Viennese Reports of Hungary.—Presburg.—Castle.—Inhabitants. —Members of the Diet.—Dinner Party.—Youth of Hungary. —Theben. —Theatre.—Promenade.—Booksellers.—Journals.
IT was about the middle of June, 1835, that we shook the dust of Vienna from our feet, and bent our steps towards the confines of Hungary. Full of the hope of adventure, with which the idea of entering a country familiar only in history or romance fills even older heads than ours, we had been for some days impatient at the dull delays of the Austrian police, and were commensurately rejoiced at their termination, and the actual commencement of our journey.
The reader would certainly laugh, as I have often done since, did I tell him one half the foolish tales the good Viennese told us of the country we were about to visit. No roads! no inns! no police! we must sleep on the ground, eat where we could, and be ready to defend our purses and our lives at every moment ! In full credence of these reports, we provided ourselves most plentifully with arms, which were carefully loaded, and placed ready for immediate use; for as we heard that nothing but fighting would carry us through, we determined to put the best face we could on the matter. It may, however, ease the reader's mind to know that no occasion to shoot anything more formidable than a partridge or a hare ever presented itself; and that we finished our journey with the full conviction, that travelling in Hungary was just as safe as travelling in England.
Why or wherefore, I know not, but nothing can
exceed the horror with which a true Austrian
regards both Hungary and its inhabitants. I have
sometimes suspected that the bugbear with which
a Vienna mother frightens her squaller to sleep,
must be an Hungarian bugbear ; for in no other
way can I account for the inbred and absurd fear
which they entertain for such near neighbours. It
is true, the Hungarians do sometimes talk about
liberty, constitutional rights, and other such terrible
things, to which no well-disposed ears should ever
be open, and to which the ears of the Viennese are
religiously closed. Worthy people! How satisfied
Our party consisted, beside myself, of my friend
Mr. S___ , and Mr. H___ ; the latter, a young
artist, to whom the reader is indebted for the cuts
with which this work is embellished. Of ourselves I need say nothing more, as our personality
will have little place in our travels. We were
provided with a good strong carriage from Brandmeyer's; a preliminary to a journey through Hungary, without which I should recommend no one
to attempt it, at least for pleasure. An Italian
servant, who had accompanied me through Italy, I
was obliged to dismiss; for lie was not only useless
In this guise, after a few hours' posting on the dusty road between Vienna and Presburg, we approached the boundary of Hungary. I proffered my passport, as usual, to the guard who opened the barrier ; but it was declined with a polite bow, and an assurance that I was in Hungary and had no longer need of it. I appeal to those who have travelled in Italy and Germany for sympathy with my delight at being once more free from the annoyance of passports, a system of impediment to the honest traveller, and of protection to the rogue. An efficient police does not require it — a bad one is only rendered more inefficient by its fancied security. My heart beat more gaily in its prison, my blood flowed more freely through my veins, as I blessed the land where some trace of personal liberty still existed. As we approached Presburg, the huge square castle came in sight ; and before long, we were crossing the bridge of boats over the Danube and entering the town.
Presburg is prettily situated along the banks of the
Danube; and, for a town of its size, offers a greater
number of handsome buildings than are often seen.
Our first object after making our arrangements as
comfortably as possible at the Goldene Sonne, was
Of historical association, the castle had little to
interest us; indeed, in its present form, it has existed scarcely one hundred years. As late as 1811,
it still served as a fortress and barrack for troops, but
being unprovided both with wood and water, except
what was carried there upon the backs of its occupants, it struck the Italian regiment, by whom it
was then held, how very ill it was adapted to the
purposes it served. They were just employed in
As for sights, few places have less of them than Presburg. In the great church we could discover nothing of interest save a bronze font of elegant workmanship, bearing the date of 1409. The object pointed out with the greatest care to the stranger's notice, is an insignificant elevation on the banks of the Danube, called the Konigsberg. It is to this spot that the King of Hungary, at his coronation, clothed in the very dress formerly worn by St. Stephen, and bearing the apostolic crown on his head, rides up his charger; and striking the sword of state to the four quarters of the world, swears to defend the country from enemies on every side.1
The delivery of letters of introduction, and the consequent formation of acquaintance, cost us but little time, for everywhere we were received with a
1In Mr. Spencer's work on Circassia, it may be observed, that a similar ceremony is performed by a Circassian prince, who is sent to receive and conduct home his brother's bride ; an interesting fact when connected with the Hungarian claim to a Caucasian origin.
