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Writers and Essayists and the Rise of Magyar Nationalism in the 1820s and 1830s

  • Laszlo Deme


It is a generally accepted fact that the French Revolution took place in the realm of ideas before it started in the streets. The philosophes demolished the old regime prior to 1789 and prepared the public ideologically for a new political order. They also created new ideas about nationhood and redefined the meaning of the term for the French. Hungary experienced the transition from feudalism to civil equality approximately sixty years after France, and Hungarian men of letters played a role similar to that of their French counterparts in the period before the Revolution of 1848. Since Hungary was under Austrian domination, nationalist ideas became of much greater public concern there than they had been in France.

Many aspects of early nineteenth-century Magyar nationalism still need clarification. In this article I shall examine the ideas of Magyar writers and essayists on national identity in the 1820s and 1830s.



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1. “The uncovering of the details of the [Magyar] national development is a task still to be accomplished for historical science.” Mérei, Gyula and Vörös, Károly, eds. Magyarország története 1790–1848 (“History of Hungary “), 2 vols. (Budapest, 1980), 2:1379 . These volumes are part of a series published by the Historical Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. They represent the most recent definitive synthesis of Hungarian historical scholarship.

2. For an outstanding monographic account of Széchenyi's contribution to Magyar liberalism and nationalism see Barany, George, Stephen Széchenyi and the Awakening of Hungarian Nationalism(Princeton, 1968). See also Barany, , “The Awakening of Magyar Nationalism before 1848,” Austrian History Yearbook, 2 (1966): 1954 . For an excellent introduction to and critical evaluation of the literature on Magyar nationalism see Thomas Spira, “Historians and the Nation: The Problem of Magyar National Awareness 1790–1836,” SüdostöForschungen, 32 (1973): 91–105.

3. According to the most reliable contemporary statistician there were 4,812,759 Magyars outof a total population of 12,880,406. Other major groups included Slovaks (1,687,256), Germans(1,273,677), Romanians (2,202,542), Croats (886,079), and Serbs (828,365). Elek Fényes, Magyarország statisztikája, 3 vols. (Pest, 1842–43), 1:33. Following the established practice of Englishspeakinghistorians, the word “Hungarian” will be used to denote all inhabitants of Hungary andall state–wide political and social institutions. “Magyar” will be used for the Finno–Ugric ethnic group. Since the Magyar language does not differentiate between “Magyar” and “Hungarian,” complete consistency could not always be maintained in direct quotations.

4. Meinecke, Friedrich, Cosmopolitanism and the National State (Princeton, 1970), pp. 10, 13.

5. Of a total of 544,372 nobles (including women and children) 464,705 were Magyars, 58,000Slavs, and 24,666 Germans and Romanians. Fényes, Magyarország statisztikája, 1:118.

6. For the development of early Magyar nationalism see the debate at the Historical Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, “A nacionalizmus történelmi gyökereiröl” ( “On the Historical Roots of Nationalism “), Történelmi Szemle (“Historical Review “), 3 (1960): 310–22; also Ágnes R. Várkonyi, “A nemzet, a haza fogalma a török harcok és a Habsburg–ellenes kúzdelmek idején” (“The Idea of Nation and Country During the Turkish Wars and Anti Habsburg Struggles “)in a collection of historical studies introduced by Erzsébet Andics, A magyar nacionalizmus kialakulása és története (“The Development and History of Hungarian Nationalism “) (Budapest, 1964),pp. 27–78. Literary manifestations of early nationalism are analyzed by Tibor Klaniczay in “A nacionalizmus elózményei a magyar irodalomban” (“The Antecedents of Nationalism in Hungarian Literature “), A Magyar Tudományos Akadémia Nyelv– és Irodalomtudományi Osztályának Közléminyei(“Proceedings of the Linguistics and Literature Section of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences “),16(1960):7–48.

