VALLEY OF THE WAAG.
The Sclavacks : their History, Character, Habits, and Appearance. —Monastery of Skalka.—Philosophy of Drunkenness.—Imaginary Dangers. — Castle of Trentsin. — The Legend of the Lovers' Well.—Travelling Expenses in Ilungary.—Trentsin Bath. — Hungarian Tinkers. — Castle Architecture. — Vagh-Besztercze.—Ennobled Jews. —Traveller's Troubles.— Lipsky's Map. — Szulyon. — Hrisco. — Szolna. — Teplitz. — Sophia Bosnyfik.—Catholic Priests : their Hospitality.THE Sclavacks16 are a branch of that great Sclavish family, which seems, at one period, to have occupied
16It is very desirable that the reader should distinguish care- fully between the names Sclave, Sclavack, and Sclavonian. The name Sclave is given to a whole family, of which the Sclavacks and Sclavonians are only two insignificant members. The first of these —the Sclavacks—occupy a portion of the west and north of Hungary, not distinguished by any particular name; the second, the Sclavonians,—occupy a district between the Danube and Save, formerly an independent country, and although now a part of Hungary, still retaining the name of Sclavonia. I trust the map will enable the reader to understand this subject more perfectly; it is one of particular interest, because Russia, by exerting the influence which similarity of language, and in some parts, similarity of religion, also, gives her over these populations, has hitherto frightened Austria into doing almost anything she likes. One of the favourite dreams of Russian ambition is the re-union of the great Sclavish family into one nation under the crown of Russia.
It is always difficult to describe the character of a people, perhaps presumptuous for a mere passer by, who does not even speak their language. That his opinions should be received with great caution is unquestionable, but no man can remain any time amongst strangers without remarking many circumstances in their manners and conduct from which he cannot help drawing some conclusions; and as I pretend to do nothing more, I trust, that if in error, no one will be very seriously misled. In Hungary, however, the stranger has better opportunities of seeing and knowing the lower classes, or, I should rather say the peasantry, than in most other countries where the roguish postilion and lying sight-shower alternately rob and mystify the wonder seeking tourist. Here a peasant is always the traveller's coachman, and is often his host, his guide, his huntsman, in short, his frequent cotnpanion.
The Selavack is slow in every thing, and until
roused by passion or intoxication, nothing can be
more humble than his appearance, more slavish, I
would almost say, than his manner. No matter
how Stephan abused the driver or beat his horses;
The Sclavack is, after the German, probably the
most industrious of the inhabitants of Hungary, and
perhaps the only one of whom a manufacturer could
be made; but his industry is far from rendering him
rich : the soil he labours at is barren, and his small
profits are all expended on spirits. Drunkenness
is the Sclavack's bane, and leaves him among the
worst lodged, worst fed, and worst clothed, of the
11ungarian peasantry. Some philosophers would
fain persuade us that were wine and brandy cheap,
people would no longer get drunk ; and a traveller
in Norway attributes the sobriety of the people
there to the abundance of spirits. I am sorry I
cannot say as much for the Hungarians. Wine
and spirits are cheap enough, but the peasant, no
The Sclavack peasant's house is almost always built of the unhewn stems of the pine, covered with straw thatch, carelessly and ill-made ; its interior is not overclean, and the pig, oxen, and goats are on far too familiar terms with the rest of the family. It is rare amongst the Sclavacks to see those neatly fenced farm-yards, large barns, and stables, and well-made corn-stacks, which are so often met with among the Magyars. How far this may depend on the poverty of the soil it is dimcult to say ; that it does not depend on any greater severity of the landlord in one case than in the other, as I have heard insinuated, my own observations convince me.
The Sclavacks are in general about the middle
size, strongly formed, of a light complexion, with
broad and coarse features half shaded by their long
"For snow-white steed thou gav'st the land ;
But it is time that we returned to Trentsin. We can leave the Sclavacks to show and speak for themselves as we become better acquainted with them in the course of our journey.
In spite of a burning sun, we walked along the banks of the river Waag to visit Skalka, a monastery at some little distance from Trentsin, said to have been the residence of a St. Benedict, one of the earliest preachers of Christianity in Hungary.
