise to anyone who knows that this establishment was charged with raising young corrupt youths and steering them towards the right track. This was not something Topolovshek, a noble-hearted recluse and odd man was suited for, because he did not know how to counter the corrupted youth striving only for indecency.

After he left this employment, he is said to have worked as assistant clerk at the Central Statistics Commission in Vienna for a while. It is not possible to ascertain how long he remained employed there, but it was not very long judging by a postcard from 1887, which was sent to him by the then prefect of the Viennese Theresianum Rudolf Knesek, asking Topolovshek if he would be prepared to take the position of a home teacher (hofmeister) in the countryside.

It seems this transpired in Autumn of 1887, for it has been determined that he worked for several years as a home teacher of a certain count’s family, in whose company he also made several lengthy trips, particularly to Italy.



He never named it, but it is probable that this was the family of Count Reverter, Italian emissary to the court in Vienna, this is evident from a certain letter. Topolovshek only left this position in July of 1896. Officially it has been precisely determined that, due to Count Ivan Harrach’s recommendation, Topolovshek was called to work at the »administrative library« at the Austrian Ministry of Interior and remained in their employ until the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. As it appears, Topolovshek was quite content working there, particularly because his superiors were noble hearted men.

While there, he was also often seriously advised, to pass those exams already so as to become eligible for the position of state clerk and so improve his financial state. The Ministry even committed to pay his exam fees. Furthermore, Dr Susan intervened on his behalf with Professor Jagich, so that he wouldn’t make difficulties impeding Topolovshek’s receiving his doctorate. But Topolovshek ignored all these efforts. It seems that he did not trust Professor Jagich’s promise, for, as I will describe later, he was his greatest academic adversary, who had submitted Topolovshek’s first work to destructive criticism. Topovshek’s estate also included his dissertation on the etymology of Homer’s bird names »Zur Etymologie der homerischen Vogelnamen«. This work is a testament to his extreme wide-reaching and profound knowledge in the field of linguistics. But the dissertation was not kindly received by professor Jagich, who made certain largely dismissive censorious observations, which directly resulted in Topolovshek becoming forever disinterested or incapable of deciding to tackling any and all rigorous examinations in future.

Having never passed exams, Topolovshek was unprotected by written certificates, and remained for the duration of his life an assistant clerk, though even here he was able to ascend to the highest possible grade of upper official, particular because he was dutiful in his work and highly useful.

In 1888, two American universities offered him positions of lecturer in Native American languages, but he refused them for two reasons: His mother fell ill at the time and asked him not to go to the distant Americas, because she would never see him again, the trip to the Americas was also quite perilous at the time. Furthermore, his estate contained two letters by American missionaries from the same year, warning him against taking the offered positions, which would in no way satisfy him, because these Universities actually had the character of town schools. This was supposedly the deciding factor that steered him to reject the offered positions at these American universities.

In 1910 he was also called to the University of the town of Löwen in Belgium to work as university professor in Sanskrit, Celtic language and Slavic studies as well as native American languages, as Topolovshek’s letter replying to the rectorate of the afore named university attests. No clue was uncovered as to the reason behind the decision to decline the professorship, but surely it was that he was not prepared to interrupt his scientific studies.

The World War, which fundamentally altered all circumstances, also had a great deal of influence on our Topolovshek.