7. On the language reform see Vilmos Tolnai, A nyelvújitás (“The Language Reform “) (Budapest,1929). Also János Horváth, Tanulmányok (“Studies “) (Budapest, 1956), pp. 119–36; Dezsö Pais, ed., Nyelvünk a reformkorban (Tanulmánygyűjtemény) ( “Our Language in the Reform Period[Collection of Studies] “) (Budapest, 1955), pp. 3–25; Pál Pándi, ed., A magyar irodalom története 1772–töl 1849–ig (“History of Hungarian Literature from 1772 to 1849 “) (Budapest, 1965), pp. 77–87, 275–81. In English see Riedl, Frederick, A History of Hungarian Literature (Detroit, 1968),pp. 88–106 , and two well–researched and informative articles, G. F Cushing, “The Birth of National Literature in Hungary,” The Slavonic and East European Review, 38 (1960); 459–75, and Spira, Thomas, “Aspects of the Magyar Linguistic and Literary Renaissance during the Vormärz,” East European Quarterly, 7 (1973): 101–24.

8. Tudományos Gyüjtemény ( “Scholarly and Scientific Review “), 1819, 11: 25.

9. The new words included Magyar terms for literature, (literary) character, statue, sculptor,wanderer, lady, ivy, virtue, favorite, spirit, university, gracefulness, copy, ideal, etc. Also words like circle, angle, equation, datum, percentage, stock market, factory, claim, capitalize, pay in installments,receipt.

10. For the connection between the language reform and general political and economic progressin Hungary see János Varga, “A nemzeti nyelv szerepe a polgári fejlödésben Magyarországon “(“The Role of the National Language in Bourgeois Development in Hungary “), Történelmi Szemle, 4(1961): 284–301.

11. Kölcsey, Ferenc, Minden munkái (“Complete Works“), 10 vols. (Budapest, 1886), 1:8184.

12. Kisfaludy, Károly, Minden munkái (“Complete Works“), 6 vols. (Budapest, 1893), 1:249314, 2:1—86.

13. On the cultural institutions of Buda and Pest, see Csahihen, Károly, Pest–Buda irodalmi élete 1780–1830 (“The Literary Life of Pest–Buda 1780–1830“), 2 vols. (Budapest, 1934), 2: 126–62.

14. Tudományos Gyüjtemény, Pest, 1817–1841 (hereafter TGy) was a monthly journal that published extensive articles and essays on language, literature, history, nationalism, philosophy, andscientific topics as well as book reviews and obituaries of noted scholars and writers. Established by János Tamás Trattner, a noted book publisher and owner of a printing shop in Pest, the journal hadapproximately 800 subscribers in the 1820s. The yearly out–of–town subscription rate was 20 forints,a relatively large sum when the yearly income of a college teacher was between 400 and 600 forints.See further Dezsényi, Béla and Nemes, Gyorgy, A magyar sajtó 250 éve (“250 Years of the Hungarian Press“) (Budapest, 1954), pp. 39–40 , and Csahihen, Pest–Buda, 2:78–82.

15. Athenaeum, Pest, 1837–1843. Published twice weekly, its contents were similar to those ofTGy, but articles were shorter and livelier.

16. Aurora, Pest, 1822–1834. Beautifully printed and illustrated with steel engravings, its giltedged yearly volumes were bound in red. pink, or white leather.

17. Florian Znaniecki, Modern Nationalities (Urbana, 111., 1952), p. 21.

18. András Thaisz (1789–1840), lawyer, poet, and translator of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe into Hungarian, edited TGy between 1818 and 1827. For his editorial role, see Gyula Farkas, A magyarromantika (“Hungarian Romanticism“) (Budapest, 1930), p. 92.

19. Basic biographical data on the contributors will be noted in subsequent footnotes, when possible. Unfortunately, authors often identified themselves only with fictitious initials or left their articles unsigned. The content of the essays indicates university training in the background of most contributors.