17Bowring, Poetry of the Magyars.
Now had I the brilliant imagination of some travellers, I have no doubt I might make out an interesting story of terror from this simple walk ; might
fancy that the knot of rough-looking men who spoke
together, and whose eyes seemed to follow us, had
Towards sunset we ascended the castle hill, following the stairs cut in the rock which lead down almost to the town, and which are defended by towers and gates in every practicable part. It is not very long since the castle of Trentsin was in part habitable, but uncovered walls soon yield to wet and frost ii- a climate like this, and much has Wien and more is fast tottering to decay.
Fortified by the Romans, the Magyars found the
To me, the most interesting part of the old ruins was the lovers' well, sunk through the solid rock, four hundred and fifty-six feet,—and that too by the force of true love. But I must tell the tale as Mednvánsky has recorded it.
"It was in the reign of Mathias Corvinus that
Trentsin was in the possession of Stephan Zápolya,
a powerful chief, who added much to the strength
and magnificence of the noble pile. Like many
other castles, however, placed on the summit of
"Musing one day on this mortification, as he saw his new works nearly completed, he was roused by the announcement of his attendants that a Turkish merchant had arrived, who wished to treat with him for the ransom of some prisoners whom he had captured in the last war, and brought home with him in slavery. As a soldier alive to the courtesies of war, Zapolya at once expressed his willingness to take ransom for all such as still remained in his hands : ` as for those I have given to my followers, they are no longer in my power, any more than the young girl whom my wife has chosen for her handmaid ; for the former, you must treat with their present masters ; for the latter, she is become such a favourite with her mistress, that I am sure no sum would ransom her.'—` But might I not see this maiden?' anxiously demanded the young Turk. The girl was sent for, `Omar !' `Fatime !' burst at the same moment from their lips as they rushed into each other's arms."
"Fatime, it appeared, was the daughter of a
Pascha, and the affianced bride of Omar, who lost
"Enraged at the Turk's presumption, Zápolya ordered Fatime back to the Countess's apartments, and, deaf alike to the entreaties and high offers of the lover, positively refused to deprive his wife of an attendant she liked. In vain Omar supplicated, in vain he threw himself passionately at the feet of Zápolya and begged of him his mistress. At last, angered at his perseverance, the haughty lord swore he might more easily obtain water from the rock they stood on than compliance from him : `Try,' said he in scorn, ` and when the rock yields water to your prayers, I give up Fatime, but not till then.' ` On your honour !' exclaimed Omar, springing to his feet, `you give up Fatime, if I obtain water from this rock ?' ` If you do,' said the knight, astonished that the Turk should have understood him literally, ` I pledge my knightly word to release your mistress and all my prisoners ransom free."
"What is impossible to youth and love ? Omar, aided by the captive Turks, set to work, and long and patiently did they labour at the unyielding stone. Three wearisome years were passed, and they saw themselves apparently as far from success as at the commencement, when, almost exhausted with fatigue and despair, the joyful cry of ` Water! water !' burst on their ears. The spring was found —Fatime was free !"
From Trentsin our first point was Teplitz,18 or the bath of Trentsin, as it is often called. It is situated about ten miles from Trentsin in a valley jutting off from that of the Waag, and ending in a cul de sac, at the bottom of which the baths are placed. Like every other bathing-place, Teplitz has the cold, bare, whitewashed look, proper to these places, with a promenade and shops full of useless articles, and old cripples and young cripples, and all the other amusing objects, for the love of which healthy people leave their comfortable homes to pass a month in bad lodgings.
Trentsin is a favourite resort of the Poles and Bohemians, as well as of the Hungarians of the north, and though said to be useful to the sick,19 has little to attract the healthy.
18Teplitz is a Sclavish word signifying " warm bath," and is therefore like the German "Baden," scarcely a distinguishing name.
19The most active ingredient in the water is sulphur,—the temperature is 30° K. These waters are chiefly recommended in chronic rheumatism, gout, dc.
