29 Feb 2024

Franciszek Fiszer, a Polish Flaneur

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My Polish correspondents were remembering an interesting character of an earlier time.

Does this character look familiar? Tight suit, long beard, glasses on…

On March 25, 1860, Franciszek Fiszer was born in the estate of Marcaawa near Ostrołęka. His father came from polonized German nobility, his mother was a Polish landlord. Francis was orphaned early on. He studied philosophy in Leipzig, but he didn’t finish his studies. He quickly lost his inherited property – his family flower garden Sawy was auctioned for debt in 1899. A year later, he lived permanently in Warsaw and quite quickly became the most famous figure of the Warsaw social cream, an ornament to countless balls and routs.

He always lived as an extension of his friends with all privileges and no responsibilities, and spent his life in the capital’s fashionable restaurants and cafes, at grand parties and exclusive dinners. Franciszek Fiszer was a friend of most of the most famous Polish writers, poets, artists and politicians of that time. Among Fisher’s closest friends were Bolesław Leśmian (it is believed that he created his artistic nickname), Władysław Reymont, Stefan Żeromski, Antoni Słonimski, Julian Tuwim, Jan Lechoń, Zenon Przesmycki or Artur Rubinstein. He was renowned for his existential monologues and anecdotes, his company was sought after, and the restaurant owners themselves often paid his bills, seeing him as live advertising for their places.

Franciszek Fiszer was described as exuberant, but lazy. He never published any book, though his goal was to solve the mysteries of existence and find the most perfect forms of understanding the world. He was the hero of countless anecdotes, and his character appears in almost every memory of Polish artists of the interwar period. He was a highly valued and liked man, not only for his wit and erudition, but also his benevolence – no one ever heard him speak ill of anyone. Everyone was his friend, especially young people, with whom he got along perfectly.

Franciszek Fiszer died on April 9, 1937 in Warsaw. It is believed that he was the prototype of Mr. Kleks’ character from the children’s novel Jan Brzechwa visualized by the excellent illustrator Jan Szancer.

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