20. Izidor Guzmics, “A nyelvnek hármas befolyása az ember emberisitésébe, nemzetisitésébeés hazafiúsitásába” ( “The Triple Influence of Language on Man: Humanizing, Nationalizing and Making Him a Patriot “), TGy, 1822, 8: 1–36. Guzmics (1786–1839), a close friend of Kazinczy, wasa minor poet and playwright, later editor of a theological journal and member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

21. TGy, 1822, 8: 21.

22. TGy, 1832, 6: 63. Vajda (1808–1846) was a novelist, poet, and progressive journalist and later taught at a gymnasium.

23. TGy, 1827, 2: 24, 31, 34. Author not identified.

24. TGy, 1822, 11: 56. Vedres (1765–1830), an engineer, promoted the spread of the Magyar language as early as 1790. In several later articles he suggested the development of Hungarian waterways and the regulation of rivers.

25. Ibid., p. 59.

26. TGy, 1824, 3: 95.

27. Péter Vajda, “A haza” ( “The Fatherland “), Athenaeum, June 9, 1839.

28. TGy, 1822, 8: 29.

29. Athenaeum, June 9, 1839.

30. Kohn, Hans, “Romanticism and the Rise of German Nationalism,” The Review of Politics, 12 (1950): 456 .

31. de Tocqueville, Alexis, Democracy in America, 2 vols. (New York, 1945), 1:253.

32. TGy, 1831, 5: 39–41. The author, János Udvardy, was a land surveyor employed on a large estate owned by the Catholic church.

33. Gábor Sebestyén, “A magyar nyelvnek a mértékes versekre minden más nyelvek felett való alkalmatos volta” ( “The Greater Suitability of the Magyar Language to Metric Verse than That of Other Languages “), TGy, 1822, 5: 50–58.

34. Public statement by András Cházár, an official in Gömör county in 1806. Characteristically,his message was considered worth reprinting in TGy, 1825, 12: 116.

35. TGy, 1826, 12: 69–70.

36. TGy, 1822, 8: 28.

37. TGy, 1832,6: 101.

38. The reference was to Széchenyi's large contribution for the establishment of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. TGy, 1826, 12: 126.

39. Athenaeum, July 1 and 8, 1838. Lőrinc Tóth (1814–1903) was a fashionable playwright and popular liberal journalist in the 1830s and 1840s. He published a travelogue about Germany, France,and England in 1844 and supported Kossuth before the Revolution of 1848. For Tocqueville's views on U.S. patriotism see Democracy in America, 1:250–53.

40. József Kiss, “A világpolgárságró1 és hazaffságról” ( “On Cosmopolitanism and Patriotism “),TGy, 1833, 9: 65–78.

41. Athenaeum, July 1, 1838.

42. Sámuel Kovács, “A hazáró1 és annak szeretetérő l” (“On the Fatherland and One's Love for It “), TGy, 1826, 2: 56–57.

43. Lö rinc Tóth, “Világpolgárság és honszeretet” ( “Cosmopolitanism and the Love of the Fatherland “), Athenaeum, July 1, 1838.

44. Pál Hunfalvy, “Drezdai levelek” ( “Letters from Dresden “), Athenaeum, September 29,1839. Hunfalvy (1810–1891), a linguist, was director of a provincial lycée. Later he became the librarian of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

45. On the re–Magyarization of the aristocracy, see Farkas, A magyar romantika, pp. 207–208.

46. Márkus, Dezső, ed., 1836–1868 évi törvényczikkek (“Statutes of 1836–1868“) (Budapest,1896), p. 198.

47. Alajos Mednyánszky, “Hazafiúi gondolatok a magyar nyelv kiterjesztése dolgában” ( “Patriotic Thoughts about the Spread of the Magyar Language “), TGy, 1822, 1: 1–37. Mednyánszky(1784–1844), a writer and intellectual, wrote in both Hungarian and German. Originally a moderate liberal, he accepted high government positions in the 1830s. He was one of several officials responsible for lessening censorship in Pest around 1840.