Regaining the Waag, we continued our route along the valley amid fine crops of hemp, buckwheat, poppies, and potatoes. We passed, at Dubnitz, a large mansion of Count Illyesházy, built like a barrack and placed in the very worst position that could possibly have been chosen, for the valley is here more beautiful than ever, the line of the Carpathians bounding Moravia is within an hour of the river, and the landscape almost perfect ; yet is this mansion placed in a flat, dirty village, without a prospect beyond it.
The roads throughout this valley are excellent, and the horses better than usual, so that we were enabled to keep up a trot without intermission. The English reader may laugh at this idea of good travelling, but to us it was luxurious compared with what we had been used to for the day or two previous.
From the northerly and most mountainous part
of this county and from some of the neighbouring
districts, are said to come those wandering tinkers,
— or I believe I should rather call them pot-menders, for they do not come up to the dignity of
tinkers, — who are seen pursuing their poor trade
not only in their native country, but in every part
of the Austrian dominions. Their chief talent lies
in repairing broken earthenware, by binding it together with the wire which they always carry about
with them. At certain seasons they return to their
own settlements, where the women and children
20These are the same people of whom Mr. Gleig speaks under the name of Torpindas. Where this writer obtained this name I know not; I have never heard it used in Hungary, nor can I find it in any Hungarian author. Has he not mistaken it for Topf-Linder, pot-mender? At Presburg they are called Trentainer, Draht_/Pechter (wire workers), or sometimes Drolarí.
Although very fine men, their tight dress hanging in rags about their spare forms, and their long, shaggy, dark hair escaping from under the broad round hat over their wild features, render them, without exception, the most savage-looking beings I ever saw, and to the casual traveller who meets them among the scenes of more civilized life, and hears them spoken of as Hungarian peasants, they must convey a strange idea of the country they come from. It may be as well to inform these travellers at the outset, that such is not the state of the mass of the Hungarian peasantry.
At Bellus the road leaves the Waag, and crossing a cold highland district, joins it again at Vagh Besztercze, where we arrived towards evening. As we got out of the carriage a miserable beggar presented himself, and welcomed us in tolerable Latin, and in reply to some kreutzers returned a " do gratias, Illustrissime !"
About half a mile beyond the village is another
of those ruined castles which are so numerous on
the Waag. It is placed on the summit of a sugarloaf-shaped mountain, to which access seems almost
impossible, and except by sudden surprise or hunger
it was probably never reduced. As a ruin, excepting
from its fine position, it has less to attract the artist
than many of its fellows. In most of the castellated structures of Hungary, though fully equalling
those of any other country in the strength and
beauty of their position, in the vastness of their
The Hungarian castle has a solid and somewhat heavy appearance ; the walls are rarely parapeted ; the elegant watch-tower, so common on the Rhine, is wanting; the richly mullioned bay-window, the fretted archway and escutcheon-sculptured turret are very scarce ; and, instead of the flat roof of England, every tower is commonly surmounted by a wooden covering very like an extinguisher. I am not quite sure that the flat roof belongs to the castle of these times by right ; iu most of the old pictures of castles, especially the German ones, the roofs are certainly high, and it is probable they did not disappear with us till knocked down by artillery. Formerly, I believe, the watch-tower, and sometimes, perhaps, the keep, had flat roofs.
Vagh Besztercze was once in the possession of
two brothers Podmanin, who because they chose
rather to fight for themselves than for their king,
were discourteously entitled robbers instead of valiant knights. Here too there is a tale of love and
war; but much as I like these legends myself, I
dare not trouble my readers with the tenth part of
Below the castle, just at the foot of the mountain, and at the very edge of the water, stands a modern mansion, ugly as a whitewashed stable, liable to be broken in by the falling rocks from above, and to be washed away by the flood below. This house, together with a large property in the neighbourhood, has been lately bought by a converted Jew of immense wealth. The Austrian government does not, any more than our own, allow the Jews to possess landed estates ; but it so happens, that the greater part of the bankers of Vienna are of the Hebrew nation ; and, as with wealth comes almost naturally the desire for landed property, the Jew is converted to Christianity,—or, at least, is Christened,—and purchases a large property ; perhaps receives a title and becomes an Hungarian nobleman. The Hungarian nobles are extremely indignant that their caste should be thus degraded ; and a degradation it is, that what they hold an honour should be conferred as the reward of hypocritical apostacy ; but they forget that the blame should rest on the cause which produces it—the unjust laws which render religious opinions the ground of political disabilities.