While his life before the war was marked by poverty because he could never decide to undertake anything, therefore due to his own fault, his position after the World War became simply unbearable. Due to increasing prices he suffered shortages, for his pay no longer sufficed to support him and he would not touch the savings he had set aside for his old age, and so he starved in the literal sense of the word, abandoned by the world. Allow me to give an excerpt from a letter written by court councillor Dr Susan on 16 April 1921: »Since Ivan Topolovshek in June of 1918 failed to come to the office for a few days and I knew not what befell him, I drove to Marua Enzersdorf, where he had been living since 1897, in his old friend Jakob Pukl’s house, who had passed away in 1913. He had a small room there. I will not forget the moment I entered his room for as long as I shall live. Topolovshek’s was in extremely poor state, he was utterly feeble and lay powerless in his bed. I fetched the doctor who ascertained the danger of heart failure. With the aid of the ministry I was able to get him to a hospital, where he received better food and good care. At the hospital, he soon recovered enough to be able to depart. On 15 December of 1918, Topolovshek departed for his brother Jozhef’s in Trebnje in the Slovenian Dolenjska region. At any rate, he would have been unable to stay in Vienna, since the political change rendered it impossible for him to keep his employment. He stayed with his brother, a retired schoolmaster and proprietor, until 3 November 1920. He received proper brotherly care, wanting for nothing, but there was no saving our Topolovshek. Years of starvation and shortage had rendered him so weakened that his legs had gone numb and needed to be relegated to the hospital in Ljubljana. Soon after, he was transferred to a mental hospital, because every now and then his mind would go. He died there on 6 January 1921 due to pneumonia and was buried on 8 January at the local cemetery. His funeral was neither attended by the University of Ljubljana, nor mentioned by the Slovenian Writer’s Society. Four persons followed his coffin; two brothers, one nephew, and some other woman who knew him previously. Thus our nation buried this scholar.

Ivan Topolovshek was of medium build and rather strong stature. His personal traits were fairly recounted for us by Dr Susan, who had shared an office with Topolovshek for 21 years, liked him, respected him, and supported him in his scientific aspirations and was his benevolent supervisor. 

In the aforementioned letter he writes: »Topolovshek was a man who kept to himself, never pushing to the forefront and though we were together for so many years and in the best personal relationships, having even shared a flat in Maria Enzersdorf, I was yet never able to catch a glimpse of his inner thoughts.

He was peculiar and as such kept his inner and outer life secret. He is believed to have abandoned the study of theology for the sake of a profound love for a girl, who died early. If this occurrence had a profound impact on Topolovshek, it would explain why he became a recluse in his later years opting to distance himself from the rest of the world. The first time I saw him, he was still auditing lectures at the University of Vienna. I would always notice this older man at the university library with heaps of books before him, who seemed like some priest. We younger students always stared at him with great curiosity, and even then he was already known as a linguist. This was Topolovshek, who spent a large part of the day at the library in front of a heap of books. We didn’t get acquainted at the time.«

Dr Susan continues: »Whenever and wherever Topolovshek sat, stood, or walked, his mind was always set on linguistics. This scholar’s life was governed by scarcity and lack of any accelerating recognition, repelling everything, which could potentially make human life pleasant in any way. For this reason I developed a profound respect for him. Topolovshek was a man of character, with a good heart, and in spite of being poor himself he was generous towards others. He was a noble soul in the midst of a materialistic world. He was Slavic through and through, ever loyal to his nation yet he loved all and hated none.



Perhaps you will value my opinion of Topolovshek more if I add that I’m German and that it is therefore not some conventional brotherly love that makes my memories of Topolovshek so very precious.« –

I have almost nothing further to add, except that by lucky chance Topolvshek had always had reasonable and compassionate superiors in his profession, which somewhat lightened the burden of his life, which was cast upon his shoulders by his adversaries in the field of science.



II. Topolovshek’s Scientific Activity


Already in his youth, his logical deduction and intensive study in the field of comparative linguistics led Topolovshek to conclude that European Slavs were a primordial nation and that already in prehistory Slovenian language played an important, though thus far unexplained role. The fruit born of his several years of study in the field of general comparative linguistics was the publication of the first part of his book »Die basko-slavische Spracheincheit« (Wien, Gerold.) in 1894, wherein he discusses comparative phonetics of the Basque-Slavic languages.

The book is dedicated to Count Ivan Harrach. He, a passionate Slav and a friend to Slovenians, covered the expenses of its publication. But the book hit the scientific community by surprise and unpleasantly, and so its content and resulting conclusive consequences were critically renounced with such ardour that the second part of the book, which was to discuss the history of the Basques and Iberians, syntax, and the history of Basque linguistic monuments, never came about.

