COUNT SZECFIENYI ISTVÁN.
Count Széchenyi, an Officer of Hussars, a traveller, a Reformer. —Improvement in the Breed of Horses. — Races. — Magyar Language.—Széchenyi's Writings—the " Credit "—his Judgment on England—Character of his Writings.—Establishment of Casino.—Bridge over the Danube.—Nobles taxed.—Steam Navigation.—Political Career.—Prudence.—M. Tasner.
COUNT SZECHENYI ISTVÁN35 is the third son of the founder and benefactor of the Museum of Pest, a scion of the same house which produced two of the most distinguished archbishops of Hungary. For seventeen years Széchenyi served in the Austrian army ; and it was not till the peace had rendered it an idle life, and removed all chance of distinction, that he determined to quit it. Perhaps, disgusted with the system of favouritism or the personal enmity which had kept him down to the rank of captain ; perhaps moved by that spirit of regeneration, which from the mountains of Transylvania spread over the plains of Hungary, and was felt even at the gates
35In Hungarian, the Christian-name is placed after the surname, as in Natural History the name of the species follows that of the genus.
The leisure which he now enjoyed was occupied in foreign travel. England particularly fixed his notice. Our manners, our institutions, our commerce were objects of his study, and offered him useful hints for the improvement of his native land. The causes which impeded the introduction of commerce in Hungary, and the great developement of her natural resources which must result from their removal, first occupied his attention. At home, he found a government and people mutually distrustful. The Hungarians complained to him that foreign—so they called Austrian—jealousy and oppression were the sole causes of all their misfortunes ; while, beyond the Carpathians, he heard his countrymen described as a tyrannical, ignorant, and turbulent nobility, the oppressors of a poor, idle, and slavish peasantry ;—the one class who would not, the other who could not effect anything for the common advantage of their country. On all sides, a reform in Hungary was declared impossible.
Széchenyi was not to be turned from his object.
His plan was cautiously laid down, and has been so
One of the first objects to which Széchenyi drew the attention of his countrymen was the improvement of the breed of horses ; a subject particularly suited to their taste, and likely to attract their notice. A large stud, often from one to two hundred horses, forms almost a necessary part of a nobleman's establishment ; and yet they rarely bred anything but a cross of the common country horse with the large, slow, high-actioned Spanish horse, a race of little use but for the pomp of ceremony. Széchenyi introduced the English race-horse and hunter, and, to show their superiority, he instituted races and kept a pack of hounds; in short, he succeeded in making English horses a fashion, which is now generally followed.
The races take place twice a year,—at Pest about
the end of May, and in autumn at Parendorf near
An improvement in the breed of horses was an object well worthy Széchenyi's attention, and nothing was more likely to promote it than the establishment of races at the capital ; but some have thought that objects of a deeper interest than the encouragement of thorough-breds might have been dreamed of in their institution. The Diet ought by law to sit every three years; but, when the government is strong, it sometimes dispenses with its services, as it did during and after the last war for twenty-five years ; and then the nobles have no object of common interest to bring them together. When minds clash not with minds, they are apt to grow rusty and lose somewhat of their sharpness and polish ; a thousand useful ideas and beneficial projects, a thousand high resolves and patriotic schemes, expire untried, unheard of, from want of opportunity to communicate them to others. This opportunity to meet and communicate the races afford, without a pretext for interference or interruption. Many come they know not why ; the master-minds command, and they obey.
The system so long and so ably followed up, of
Germanizing Hungary, had succeeded to such a
degree as to destroy to a considerable extent the
feelings of nationality among the higher nobles :
The restoration of the Hungarian language was therefore the first object. Széchenyi himself, front disuse, was no longer master of it : he made himself so, and became one of the most influential in its diffusion. He was the first in the Chamber of Magnates who spoke in Hungarian ; till then Latin was always used in the debates, as, we have seen, it still is by the Palatine and by the court party. Few thought of reading Hungarian, still fewer, except some poets, of writing in it; Szechenyi published several political works in the language, and Hungarian authorship has become fashionable. Among men it is now the medium of conversation ; at public dinners, toasts and speeches in German would not be listened to ; and at Pest, whatever may be the case at Vienna, Hungarian gentlemen are now ashamed to be thought ignorant of the Hungarian language.
The establishment of a society for the developement of the Hungarian language was proposed by Széchenyi in the Diet, and was as usual met by innumerable objections, of which the want of funds was the most cogent. " I willingly contribute one year's income," (60001l.) said Széchenyi ; " I second it with 4000l." said Count Karolyi György ; the example was catching, and 30,000l. were soon subscribed.
I have some hesitation in speaking of the writings of Count Széchenyi, for I have never been able to master the difficulties of the language ; and we all know that translations, even the best, convey but indifferently the spirit of the original. Many of his works too, have not been translated, and of these I can only give the title-page. It would be, however, too great an omission not to speak of what has produced so great an effect ; and I shall therefore give a short analysis (from the German translation) of his " Hitel," or Credit," the work which has been most extensively read, and which has gained him the most fame.
