Vanessa Redgrave
Stane Sever


1800-21   Childhood years spent in Vrba and with his uncles, school years in Ljubljana  
rance was born into a farmer's family, as the first son and third child of Šimen and Mina Prešeren. Research into Prešeren had established his date of birth as 3rd December 1800, but recently some doubts have surfaced about this; the Slovene genealogy association, which drew up a detailed family-tree of the Prešeren family, asserts that the date of the poet's birth is 2nd December, whilst on the 3rd he was christened and his name entered in the register of births. But let us leave the exact date of Prešeren's birth as a challenge to researchers, whilst for us the only important fact is that Prešeren was born at all. The Prešeren's farm, known in the village as 'pri Ribičevih' was quite modern by the standards applying in those days, and Šimen was quite a progressive farmer. In addition to farming, he also grew fruit. Another additional source of income was transporting various goods: with his cart and horses he travelled the length and breadth of Upper Carniola. Šimen decided that France, as his first son, was to succeed him on the farm. This, however, was not in line with the plans of the poet's mother Mina. She was considerably more ambitious than Šimen, as well as being better educated, and she wanted to enable her children to break into the middle class. Her sons were to become priests, a position already acquired by quite a few members of the wider Prešeren family. Mina taught her children to read and write, and she sent them away from home very early - to various uncles who served God in different parishes. Whilst the daughters worked as housekeepers for their uncles, the sons were educated. Šimen did not have much say in the matter.

  France had to leave his native village of Vrba when he was just eight years old and he returned home only during holidays and even then infrequently. Some of the reasons for the poet's complex personality undoubtedly lie therein. Prešeren first moved to live with his Great Uncle Jožef, a priest in Kopanje near Grosuplje. Uncle Jožef spent two years teaching him and then enrolled him into the elementary school in Ribnica. Prešeren was sufficiently bright and hardworking to fulfil his school obligations with ease. He was among the best pupils and his name was entered in the 'golden book' of achievers. During his years in Ribnica, an event happened that marked Prešeren for the rest of his life. Even on his deathbed in Kranj he moaned to his relatives gathered around him "that it would've been better for me if I'd never been to Ribnica". Researchers never really established the background of this statement, but it clearly refers to an experience which was somehow linked to sexuality. Indeed, Prešeren's attitude to women was unusual at the very least, if not bordering on the pathological. But this, too, remains as a challenge for those studying his life.

  Prešeren attended the third year of elementary school in Ljubljana. Here, too, he had no problems with his studies and he excelled particularly in learning classical languages and the translation of the Greek and Latin poets. He suffered no particular hardship, and he earned a little bit extra by giving private tuition to his less gifted school friends. For a while, he lived with his younger brother Jožef who, according to the testimony of their contemporaries, was the most handsome and the most talented member of the Prešeren family. Unfortunately, Jožef soon fell ill and in 1815 died, in only his first year at school. In Ljubljana, Prešeren met people who accompanied him in one way or another through the rest of his life: Andrej Smole, Blaž Crobath, Miha Kastelic, Matija Čop, as well as the "little monk" Anton Martin Slomšek. Some time during this period, Prešeren realised that he did not feel the calling for what his mother Mina wanted most - the priesthood. He was more and more tempted by law and he decided to go to Vienna, where he enrolled in the third year of a course in philosophy. In those days, this was a precondition for the subsequent study of law.

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