Slavic linguist Jagich exposed himself in a way, which surpassed all the boundaries of what is allowed in cases of opposing scientific positions; he based his judgement on a prior criticism of Basque language expert Hugon Schuhardt, who stated that Topolovshek is ignoring everything, which the rest of us view as a dependable (!) result of previous research«. He adds, as though it were some oddity, that Topolovshek interprets for example »espiritu santub-a -- gau« (spiritually holy) as »spiritu santu, bagau« and can therefore detect ‘Bog’, the Slovenian designation for God, in the last word. »No man of science needs to be told what value such works hold!« – Even the most naïve layperson must realize that Shuhardt is on the entirely wrong track here, since the blunder was caused by the refined spelling »b-a-gau.«

Only the ensuing words of the condemnation of Topolovshek, which Dr Jagich pronounced in his book »Archiv für slav. Philologie« (1894m S. 528 f) will be cited here, sufficiently defining, how little conscience Jagich exercised as a critic. 

He writes: Perhaps it might not be too much to add that chance lent me the opportunity to warn against the publication of this book without seeing it (!) when the text was still in manuscript form, and that an to recommend an expert evaluation of this book, which would of course come out against allowing it to be printed.« This poorly considered admission on Jagich’s part demonstrates the lacking depth of his conscience and his character. Just as Jagich had previously invented a special Bosnian language for Kallay, he in Topolovshek’s case obstructed the publication of a book, whose contents were unknown to him. Jagich merely intuits that Topolovshek disagrees with his hypotheses and attempts to assert his position in the following way: »My suggestion was rejected. I proposed it, not out of consideration for the author, for he deserves no consideration (!) – but rather in order to spare Slovenian philology further accusations of yet another etymological fallacy. I was of the opinion that we Slavs have sacrificed enough offerings to the alluring siren called etymology and since we already had the poor luck to have incurred the etymological blunders of the likes of Dankowszky, Jan Kollár, Shember, and Trstenjak, it would be truly superfluous to have these errors joined by Topolovshek’s as well. Whereas the etymological blunders above could be forgiven to some degree because they date to the beginning decades of the previous century, there is no excuse for the extreme delusion manifest in this late 19th century Topolovshek’s book etc.«



But things turned out differently. It has long since been recognized that Jagich by no means owns the universal patent of the one true etymology; on the contrary, it is growing clearer daily that the ones whom he branded ignorant were in fact right; that Jagich was the one who bowed to scientific opportunism, which cast his character in very unflattering light, because he feared any dissenting opinion already as a point of course. A conscientious, fundamentally spiritually and ethically accomplished man would never imagine himself to know everything there is while simply pronouncing everyone who disagreed ignorant. Unbridled criticism always points to a tyrant and autocrat defending some rotten thing, which can only be killed with a cane, never with reason of intellect. This whole matter unfolded at a time when talk of the venerable age and cultural significance of Slavs was not a welcome topic in Austria; this was when they wanted to declare the old Czech manuscripts forgeries, and when any Slav who would speak against such bending of the truth was proclaimed a »Panslavist«. Nearly all the slavists of that same time – with the honourable exception of the Graz local Slovenian slavist Dr Gregor Krek – submitted to opportunism, knowing that such caution would not be left unrewarded. In addition, the afore mentioned book also rejects the hypothesis about the migration of nations and because the majority of slavists wanted to preserve said hypothesis in permanence because all their teachings were based on it, simply had to ridicule Topolovshek’s book as a figment of imagination.





Topolovshek dedicated his entire life to pioneering and brilliant linguistic research, alas he simultaneously suffered the archetypical fate of the overlooked genius, a rooster crowing too early, who spent years of his time of discovery in starvation, lonely, and abandoned until he finally passed away at the Ljubljana Mental Hospital at Studenec. No paper published his necrology, no one honoured the memory of the deceased genius who sought similarities and kinship between languages, at a time when everyone else was looking only for differences between them, and who found them even between languages whose speakers have no known historic or geographic connections. For example, he uncovered similarities between Slovenian or Slavic and Basque and even the completely foreign native American Quechua languages. He ascribed the similarities he’d uncovered to their linguistic primordial kinship due to the fact that all languages stem from a single primordial language, to which, unbeknownst even to Topolovshek himself, our Slovenian remains the most similar.