It was a constant source of amusement for us, during the first days of our arrival, to watch the groups of peasants collected under the windows of the hotel. The neighbourhood of Presburg is chiefly occupied by Sclavacks and Germans, two of the many distinct races by which Hungary is peopled. The reader must not imagine that he is about to visit one people on entering Hungary, but rather a collection of many races, united by geographical position and other circumstances into one nation, but which still preserve all their original peculiarities of language, dress, religion, and manners. The Magyars,2 or Hungarians proper, the dominant race, and to whom the land may be said to belong, do not amount to more than three millions and a half out of the ten millions at which the whole population is estimated. The Sclavacks may be reckoned at two millions; other members of the Sclavish race, but differing in religion and dialect, at two and a half; the rest of the population being made up
2It may be as well to remark at once, that the word Magyar should be pronounced Mőd-yőr.
It is easy for an experienced eye to detect these differences at the first glance, though to us they were a puzzle which we were some time in unravelling. We soon became accustomed to the slow heavy look of the Sclavack peasants as they sauntered about in the sun, with all the lazy nonchalance of the lazzaroni of Naples.
Their women, too, were distinguishable from the white kerchief folded neatly over the head and neck, and the gay blue petticoat with its deep edge of bright red, as they encumbered the street with their baskets of fruit and vegetables. It was curious to see how unconcernedly the generality of them stood to be sketched. One old man, whom H___ caught as he was resting from his labour on his awkward long-handled spade, allowed a limb to be replaced in its former position, when accidentally moved, just as tranquilly as an artist's lay-figure would have done, though he did not seem to have the slightest idea of what was going on.
Another stout fellow, who had been persuaded to sit for his portrait, did not take the affair quite so easily. He grew very much alarmed when he saw the pencils and paper fairly at work, and at last burst into tears, and would fain have run away ; he was sure they were " writing him down," to send his description to the Emperor, that he might make a soldier of him. Probably, the poor fellow had run away and hid himself during the last levy of troops, and it may have been a bad conscience that now pricked him. The smart peasants in tight blue pantaloons, embroidered jackets, and broad hats, ornamented with artificial flowers, we found to be chiefly Germans, who had adopted the Hungarian costume.
As we were leaning out of the window, and
amusing ourselves with the picturesque groups
The luxury which many of the Hungarians display
in the liveries, or uniforms of their servants, is far
beyond anything of which we can form an idea.
Almost every gentleman has a hussar fully armed
and equipped as his valet de chambre, and some have
all their footmen in the same dress. These uniforms
are not unfrequently covered with gold or silver lace.
We had soon a sufficient number of acquaintances to induce us to fix ourselves for some weeks at Presburg. The Diet also was sitting, and many of the most remarkable men of the country were in consequence congregated within the town. A great number of young men, too, either attached to the deputies as secretaries, or terminating their legal studies at the courts, were in Presburg, and gave us a good opportunity of becoming acquainted with the rising generation, the future hopes of Hungary.
Very few of the members of the Diet keep house
at Presburg, and, although they have now been
nearly three years here, they have contented themselves with the lodgings afforded by the town; for
whatever place has the honour of receiving the
Diet, has the burden also of quartering its members
gratis. We called on one of the magnates the other
(lay, and found his habitation to consist of two very
indifferent rooms, the outer serving for antechamber and servants' room, the inner, for his own bedroom and salon. On the outer door a rude likeness
of a sabre was chalked up, as a sign that a member
of the Diet lived there. The deputies mostly dine
at one of the many restaurants of the town, where
a very tolerable dinner may be had for about two
shillings. If I may venture to speak of their
One of the first dinner parties to which we were invited at Presburg, was at the house of Herr Von P___, and I must not hastily pass it over, for it introduced us to some trifling peculiarities in manner, which, although of such little importance in my eyes, that I seem to require an apology to myself for noticing them, are of a character so vastly interesting to that numerous class of English society, the gentry of the silver fork school, that I feel confident they would never pardon me were Ito omit them.