As for the fear so often expressed in Hungary,
that the government, by letting in so many foreign
Before leaving the inn at Besztercze, to stroll along the banks of the river, we had ordered our supper, and desired them to have the floor well washed, as I felt certain from the dirt which covered it, that little quiet could be expected while it remained as we found it. When we returned, old Stephan had got the table spread and the room washed. Our supper consisted, as usual, of thin soup, roasted chickens, and salad, and on the present occasion, an omelette, flavoured with coarse preserve of the common plum. The wine, though rather sour, was strong, and with sugar and mineral water made no unpleasant summer beverage. And this, reader, is the fare you may almost always get in any part of this unknown, and, as you probably imagine, very savage land.
Before we had half done supper, I found my presentiment was just, though my precaution had been vain,—we were absolutely covered with fleas. In such cases, the only way to escape the tormentors is to go to bed. Yes, strange as it may appear, in a room full of fleas, you may sleep quite free from them,—that is providing they do not fall down through the ceiling upon you, which will sometimes happen. In the common country inn in Hungary, the bed is a wooden box, about six feet long by two and a half wide, standing on legs two feet high. This box is filled with straw, and thereon is laid a hair mattress. In some places, such is the whole bed ; in others, sheets, and all the other etceteras, are provided; but as they are by no means always of that purity which one could wish,—a witty German says, that Hungarian sheets are of every imaginable shade of colour except white -- almost every one travels with his own sheets, pillow, coverlet, and leathern sheet.
The first thing to render yourself secure is, to have
the straw removed and replaced by a fresh supply.
If the mattress is not one of the most promising, reject it also, and spread the leathern sheet over the
straw, and the linen sheet over that. The great secret
is to have the linen sheets much larger than the bed,
and to leave them hanging over on all sides, so that
it may be quite impossible for the fleas, even supposing them to remain about the bedstead, to get
to you. Over the lower sheet you place as usual
As soon, therefore, as Stephan had completed these arrangements, we turned into our boxes, smoked our meerschaums, and talked over the events of the day in comfort, and with the sweet confidence of a quiet sleep after it. Only those who have wanted it can know how sweet that confidence is.
The next morning saw us again on our pilgrimage and brought us to a small village,—Prevink, I
think,—whose modest burial-ground proclaimed the
simplicity of its poor inhabitants. The cemetery,
in Hungary, is almost always placed outside the precincts of the village, and is generally ornamented
by a chapel and a variety of monuments, which
indicate the former relative wealth and importance
of its occupants; but here there was no church,—a
wooden cross with a rudely painted figure of our
Saviour served to sanctify the spot—while each
grave was marked by a little cross of wood at its
head without a sign or letter to distinguish its
unlettered tenant, and many of those crosses were
falling to decay and already making place for others,
A little beyond Prevink we had ordered the driver to turn off the high road at a given point for the sake of visiting a curious valley we had heard of in the neighbourhood, but he had missed it and gone too far. As I examined the map and made Stephan explain his error, he looked at me with wonder and almost awe. How I a stranger could tell better than he where the road turned off to Szulyon was more than he could conceive. It was one, among many instances I met with, of the extreme minuteness and accuracy of Baron Lipszky's map of Hungary. This map, which would cover the side of a small room, I had got bound up in nine parts of a convenient size, and always carried with me the portion immediately required. By this means I not only gained an intimate knowledge of the geography of Hungary, but was in many instances able to direct those who considered themselves well acquainted with the country. I know no other map equally perfect except, perhaps, Keller's Switzerland, and when the different extent of the countries is considered as well as the difficulties with which Lipszky had to contend in a region so little known, it must be allowed to be a work of no ordinary merit.
