Staszic, Stanislaw Wawrzyniec

views updated


(b. Pila, Poland, November 1755; d. Warsaw, Poland, 20 January 1826)

geology, organization of educational and scientific institutions.

Staszic was the youngest son of Wawrzyniec Staszic, a miller and mayor of Pila, and Katarzyna Mędlicka. who intended her son to become a priest. After attending secondary school in Poznań, he took minor orders on 2 January 1774 and then studied theology for two years. In July 1778 he was granted a church benefice and was appointed chancellor of the collegiate church in Szamotuly. The following year he published his first works, a Polish translation of Racine’s La réligion and of Voltaire’s Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne.

A legacy from his father enabled Staszic to complete his education abroad. He studied at the universities of Leipzig and Güttingen and then followed courses in the sciences of nature for two years at the Collège Royal de France under Brisson and Daubenton. The latter’s influence combined with that of Buffon to arouse in Staszic a strong interest in the sciences of the earth, and in 1786 he published a Polish translation of Buffon’s Époques de la nature, adding his own comments. Staszic also found occasion in Paris to settle his philosophical outlook. Influenced mainly by the encyclopedists. he adopted the principles of rationalism and utilitarianism, which exerted a considerable effect on his life and activity.

Staszic returned to Poland in 1781 by way of the Alps and the northern Apennines, That year he was employed by the former chancellor. Count Andrzej Zamoyski, as tutor to his two sons. During the next dozen years Staszic’s high salary and skill in financial dealings enabled him to earn a considerable fortune, on which he later drew for philanthropic and scientific purposes. In 1782 he obtained his doctorate in canon and civil law from the Academy of Zamość.

Toward the end of 1794, after the suppression of the Kościuszko insurrection, Staszic accompanied Zamoyski’s widow and sons to Vienna, where he remained until his young charges had completed their education. He returned to Poland in 1797 and began geologic investigations, traveling to Silesia and Saxony early in 1804 for this purpose. In the summer of 1805 he organized a research expedition to the Tatra Mountains and on 21 August was the first man to climb the Lomnice Peak, the second highest of the range. Staszic was co-founder and organizer of the Towarzystwo Przyjaciól Nauk (Society of the Friends of Science), established in 1800 in Warsaw, becoming chairman in 1808. In 1801 he bought the building that was the society’s first home, and between 1820 and 1823 he commissioned and provided most of the funds for the construction of the Staszic Palace and for Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of Copernicus that stands in front of it.

In 1807, following the creation of the duchy of Warsaw, Staszic published O statystce Polski krótki rzut wiadomości (“On the Statistics of Poland”), in which he presented the essential geographic, demographic, and economic data needed by the new administration. Concentrating on the organization of educational institutions and on the development of the mining industry, Staszic participated from 1807 in the work of the chamber of education, and in 1808 he became a member of the supreme examining commission and was elected chairman of the council of the school of law and administration. Beginning in 1809 he supervised the organization of the medical school, and in 1813, during the final period of the duchy of Warsaw, he established the chair of geology and mineralogy at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow.

With the establishment of the kingdom of Poland at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Staszic was appointed a member of the council of state and of the department of national education; and in 1816 he became head of the directorate of industry and crafts. He was also elected chairman of the general council of the newly established University of Warsaw.

As a high-ranking official in the finance ministry, Staszic initiated a systematic development of the mining and metallurgical industries and of related research. He expanded the industrial center in the świętokrzyskie Mountains, which had been established by the duchy of Warsaw, and he planned and supervised the construction of a network of mines, metallurgical plants, and factories, supplying them with the best available technical equipment and securing satisfactory working and living conditions and medical assistance for the miners. For the center of this industrial network he chose the town of Kielce, where in 1816 he established the directorate of mining and founded the first mining academy in Poland, staffing them with Polish experts and with specialists from Saxony.

Staszic’s investigations of the structure of geological formations was related to his administrative work. Beginning in 1805 he published the results of these studies in the Rocznik towarzystwa przyjaciól nauk, compiling them in 1815 as O ziemiorództwie Karpatów i innych gór i równin Polski (“On the Geology of the Carpathians and of Other Mountain Ranges and Plains of Poland”). Accompanied by a four-sheet map and numerous plates, the work was the first geologic synthesis of Poland made by a Polish author, and it earned Staszic the sobriquet “the father of Polish geology.” His remarkable geologic intuition is evident in his conclusion, while describing some small findings of sulfur southeast of the Świętokrzyskie range, that large deposits of sulfür existed at a considerably greater depth: this hypothesis was fully confirmed after World War II with the discovery of the Tarnobrzeg sulfur basin.

Toward the end of his life Staszic quarreled with the influential secretary of the treasury Count Ksawery Drucki-Lubecki, and in 1824 he was obliged to relinquish management of the mining industry. His contribution to scientific research and social reform is commemorated in the naming of many schools, the mining academy in Cracow, and several fossil species of animals and plants for him.


I. Original Works. In addition to those works cited in the text. Staszic published “Géologie des montagnes de l’ancienne Sarmatie” and “Sur les mélanites trouvés en Pologne,” in Journal de physique, de chimie, d’histoire naturelle el des arts, 65 (1807). O. ziemiorodztwie Karpatów (Warsaw, 1815) was reprinted (Warsaw, 1955) with foreword by Walery Goetel.

II. Secondary Literature. Stanislaw Staszic (Lublin, 1926), published on the centenary of Staszic’s death, includes a bibliography of his works, biographical studies, und a discussion of various aspects of his scientific career. On his pedagogic work, see Tadcusz Nowacki, Materialy do dzialalności pedagogicznej Stanislawa Staszica (Wroclaw, 1957). On his activities until 1795, see Czeslaw Leśniewski. Stanislaw Staszic, Jego zycie i ideologia w dobie Polskie niepodleglej, 1755–1795 (Warsaw, 1925). His travel journals were published as Dziennik podrózy, C. Leśniewski, ed. (Cracow, 1931). A recent biography is Barbara Szacka, Stanislaw Staszic (Warsaw. 1966).

StanisŁaw Czarniecki

About this article

Staszic, Stanislaw Wawrzyniec

Updated About content Print Article