As is the custom, the invitation was verbal, and
the hour two o'clock. The drawing-room into which
we were ushered was a spacious uncarpeted room,
with a well polished floor, on which, I am sorry to
say, I observed more than one of the guests very
unceremoniously expectorate. Uncarpeted rooms,
it may be remarked, though bare to the eye, are
pleasant enough in warm climates; indeed, in some
houses, where English fashions predominate, I have
seen small stools of wood introduced to protect the
The dinner was most profuse; and, as is usual here, the dishes were carried round to every one in turn, the table being covered with the dessert. I can neither tell the number nor quality of all the courses, for it was quite impossible to cat of the half of them ; and many even of those I did taste were new to me. Hungarian cookery is generally savoury, but too greasy to be good. Some of the national dishes, however, are excellent ; but the stranger rarely finds them except in the peasant's cottage. The Hungarians, like ourselves, run after bad foreign fashions to the neglect of the good wholesome dishes of their forefathers.
We had abundance of Champagne and Bordeaux, and, as a rarity, some Hungarian wines. I say as a rarity, because in many houses, not a glass of anything but foreign wine can be obtained. Unfortunately, Hungarian wines are not only good but cheap, and that is enough to prove they cannot be fashionable. After dinner we adjourned to coffee, when pipes were introduced, without a word of remonstrance from the ladies, as if they were the common conclusion of a dinner party: at five o'clock we all left. In more fashionable houses (this was one of a rich country gentleman) the dinner is rather later; the spitting confined to a sanddish, set in the corner for that purpose; the cookery more decidedly French or German; the guests more stiff and correct, but, perhaps on that account, less agreeable ; and the smoking banished from the drawing-room to the sanctum of the host.3
I think I may say without exception, that of the young men whom I met at Presburg, there was not one who did not hold liberal opinions in politics. There are many peculiarities, however, in the present circumstances of Hungary, and the position of the nobles, to which class these young men belong, which render their liberalism, in some respects, very different from ours. Without any very accurate knowledge of the political or commercial position either of their own country or of that of their
3I do not allude to such houses as those of the Princess G___ , or the Baron O___, where the manners are European, not national.
It is difficult even for the strongest conviction to overcome the habits and feelings of early education. I am sure these gentlemen are anxious for the freedom and education of the peasantry, and yet it often appeared to us that they spoke of them, and to them, as though they belonged to a different class of creation from themselves; in short, all of them are reformers, but many of them seem eminently impractical in their ideas of reform.
Not that I saw anything of that revolutionary spirit at which Austria seems so terribly alarmed, and
which German strangers often attribute to the Hungarians, because they talk loudly and openly of matters which their neighbours dare not even whisper ;
on the contrary, I believe there is among them a
stronger feeling of loyalty to their king, and love
for their institutions as they are, than is to be
found in almost any other part of Europe. Among
a considerable number, though equally liberal with
Most of those we have met here, have been educated entirely in Hungary; indeed, have never been from home except for an occasional visit to Vienna. They all speak Hungarian and German, and some of them French and English. In manners they are more simple, perhaps less polished, than Englishmen of the same rank and age. In scholastic learning, at least as far as Latin is concerned, they are our equals, and our superiors in a minute knowledge of the laws of their own country ; for the Corpus Juris forms an essential part of every Hungarian gentleman's education. In general literary acquirements, in scientific information, in an acquaintance with the fine arts, and, above all, in a knowledge of the first principles even of political economy, I think they are our inferiors. There is a friendly warmth in their manner, an air of sincerity and frankness in all they say and do, and a total absence of affectation, which rendered their society truly agreeable to us. As for that fear of speaking out their minds, which the Englishman so often sees and regrets among other nations of the Continent, the Hungarians are quite as free from it as ourselves. They may be surrounded by spies and police, but they certainly take very little heed of them.
