Karel Capek


With the self-evidence of his age, he always made plans in the future tense: "I will go, I will write, I will do." As if he had an unbounded plain of time before him. But at the same time he felt consciously the pressure of the briefness of his life, and so he rushed to publish his ideas, shortening his stories into shorter stories or fables. In the evil times, he confided to Karel Polacek that he was afraid of dying because he'd never done it and didn't know how to do it. "Don't be afraid, Capek, you get everything right," Polacek comforted him with a smile, because both of them knew that the approaching death of Czechoslovakia would be their death as well. And Karel Capek refused to leave the country, he stayed at home to accept death from the hand he hated most, so that he would hear his sentence passed with Czech soil beneath his feet... Olga Scheinpflugova, Literarni noviny (Literary News), 1965

Karel Capek's grave, click for close-up

In the fateful months for Czechoslovakia in 1938, most of his mental and physical strength left him, he started to visibly lose weight; he spoke, explained to and urged France and England not to leave his land to die, and he dreaded it everytime he learned that those in whom he believed most were unprepared. And when Henlein started to make his brazen demends, Capek increased the number of entries, facts and meetings in his diary, as well as the number of obligations and promises to the radio and newspapers, and his time was fought over by people both invited and uninvited. And then came Munich. Capek's faith turned to despair, he refused food, and, beaten, worn and exhausted, with an ominous silence he came to the realization that he was of no use. "It seems to me that I now have nothing to do. I would be a ridiculous figure, my world is dead, I believed in such obligations, in so-called honour, in agreements and such things. I think that I wouldn't know my way around such a crush."

Several days before Christmas Eve, he was so worn out he could no longer stay on his feet. Since the start of December, he wife Olga Scheinpflugova had followed with concern how he never ceased in his work, though he had a cold, cough and flu, and barely touched his food. The doctor who came to see him, Dr. Steinbach, found him in bed and ordered him to stay there for Christmas. Karel Capek didn't protest, he simply extended his hand to Steinbach and begged him: "Stay with me. Somehow my days have been numbered this whole year, with all this ugliness, all this work, strain and distaste. But I can't let myself be sick now, I have to write..." He was wracked with rough, wheezing coughs and collapsed to the pillow. The doctor and Olga watched over him through the night. He feel into fits of exhausted sleep, his body wracked by spasms of heavy coughing from deep in his chest and resounding up his spine to his brain. Deathly fatigue from the incessant coughing enfeebled him and drained his mental strength as well; as if everything he had endured and suffered through for the last weeks had suddenly been transformed into an immaense weight which pulled him to the bottom. He knew that it didn't look good for him and that the fever was sapping his exhausted mind's will to fight.

Christmas Eve came without joy, the Christmas tree sat bare in a corner of the cellar. No one was allowed in to see the sick man, except for his brother Josef. They looked at one another, Karel's eyes begged: talk. Josef overcame the burning in his eyes so he wouldn't burst into tears, as his brother's sunken face horrified him, and talked of their childhood together. Then he went out into the corridor and cried. The next night was split up into two halves, and when the morning of the 26th came, Doctor Steinbach told Olga that he was going for Professor Charvat. He didn't tell her that Karel's status was critical. "You have double pneumonia," the professor told the sick man. "Such an intelligent man as yourself, I can't decieve you with nonsense, after all." He didn't comply with Olga's wishes, not to tell him about the ilness, and told him straight out. The patient knew it anyway and whispered: "I thought so... but I won't endure it."

In front of the Vysehrad villa on Ve stromach street stood a crowd of people. Neighbors from the area, a couple of journalists, and friends. The window of the sick man's room was wide open to let him breath. His lungs, however, refused to work. He struggled for breath and choked. With his last strength, he carressed Olga's hand, and then extended his first two fingers. She knew what he wanted to say - when they took each others' hands in marriage, he had held two fingers before her eyes as if taking an oath: We are two, Olga, two in everything. In love, in happiness and suffering. Now he simply wanted to say: Even in death we are two... He fell away from her and death came to him then. It was 6:43 in the evening, the day after Christmas, God's Feast in Bohemia, 1938, and Karel Capek was dead fifteen days before his 49th birthday.

From the biography Gates of Eternity about the Capek Brothers


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