The valley of Szulyon, which we had quitted our
route to visit, and which we now entered by a narrow pass which left scarcely room for the road and
While I-I was sketching, I took my hammer and climbed up some part of the rocks. I found them composed of a very loose coarse sandstone, at times assuming almost the appearance of conglomerate ; in some parts crumbling to the touch, in others resisting the efforts of the hammer. It is to this circumstance the peculiarity in their appearance is owing, the soft parts have been washed away, and the harder have remained. These often occur in the form of long pillars, with slender bases ; often in isolated masses of indefinite forms ; on the whole presenting an exceedingly curious spectacle, though not quite so striking as some traveller finds it, who says, " that he turns round on leaving the valley to ask himself once more if strange magic has not converted into stone a living city, with all its architectural and living wonders."
In passing to the back of the bill I found the sandstone overlaid by limestone. It is said to belong to the Bohemian sandstone formation ; to this I cannot speak.
As we regained the Waag, we observed for the first time a crop of mangel-wurtzel. It is used as with us for winter fodder. In addition to the common white crops—maize, wheat, oats, and rye —we noticed in this neighbourhood potatoes, lint, and a few hops. It is much too cold for the vine in the greater part of the valley of Waag.
At IIrisco we were obliged to wait an hour and a half for horses, during which time we might have ascended to the old castle which crowns a very precipitous and craggy rock overlooking the village; but as we did not know at what moment the horses might arrive, and were afraid of being late at our destination, we did not venture. As usual, Hrisco has its legend. Dark deeds are said to have been perpetrated within its walls, after which the whole castle was filled at night with howlings, as of afflicted spirits, till at last a monk who reproved the murderer for his crime and was thrust out for his unwelcome words, turned himself into stone beside the door that he might be a constant warning to the hard-hearted Castellan, and even though now long deserted,—for no one has dared to live in Hrisco since that time,—the stony monk stands there still.
It was late when we reached Szolna, an old-fashioned little town, which we entered over a
bridge placed across the former foss, and, passing
under a low strong archway, and through a narrow
street, arrived at last in a handsome square. This
Szolna was at one time a place of considerable importance; indeed, the capital of Protestantism in the north of Hungary. A synod was held here in 1610, and soon after an academy was founded, and a printing-press established, from which issued a number of controversial works, still esteemed by the bibliomane for their rarity.
We were put sadly out of temper to-night by
the horribly sour wine they gave us to wash down a
bad supper. In vain we begged, in vain we offered
money for better, the landlady said that the wine
was seignorial, and no better dare she sell. As the
reader will learn more fully hereafter, the sale of
wine and the sale of flesh are rights of the lord of
the manor, and here we had a striking proof of the
annoyance of this custom. In some cases the innkeeper pays an annual rent for the exclusive privilege of selling wine in a certain town or village,
and of course can then poison the poor traveller
with as bad wine, and as dear, as he chooses; in
other cases, as at Szolna, the lord provides the wine
and obliges the innkeeper to sell it at a certain
I have often been surprised that a small quantity
of good wine in bottles is not also supplied for the
sake of travellers of a better class; for though rarer
in Hungary than in many other countries, they are
still iii sufficient numbers to make it answer. But
the spirit of privilege is sadly opposed to speculation and improvement. At present, when a gentleman makes a two or three days' journey from home,
The next morning was Sunday ; and as we prepared to quit Szolna, the people were coming out of church, and marching to their homes with that steady, demure, and somewhat severe look which distinguishes the Protestant, find him where you will.
Some of the women wore curious caps of rich, stiff, black lace ; a national dress, now quite out of fashion among the young and gay. I could not help noticing two of these old caps, which met under one of the arcades, and after due salutations commenced a combat of words attended with such mysterious shakes of the head and holding up of the hands, that I am sure nothing but a backsliding of some younger cap could have excited so great an interest.
At a short distance from Szolna we crossed the
Waag on a raft of very primitive construction.
It was composed of two canoes formed of the
trunks of trees hollowed out, much in the manner of that of Robinson Crusoe, between which
were placed a row of planks, and on these were
launched a carriage, four horses, and about half a
dozen people. Forced by necessity and trusting
to the knowledge of the peasants who acted as
ferrymen, we placed ourselves on this frail bark,
and landed very safely on the other side. It must
Turning a little out of the direct road, we reached the village of Teplitz, tempted by a report we had heard that the body of Sophia Bosnyák, the first wife of the Palatine Wesselényi, was preserved in the church there quite fresh.