The amusements of Presburg, at least in the summer, when most of the ladies have retired to the country, are confined to the theatre, the arena, and the promenade in the Au. This latter is a large piece of ground, on the opposite side of the river to Presburg, formerly overflowed by the Danube, but which has been drained and planted in the English style, and now forms a really pretty park. I cannot say that the promenade is pleasant, at least to those with tender skins ; for the swarms of musquitoes with which we were covered whenever we attempted to walk there, quickly drove us away.
On the other side of Presburg, however, nothing
can be more beautiful than the walks and rides
among gentle hills, covered with orchards and vineyards, which extend for many miles towards the north
and west. A few miles up the river lies the pretty
village of Theben, with its romantic castle ; a common Sunday's resort for the good citizens of Presburg. As some of our Hungarian friends offered
to accompany us to Theben, a party was made up,
and we started on foot one fine morning to spend
the day there. The weather was excessively hot,
and it took us two hours, as we sauntered along the
banks of the river—now stopping to examine the
rocks, now to get a view of some beautiful bend
of the Danube,—before we reached the village.
We passed several stone quarries, from which a
fine-grained granite is obtained for paving-stones,
which are chiefly sent to Pest; and we were told
After ordering our dinner at a little inn near the
river, we mounted the hill on which stand the ruins
of the old castle. These are finely situated on a
rock of black limestone, overlooking the Danube
and the March, which unite their waters just under the crumbling walls. A castle of such strength
as Theben once was, placed on the borders of two
An interesting legend is connected with the slender tower still remaining perfect, and which hangs over the river, and commands the narrow passage
cut in the rock beneath. A gay young knight, who
dwelt in Theben many years ago, fell in love with
one of the nuns of a neighbouring convent, carried
her off, and made her his wife. To protect himself
from the vengeance of the Church, whose rage this
act of sacrilege had roused, he shut himself up in
his strong castle, determined to defend his ladylove to the last extremity. Though unable to take
the castle by force, the troops of the Church continued their blockade till starvation rendered it
impossible to hold out longer. Unwilling to be
separated from her he loved, and by whom his love
was returned,—for the nun was no unwilling bride,
—and too well acquainted with the character of his
enemy to expect mercy or forgiveness,—the knight
of Theben led his mistress along the narrow ledge
of rock which connects the solitary tower with the
castle, gained its narrow stair and ascended to the
battlements. One moment the lovers, locked in
each other's arms, were seen to linger on the precipice,—the next, and the Danube had buried in its
Having examined the castle, our party separated in pursuit of their different tastes and occupations. H___ sat down to get a view of the ruins ; Professor S___ shouldered his geological hammer, and set off for a fossiliferous rock4 in the neighbourhood; and I submitted myself to the guidance of young Count S___ and M___, the deputy for W___, who conducted me along the banks of the March to Schlosshof.
The imperial palace of Schlosshof is a large building, very plainly furnished, and remarkable only as having been formerly the residence of Prince Eugene, and more recently of the Duke de Itcichstadt. On our return wo found H___ with a sketch of the solitary tower, the professor with his bag stored with specimens, Prince H___ P___ , who had promised to spend the day with us, already arrived, and the whole party well prepared, though scarcely past mid-day, to do full justice to the roast fowls and pancakes, of which our dinner was composed.
4The geological character of these rocks is curious. The range of the little Carpathians, which runs north from this point, is composed of granite in which large gangs of mica slate, chlorite slate, lee. frequently occur. At Theben, a black limestone is seen mixed with slate and quartz which is not stratified, and bears strong marks of being an igneous production. At a little distance occurs a soft new limestone, containing fossils of mammalia, reptiles, and shells.