48. Á dam Kovácsóczy, “Mi az oka, hogy a külföldiek és a hazánkban lakó idegenek többnyirebalul itélnek a magyar nemzetről?” (“Why Do Foreign Visitors and Foreigners Living in Our Country Mostly Misjudge the Magyar Nation?“), TGy, 1823, 9: 62–77. The author suggests that foreigners do not respect the Magyars highly enough because the Magyars themselves prefer foreign languages and things.

49. TGy, 1831, 12: 8. Author not identified.

50. István Vedres, “A magyar nemzeti lélekről egy–két szó” ( “A Few of Words on the Hungarian National Soul “), TGy, 1822, 11: 63–70. It is noteworthy that even this very conservative article created trouble for the censor who had allowed the discussion of this dangerous topic. See G. F.Gushing, “The Birth of National Literature in Hungary,” The Slavonic and East European Review, June 1960, p. 474.

51. Fiáth, Ferenc, Életem és élményeim (“My Life and Experiences“), 2 vols. (Budapest, 1878),2:71.

52. Kisfaludy, Minden munkái, 6: 393. The use of French or German must have appeared as a sign of sophistication. Kisfaludy addressed letters to his sister: “A Madame Madame Therése de Farkas née de Kisfaludy éà Vönàck. Ueber Raab, Papa, Czell,” and to young Vö rösmarty “Monsieur Monsieur Michel de Vörösmarty a Görbő” (6:235, 403).

53. Mihály Antal, “Gondolatok honi magyar nyelvünk terjesztésének némely eszközeiről “(“Thoughts on Some Means of Spreading Our Native Magyar Language“), TGy, 1827, 9: 77.

54. TGy, 1827, 2: 38. Author not identified.

55. János Udvardy, “Még egy két szó a nemzeti boldogságról” (“A Few More Words on National Happiness“), TGy, 1831, 5: 40–42.

56. Barany, Széchenyi, pp. 168–70, 180–83.

57. TGy, 1829, 2: 120.

58. TGy, 1822, 1: 3–37.

59. TGy, 1822, 1: 30.

60. Ibid.

61. Guzmics also favored instruction in Magyar because in addition to spreading the “nationalculture” it would simplify the educational process (TGy, 1822, 8: 33–34). See other articles on thelanguage of instruction: TGy, 1822, 11: 73; 1824, 12: 64; 1826, 1: 115; 1827, 2: 7, 14, 34.

62. TGy, 1826, 1: 13: Excerpts from a sermon given on December 26, 1825 in a Lutheran church in Egyháza, Pest County. See also ibid., pp, 116–17.

63. TGy, 1824, 12: 65. Author not identified.

64. Antal Sztrókay, “A nemzeti nyelv előmozditásáról” ( “On Promoting the Use of the National Language “), TGy, 1821, 2: 70–71'.

65. A deputy argued in February 1826, for instance, that because the ninth–century Magyarconquerors did not expel foreigners from the country their descendants had no right to opposeMagyarization. Another stated more moderately that for the time being it was sufficient to Magyarizethe priest and the teacher in non Magyar villages, and future generations would learn Hungarianspontaneously. See Gyula Szekfú, Iratok a magyar államnyelv kérdนsének történetéhez 1790–1848( “Documents Concerning the Question of the History of the Hungarian State Language, 1790–1848 “)(Budapest, 1926), p. 124.

66. Ibid., p. 97.

67. For contemporary reports on the Magyarization of individual counties see TGy, 1831, 3:124–25 (Pest); 1831, 4: 125 (Torontál); 1831, 6: 118–23 (Temes and Arad); 1832, 5: 126–28 (Esztergom).For a Marxist evaluation of Magyar nationalism and liberalism, see István Barta, “A magyar polgári reformmozgalom kezdeti szakaszának problémái” (“Problems of the Initial Phase of the Hungarian Bourgeois Reform Movement “), Tőrténelmi Szemle, 6 (1963): 325–42. See further FriedrichGottas, “Liberalismus und Nationalismus im ungarischen Reformzeitalter,” Österreichische Osthefte, 18 (1976): 26–43.