The memory of this lady is held by the peasants in almost sacred respect. The castle of Strecsno' about a mile from Teplitz, and placed on a high rock just over the Waag, was her usual residence. Sophia is described as one of those mild and loving wives whose deep affection can suffer in silence more easily than upbraid or resent, and Wesselényi as a bold warrior, whose manly beauty and rough virtues had completely won the soft heart of his at first unwilling bride. Often was the young wife left alone in the strong castle to watch for the return of her lord from those wars in which the restless Turk kept Hungary so constantly engaged, and the conclusion of the campaign brought him back the same faithful and tender husband he had left it.
After some time, however, Sophia observed a
change in her husband's manner, on his return
from absences that became more frequent, and
seemed less called for than formerly; till at last
the rumour reached even her ears that Wesselényi
spent his time more agreeably than in combating
the Turks,—in short, that she had a rival in her
Next morning saw Wesselényi's return ; but the frown had left his brow, the cold look was no longer in his eyes, and as he pressed his Sophia in his arms, she felt herself once more the loved, the happy wife. On the anniversary of that day Sophia ever made her pilgrimage, barefoot and alone, to the shrine of her protectress, and after death she was buried in the little chapel on the rock.
About fifty years later, when the castle and
chapel of Strecsno were destroyed in the civil
wars of the Tökölys, the body of Sophia was found
still whole and fresh. Among the peasants, by
whom her memory was revered for her charity and
We sought out the village priest to obtain permission to see the church and its wonders. In so poor a part of the country and so small a village, I expected a priest of corresponding modesty; but the good father of Teplitz seemed in no way to partake of the scarcity of the land. As we were shown into the house by a naked-footed waiting maid, we found a comfortable dwelling, neat and in good order, while the dining-room was set out for dinner, with covers for eighteen or twenty guests, and that not in any meagre style, but with goodly bottles of wine between every two covers, the table spread with a clean table-cloth, and every plate furnished with a napkin.
The priest himself, who received us very politely and spoke German, was a portly man to
whom the pleasures of this world did not seem
altogether strange. Since I have known more of
Hungary, and of the priesthood in particular, I
have not been able to understand why the good
father did not invite us to dine with him, for of
all the hospitable Hungarians, no one is more so
than the parish priest. I remember that on another occasion, when travelling with two Hungarians,
I believe I must let the reader into a little secret
But to return to the priest of Teplitz, who did not
ask us to dinner, but conducted us to the church.
Service was just about to commence, and the body
of the church was crowded with peasants; the married women on one side, with a head dress of white
linen, in form much like that of the statues of
Nemesis, and the men on the other, while the
maidens, with their long bands of braided hair
hanging down the back, crowded round the steps of
At Kirin, we were obliged to leave the carriage, as the road by the side of the Waag was no longer passable; and following the course of the river on foot for about an hour, we came opposite Strecsno, where we fortunately found the ferry boats ready to start. These, like the others we had before seen, were only canoes joined together by a cord, and pushed over by two men, one placed at either encl. Each canoe, besides these men, contained not less than five or six women, laden with immense sacks. To prevent accidents from the wind, the women knelt down ; and holding the sides to keep themselves steady, remained in that position, quite still, till they arrived at the other side and were allowed to rise.
The Castle of Strecsno is beautifully situated and
very extensive. The rock on which it stands is a
21This point is worth the geologist's examination :. within two hundred yards I observed two different limestones, followed by grauwacke, and that again by granite.
As we had left Stephan with the carriage, and the peasants we met spoke only Sclavackish, we were not able to make any inquiries as to the distance to Margita ; a narrow and dangerous pass in the navigation of the Waag, not very far from Strecsno, and which we wished to visit. The Margita is a naive given to three or four rocks in the middle of the river, so called from a luckless maid, whom the jealousy of a cruel step-mother condemned to an untimely grave in this wild spot. Since that time, the wandering spirit of Margita hovers over these rocks, and demands one life every year for the bridegroom she was robbed of; — nor is it without fear and trembling, that the poor float-men, who fully believe the story, approach the spot which may condemn them to a phautoui bride and a watery couch.
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