The theatre of Presburg is as essentially German as any of those at Vienna. Though the regular company is but indifferent, we were fortunate enough to be there at the same time with Madame Schroeder,5 the best tragic actress on the German stage. This lady is now far from young ; some say she is sixty years of age, though I can hardly believe it, for she seems still possessed of all her power : we saw her in Lady Macbeth, Medea, Schiller's Rraut von Messina, and other pieces, and I do not think it possible that the representation of strong passion can be more perfectly given than by Madame Schroeder. The scene in the Brant von Messina, in which she first sees her dead son, is perhaps the very finest piece of acting I ever saw.
Near the Au is an arena, or theatre in the open air, which, as the price of entrance is very low, and the gentlemen are allowed their pipes, is a fashionable lounge in the summer evenings. It requires all the attractions of the open air to render this place tolerable; for the pieces, half farce, half pantomime, are coarse and stupid in the extreme. I was struck by the observation of a sturdy patriot. near whom I happened to be standing, when some in
5Madame Schroeder, the tragic actress of Vienna, must not be confounded with her daughter Madame Schroeder Devrient, the well-known prima donna of Dresden.
As we returned from the arena, and were quietly
discussing an ice, at one of the cafés on the public
walk, our companions pointed out to us some of the
most important personages then in Presburg, who
were enjoying the cool evening air, after the feverish
debates of the morning in the chambers. There
they were, simple deputies, proud magnates, and
stately bishops, passing and repassing under the
pleasant shade of the acacias, as their names, titles,
and dignities, were made known to us. The most
part of them soon escaped our memories, for the
public men of Hungary, as well as the affairs of the
country, are so little known in England that almost
every name was new to us. One person, however,
particularly arrested our attention: he was a man
of about the middle height, but formed in a
Herculean mould. A large quantity of black hair
and beard almost concealed his features, but a
strongly marked nose, and a deeply sunk, yet most
brilliant eye, were sufficient to indicate no ordinary
character. It was the Baron Wesselényi Miklós,
the leader of the ultra-liberal party, and then under
It was curious to listen to the different salutations of the promenaders. There was every variety, from the simple "wie gelt's" of the German trader, to the pompous "servus, domine spectabilis" of the Catholic priests. The Hungarian generally contents himself with a "servus, barátam ;" a mixture of Latin and Magyar, from which, though he makes the greatest efforts, he cannot quite escape. Among the churchmen, Latin is still sometimes the medium of conversation ; among the nobles, Magyar or German is most common ; and among the ladies, German or French. The trading classes, of course, speak the language of the people amongst whom they happen to be, but I believe all commercial correspondence is carried on in German.
I have often thought that a glance at the book-sellers' shops gives a more correct idea of the state
of education in a country, than the most profound
disquisitions on its schools and universities. If my
notion is correct, Presburg ought to rank pretty
It is but lately that the Hungarian publishers
have ventured to undertake works in the Hungarian
language, but they do so now with considerable
boldness. Politics and political economy are the
subjects of greatest interest to the Hungarians at
the present moment, and therefore those most written on. Count Széchenyi's works are among the
most popular. A " Penny Magazine" has been established, but I believe it has not answered so well as
was anticipated. There are two political newspapers published at Presburg, which appear twice a
week ; one in German, the " Presburger Zeitung; "and the other in Latin, the " Ephemeredes Posoniensis," chiefly supported by the Sclavack priesthood. In the latter of these I was much amused
At Pest, there are two political journals, each accompanied by a sheet dedicated to literature and the arts; the best is the "Jelenkor" (Present Time), which is got up in a very creditable manner, and is said to be conducted with considerable talent. It has a circulation of four thousand. Count Széchenyi writes frequently in the literary sheet "Társalkodó " (Converser) of this paper. Besides these there are two literary periodicals, one monthly, and one quarterly; and also a journal of fashions, and a German paper published at Buda. The leaden hand of the censor, though less heavy here than at Vienna, weighs down the free expression of opinion in these journals, and is regarded by the Hungarians as a most unjust and oppressive imposition.
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