The " Hitel " is an inquiry into the causes of the
want of commercial credit in Hungary, with suggestions for their removal. In the introduction,
Count Széchenyi attacks one of the great drawbacks on Hungarian progress,—the want of a common purpose, and a common opinion. " All are
anxious to build," he writes, "and every one at the
same building; but unfortunately each wishes to lay
Others, again, he adds, lay all the blame on Government; others lament that Hungary's glory is past and mourn the olden time. To all he answers, "Seek what is practical, depend on yourselves for your reform, and keep well in mind that the star of Hungary's glory has yet to shine."
Széchenyi next tries to persuade them that inquiry into their state will show them that their country is capable of much more than is at present supposed ; enlisting even the laziest in his cause by the lightness and familiarity of his illustrations. He then begins the more formal part of his work, by proving that the Hungarian landowner is poorer than he ought to be, from the quantity and quality of his possessions ; and that he does not possess those comforts which his circumstances ought to afford him. He next shows that the Hungarian proprietor cannot, at the present moment, cultivate his land to the greatest advantage, because there is no mutual understanding among Hungarians, no commercial credit ; while the common holdings of land, the monopolies, and limitation of prices, the loss occasioned by compulsory labour, and the collection of rent in the form of tithe, all tend to impede improvements in agriculture.
From this Széchenyi goes to the subject of
commerce, and the causes assigned for its low
state in Hungary are examined : the geographical
The means by which this credit is to be obtained Széchenyi points out; and contends especially for the establishment of laws for the more certain and easy recovery of debts, and enforcement of contracts : and he combats most forcibly the arguments brought against this on the score of the dangers of extensive commercial speculations, the unconstitutional spirit of laws delivering over the noble into the power of his creditor, the ruin and downfal of old families, which it is thought must be the consequence of them, and such other reasons as an Englishman may hear any clay from a certain quarter of the House of Lords in a debate on the usury laws. Here, as well indeed as throughout the whole work, the prejudices and follies, the ignorance and false pride of the Hungarians, Széchenyi has most severely lashed.
The example of England is frequently held up
"It is impossible," he observes, "to have visited England, and to have seen the vast progress
which free institutions have enabled her to make,
whether in material improvements, or in protecting
the holiest rights of humanity, and not pity those
miserable creatures who traduce so great a nation.
England has faults as well as virtues; for, earnestly
as men may strive after perfection, and far as they
may advance in its path, they are not doomed to
reach the goal. But there are men who have no
soul for what is good, and great, and beautiful; they
ever seek, and find nothing but the filthy and the
bad; they are the unclean birds of society, and rejoice only in its carrion. Of such are the slanderers
of Britain. They seek only the dark side, and they
find it dark enough no doubt; but from the light
they turn away. There is much that is bad in
England, from which God defend us! Above all,
her ° intolerance' is always the first charge of her
enemies: and that reproach we may make against
her with a clear conscience; for among ourselves,
thank God! no trace of it exists.—Then, ` the misery
of her manufacturers' is brought forward; and it
means that they cannot, perhaps, every day eat beef
and drink beer, to which they are accustomed, and
which, if deprived of, they grumble at. With us,
If the " Hitel" were put into the hands of a mere political economist, he would find it, perhaps,
36"Before this work was finished, Ireland was reinstated in her natural rights."
The first reception of the " Hitel" was anything
but encouraging; the satire was ill relished by
those against whom it was directed ; its author
was abused, written against, and in one instance the
work itself was burnt by the common hangman by
order of a county meeting. Such was the state of
feeling in 1830. In 1835, Count Széchenyi was
receiving addresses of thanks from almost every
Among the later works of Count Széchenyi, are the " Világ" (Light), an answer to a pamphlet published by Count Desewffy against the "Hitel;" and a work on the Practicability, &c. of a permanent Bridge at Pest.37
Of the style, of course, I speak only from hearsay, when I pronounce it among the best in the Magyar language. To the accusation of coining and introducing new words every one must be liable who speaks of ideas new to the people, and uses names foreign to the country. Some persons complained that they had turned over their Magyar dictionaries in vain for the word " Macadamize,"
37 I subjoin a complete list of Count Széchenyi's works, given me by a friend in Hungary :
In Hungary, a want of unity between the different ranks of the nobility, an absence of a
common feeling, and of something like a general
opinion, have been long among the most acknowledged causes of inaction. Every class discusses
apart the subjects of immediate interest, forms its
own opinion of public events, and its own plans
for public reforms : the accordance which gives
strength and force to action is wanting. This deficiency was universally acknowledged ; but without
a free press, and with a Diet sitting but rarely,
and then at a distance from the capital and centre
of the country, without reports of the debates,
without even a national literature, and in the
midst of the bitterest jealousies of caste and class,
what remedy could be proposed ? Széchenyi had
At Pest, accordingly, a Casino was established on a most magnificent scale, as we shall see hereafter ; and now no less than one hundred exist in different parts of Hungary and Transylvania.