Always interested in linguistics he studied in Vienna with Mikloshich, who unwisely left his chair to Vatroslav Jagich, his Croatian assistant and one of the first Croatian nationalists; Jagich prevented Topolovshek from graduating. As a result, he had to make his living as a lower clerk for years, spending all of his extra time and energy examining and researching words in various languages; however, once he began publishing books, he quickly lost his job, like his brother in arms Zhunkovich, who was forced into disabled retirement after his books gained success at the start of the previous century. Zhunkovich also died in complete anonymity and oblivion. Both authors’ books were banned by the authorities after World War I and remained so in new Yugoslavia. The first to rekindle the memory of their lives, work, and discoveries before the close of the previous century were Slovenian Venetologists and now you can access the translations of their two most important works: Zhunkovich’s Kdaj so Slovani naselili Evropo [When did the Slavs Settle Europe] and Topolovshek's Jezikovno prasorodstvo [Ancient Lingusitc Kinship], which nicely complement the efforts of Venetologists to disclose the historic truth of our past, as they reveal, both separately and together, countless irrefutable facts proving that official history is a lie and fabrication. They are also rarely wrong about anything, a vast majority of their discoveries and explanations are significant additions to Slovenian linguistics and Slovenian history, or pre-history and history of mankind in general, which is why both works deserve to be read attentively.

(Peter Amalietti, foreword to Ivan Topolovshek, Jezikovno prasorodstvo Indoevropejcev, Semitov in Indijancev [Primoridal Linguistic Kinship of Indo-Europeans, Semites, and American Indians]; transl. Andrej Godesha; Ljubljana, 2018)





Zhunkovich’s report of Topolovshek’s life and work ran in instalments in Strazha, neodvisen politichen list za slovensko ljudstvo, Maribor, XlV., 1922. The supplement to the translation of Topolovshek’s book only includes its first two parts. Our publication includes all four parts marked with numbers in brackets. At the close of the final part, the Strazha edition included an unfulfilled promise (more next time). Designations date: (1) 10 May 1922, 54; (2) 15 May 1922, 56; (3) 17 May 1922, 57; (4) 19 May 1922, 70. – Zhunkovich’s language is preserved in its original form, with only a few obvious grammatical mistakes corrected.

Dr Kamilo Susan, Topolovshek’s Vienna acquaintance: original name Camillo Valerian Susan (1861, Wells by Linz – 1959 Vienna) Austro-German clerk, poet, essayist, critic. Count Ivan Harrach, original: Graf Johann Nepomuk von Harrach (1828, Vienna – 1909, ibid.), Austrian industrialist, politician, proprietor, and patron of arts and sciences in Czech; of Czech descent, favourable to Slavs. Revertera noble family, originally: Revertera-Salandra from Catalonia, in 1771 moved to Austria from S. Italy (Salandra), Count Nikolaus Revertera-Salandra (1866, S. Petersburg – 1952, Pisa), Austro-Hungarian diplomat. Jakob Pukl (1849, Zheche by Sl. Konjice – 1913, Maria Enzersdof by Vienna), from a wealthy farmer family, studied law in Vienna, reserve officer, married to a rich widow from M. E.; patriotic activist, publicist, supporter of Slovenian students in Vienna (incl. I. Cankar). Dr Grega Krek (1840, Chetena Ravan by Sh. Loka – 1905, Gradec, bur. in Lj.), linguist and poet; classical philologist and slavist, first prof. of slavistics at the University of Graz. Vatroslav Jagich (1838, Varazhdin – 1923, Viena, buried in Var.), Croatian linguist-slavist.

(Ed. I. A.’s note)


Translated from Slovenian by Jaka Jarc




Slovenian (gajica)

Slovenian (bohorichica)