Fryderyk Skarbek’s apartment
Fryderyk Florian Skarbek opens his Pamiętniki [Memoirs] thus: ‘I was born in the final decade of the eighteenth century, and I am still alive in the second half of the nineteenth. Several decades of change and extraordinary events have passed before me, leaving a huge store of events and recollections in my mind. Now that I am in the twilight of my years, these would be well worth preserving for those who come after me’. Skarbek was an outstanding economist, a Warsaw University professor, a senior civil servant and a talented writer. What concerns us most in the context of the Chopin family, however, is that he was tutored by Mikołaj Chopin at Żelazowa Wola in 1802–1805 and was the godfather of Fryderyk Chopin.
Fryderyk Skarbek, like the rest of his family, played a major role in the life of the Chopins and their children, and he remained on familiar terms with them the longest. He might have held little Fryderyk at his baptism, just after his birth at Żelazowa Wola (this very fact could imply that the future great composer was born on a date other than the one commonly accepted, as Skarbek was staying at Paris on a scholarship in 1810 and could only have assisted at the baptism if it had been performed in 1809).
Count Skarbek was close to his childhood teacher, Mikołaj Chopin, and modelled the main character of his novel Pamiętniki Seglasa [Seglas’s memoirs], set in contemporary Warsaw as seen through the eyes of a tutor from France, on him. He was a grateful pupil, who described Mikołaj Chopin in his memoirs by stressing his upright nature and even-tempered disposition: ‘respecting Polish people and being thankful for the land and its people, among whom he found a hospitable reception and an adequate means of making a living, he repaid them honestly out of an obligation of gratitude by conscientiously educating their offspring to become useful citizens’.
Skarbek led a highly productive scholarly, and especially public and political, life. The decisions he made and the measures he undertook frequently exposed him to controversy. Eventually, however, he earned the recognition and gratitude of his contemporaries. This appears to be summarised in an obituary written by Kazimierz Wójcicki, an expert on Warsaw: ‘Count Fryderyk Skarbek passed away on the 25th of this month aged 75 […]. Count Skarbek will not only be mourned by his family: the loss of such a person leaves society bereft. […]
‘He was the first to elevate the priesthood of learning above vanity. He combined an ancient and dignified name with the rank of Warsaw University professor and writer, and did not conceal his contempt for mitred idlers.
‘Count Skarbek revered the beautiful memories of the past and preserved them in his writings. He felt deeply obligated to make his personal contributions worthy of standing alongside those of his august forebears and to be able to place his hand on his heart and say: “I hoed the field I was allotted; I worked as best I could and knew how”.
‘The infirmities of old age did not bend his body, wrinkle his face or bedim his eyes. […] He rejoiced in every acquisition that was useful to our community. He worked for as long as he had breath in his body. Only death could snatch the pen he wielded in aid of serious learning, literature and domestic politics from his hand.
‘With the passing of Count Skarbek, we lose the last member of the Warsaw Society for the Friends of Learning’.
The townhouse at the rear of the seat of the Warsaw Society for the Friends of Learning on ul. Nowy Świat, where Fryderyk Skarbek lived in 1826–1829 (if not longer), no longer exists.