68. Despalatović, Elinor Murray, Ljudevit Gaj and the Illyrian Movement (Boulder, 1975), p. 87 .On Croatian nationalism, see also Wayne S. Vucinich, “Croatian Illyrism: Its Background and Genesis, “in Winters, Stanley B. and Held, Joseph, eds., Intellectual and Social Developments in the Habsburg Empire from Maria Theresa to World War I (Boulder, Colo., 1975), pp. 55113 . For the best comprehensive examination of the often conflicting nationalist aims, see Peter F. Sugar and Ivo J. Lederer, eds., Nationalism in Eastern Europe (Seattle and London, 1969).

69. Doob, Leonard W., Patriotism and Nationalism: Their Psychological Foundations (New Haven,Conn, and London, 1964), p. 253 .

70. Péter Vajda, “Nemzetiség” (“Nationality “), TGy, 1832, 6: 102.

71. János Beér, ed., Az 1848/49 évi népképviseleti országgyűlés ( “The 1848 Popular Representative Assembly “) (Budapest, 1954), p. 873.

72. “Rede zur Feier des Geburtstags S. M. des allergnaedigsten K.u.K. Ferdinand I (V). Gehaltenin d. israelitischen Tempel zu Pesth am 19. April 1840 von Löw Schwab, Oberrabbiner, Pest. “Detailed quotations and descriptions in Figyelmező (“Observer“), May 19, 1840. Figyelmező was the critical supplement of Athenaeum.

73. “A magyar asszony törvényes tekintetben” (“The Hungarian Woman from the Legal Point of View“), Aurora, 1 (1822), pp. 3–19. Article unsigned.

74. TGy, 1822, 12: 36–42. Éva Takáts, Mrs. Ferenc Karacs (1779–1845), characteristically signed her articles with both her maiden and her married names. She was the wife of an engraver of comfortable middle–class circumstances.

75. Gusztáv Szontágh and Károly Kiss, “Bajnoki hare Takáts Éva Asszony ügyében az asszonyinem érdemei s jussaiért” (“Tournement for the Cause of Éva Takáts and the Merits and Rights ofthe Female Sex“), TGy, 1826, 8: 97. The authors identified themselves as “grenadier lieutenants. “After retiring from the army Szontágh (1793–1858) attracted attention as a literary critic, aesthete,and philosopher. Kiss (1793–1866), a short story writer, helped to organize the Hungarian National Guard in 1848.

76. “A nemzetiség és a kultúra” ( “Nationality and Culture “), TGy, 1827, 2: 35. Author notidentified.

77. TGy, 1831, 5: 32.

78. Pál Edvi Illés, “Idönk géniuszáró1” (“About the Genius of Our Times“), TGy, 1829, 6:1—19; quotations from pp. 5, 10, and 19.

79. Barany, Széchenyi, pp. 212–13.

80. Kölcsey, Minden munkái, 7:63. The best biography of Kölcsey is by József Szauder, Kölcsey Ferenc (Budapest, 1955). For a sophisticated literary analysis, see Szerb, Antal, Gondolatok a könyvtárban (“Thoughts in the Library“) (Budapest, 1971), pp. 21–71 . On his politics, see Laszlo Deme, “Liberalism and Nationalism in the Hungarian Vormärz: The Ideology of Kölcsey, Ferenc, “in Connelly, Owen, ed., The Consortium on Revolutionary Europe 1750–1850, Proceedings 1979 (Athens,Ga., 1979), pp. 300–309 .

81. For the increased importance of politics and political journalism, see Pál Pándi, “Irodalomés politika a reformkorban” ( “Literature and Politics in the Reform Period “), Irodalomtörténet (“Literary History “), 47 (1959): 15—22.

82. On Kossuth, see the outstanding monograph by Deak, Istvan, The Lawful Revolution: Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians, 1848–1849 (New York, 1979).

Writers and Essayists and the Rise of Magyar Nationalism in the 1820s and 1830s

  • Laszlo Deme


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