Life and work
Vodnik was born in Zgornja Šiška, now a suburb of Ljubljana, Slovenia, then part of the Habsburg Monarchy. He was raised in a relatively well-to-do peasant-artisan family. He became a Franciscan and studied in Ljubljana, Novo Mesto and Gorizia, finishing his studies in 1782.
He worked as a priest in Ljubljana, in the Upper Carniolan village of Sora, in Bled, and in Ribnica. In 1793 he returned to Ljubljana and joined the intellectual circle of Sigmund Zois, in which several figures of the Slovenian Enlightenment gathered. Zois remained Vodnik's sponsor until his death. In 1797, Vodnik became a professor at the Lyceum in Ljubljana.
Vodnik dedicated himself to writing poetry in the Slovene, which he referred to as the Carniolan. His first poems were published in Marko Pohlin's collections of Slovene folk songs. Vodnik's poetry was relatively simple, with a generally patriotic and satirical character. One of his most famous poems, "Dramilo" (A Pick-me-up), is a poetic appeal to Slovenes to be proud of their land, language, and heritage. In 1806, he published his first collection of poetry, entitled Pesme za pokušino (Poems for Sampling). He was also the editor of the first Slovenian newspaper Lublanske novice, which was issued twice a week from 1797 to 1800.
In addition to poetry and journalism, Vodnik also wrote grammars, textbooks, and even the first Slovene-language cookbook (Kuharske bukve, 1799) and a translation of a manual for midwives (Babištvo, "Midwifery"; 1818) by Johann Matoschek (Slovene: Jan Matoušek; 1790–1820).
In the 1810s, he became a fervent supporter of the French occupation of the Slovene Lands. In 1809, he wrote a poem, called Ilirija oživljena ("Illyria Reborn"), in which he praised Napoleon Bonaparte for having established the Illyrian Provinces. During the short-lived French administration, he was instrumental in convincing the authorities to promote the use of Slovene in education, culture, and administration. After the return of Austrian rule in 1813, most of these reforms in language policy were retained, but Vodnik himself was viewed with mistrust. He was retired and removed from public life. He died in Ljubljana less than a month before his 61st birthday. He is buried in the Navje cemetery.
Vodnik is generally regarded as the first real poet in the Slovene language, as well as the first journalist. In his writings, written in the old bohoričica orthography, he used his native Upper Carniolan dialect, into which he incorporated words and grammatical features from other Slovenian dialects to make it more widely understood. Although he is rarely praised for being a deep or original poet, his poems convey honest sentiments, and his use of irony is noteworthy. As a member of Sigmund Zois' circle, he helped several younger talents, among whom also France Prešeren, the most important Slovenian poet. After Vodnik's death, Prešeren wrote two elegies in his memory.
Valentin Vodnik was selected as the main motif for a recent commemorative coin series: the 250th anniversary of the birth of Valentin Vodnik, minted in January 2008. The obverse shows Valentin Vodnik's profile, the bottom portion of the coin is inscribed with the last verse of the poem "Moj spomenik," which in English says:
"No daughter no son, to come after me, enough memory done, my songs sing of me." The same verses are inscribed on the back side of the Vodnik Monument at Vodnik Square. The monument was erected in 1889. The bronze statue and the simple pedestal were made by Alojz Gangl. Some elements related to the faithfulness to the Illyrian Provinces were added to the pedestal in 1929.
- Marija Vrečar, Winden – Krainer – Slowenen? : Valentin Vodniks "Lublanske novice" (1797–1800) : Elemente der nationalen Ideologie im Umfeld der ersten Zeitung in slowenischer Sprache(Ljubljana-Klagenfurt-Wien: Hermagoras/Mohorjeva, 1999)
- Valentin Vodnik biography (In Slovenian language)
- "Spomeniki zaslužnim možem" [Monuments to Deserving Men] (in Slovenian). Government Communication Office, Republic of Slovenia. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
- Mesesnel, France (1925–1991 (printed ed.). 2009 (electronic ed.)). "Gangl Alojz". In Vide Ogrin, Petra (electronic ed.). Cankar, Izidor et al. (printed ed.). Slovenski biografski leksikon (in Slovenian). ISBN 978-961-268-001-5. Check date values in:
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Valentin Vodnik.|
- Janko Kos, Valentin Vodnik (Ljubljana: Partizanska knjiga, 1990)
- Works by or about Valentin Vodnik at Internet Archive
- Works by Valentin Vodnik at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)