One of Széchenyi's favourite plans is the embellishment and aggrandizement of Pest. For
this purpose he has laboured to have the Casino on
so handsome a scale ; to build a national Magyar
theatre ; and, more than all, to raise a permanent bridge between Pest and Buda. At present there is only a bridge of boats between the
To remove so great a drawback to the prosperity of the two cities, Széchenyi has proposed to build a bridge across the river, either of stone or iron, as may appear best ; and, as the width is only a quarter of a mile, it would not appear so difficult an undertaking. Of course, it was declared impossible ; one said the Danube was too wide, another found it too deep, and a third declared, if the bridge was all finished, the first winter's ice would carry it away. English as well as German engineers have thought otherwise ; and it is a certain fact, that Trajan's Bridge, three hundred miles lower down, stood firm enough till Hadrian destroyed it.
These, however, were not the greatest impediments to be overcome. Count Széchenyi had a still
greater object in view than the improvement of
Pest in the building of this bridge ; he proposed to
teach the Hungarian nobles the advantage of paying taxes. The bridge was to be built by money
raised in shares ; the interest on which was to be
paid by tolls, to which every one, noble or ignoble,
should contribute. What ! an Hungarian noble
pay taxes ? A hornets' nest is a feeble comparison to
38I am indebted to the kindness of W. Tierney Clark, Esq. to whom the construction of this great work has been intrusted, as well for the accurate measurements of the bridge, as for a beautiful drawing of it, and the projected improvements on the Buda side of the river.
Of the petty opposition which Count Széchenyi had to contend with, and of the means by which he overcame it, I cannot speak here. I did not believe that any man possessed the indefatigable energy and perseverance necessary for the task ; it requires a truly patriotic spirit to endure those miserable checks which arise from the selfish and interested meanness of the very persons one is labouring to benefit. The Corporation of Pest did not think they were justified in giving up the tolls which the present wooden bridge brought then in ; the proprietors of land would not sell for such a purpose ; the owners of houses here, feared the new bridge would be there, because they knew it would be better there ; the very toll-keepers had their friends and supporters, whose opposition, at times, made even a Széchenyi doubt of success.
One of the greatest of Széchenyi's achievements
is the steam navigation of the Danube. This is his
own in idea and in accomplishment. It is now
about six years since he first undertook the voyage
from Pest to the Black Sea. A comfortable decked
boat, a good cook, and a pleasant companion, with
the means and appurtenances for shooting, fishing, sketching, and rowing, were not bad preparations against the fatigues and dangers to which
In pursuance of his own plan, Széchenyi went
over again to England ; studied carefully the principles of steam navigation ; brought over English
engineers ; and, when at last certain of the practicability of the scheme, formed a company, and purchased a steam-boat. It was in October 1830 that
the first steam-boat plied between Semlin and Pest;
To detail the advantages of this undertaking in extending commerce, in developing the resources of the country, or in opening the road to civilization by the spread of intelligence, were only to narrate what every one knows steam navigation has effected, and will effect, wherever it is introduced ; but in Hungary it has done more, it has engaged one of the proudest and richest aristocracies of Europe in a profitable commercial speculation ! We shall show elsewhere that it is to the exclusive privileges of this aristocracy that Hungary must impute, in a great degree, her want of commerce : how great a point has thus been gained may therefore be easily understood.
At first, some of those whose hearts were better than their heads—and Hungary possesses a great number of that class—would not hear of profitable speculation : " If it would benefit their father-land, no other consideration was required ; it would be degrading so noble an object to mix it up with such tradesman-like calculations." Széchenyi thought otherwise; and he felt assured that a profitable patriotism was the one by far the most likely to endure.
Count Szechenyi's first object was to make the
undertaking answer as a commercial speculation.
During the earlier part of the last Diet, a strong opposition was formed in the Upper Chamber, chiefly under the guidance of Széchenyi, which contained many of the most wealthy and talented of the rising generation. From their moderation, their union, and their knowledge of business, this party, though small in numbers, was acquiring so great an influence that all the power of the Court was employed to break it up. The Transylvanian magnates39 were called away by the opening of their own Diet. Those in Government employ were hastily recalled to their bureaux ; this man received a place or a pension ; another desired a decoration, and hung dishonour at his button-hole; and if a third was too high for such poor bribery, he was recommended to travel, and accepted a passport to convey him from
39A Transylvanian magnate enjoys the rights of an Hungarian also if he holds property in Hungary, which many of them do.
Since this time, though very far from having
neglected his political duties, Count Széchenyi
has taken a less active part in politics than was
expected of him. Perhaps disgusted and alarmed
at the violence of the less prudent ; perhaps fearing
that an active personal opposition, while it effected
nothing, might impede much material good ; perhaps confiding in the good intentions of Government, or, it may be, reposing merely till a more
favourable opportunity arises of urging on the Diet
measures of justice to the peasant, and of encouragement to commerce, it is certain, from whatever
Looking at the whole tenor of Count Széchenyi's public life, we feel convinced that he has not acted without reflection, and probably not without good reason, in withdrawing from the political arena for a time ; but lie must not forget how much Hungary, how much Europe expects of him. When a man has once embarked on the stream of public life, he has no longer a right to disappoint the just expectations of the world. When such a man fails, the honest confidence, the high resolves, the purest aspirations of millions are sacrificed. One feels a sickening at the heart, a contempt for virtue, a hatred of one's kind, when the man we have worshipped as the idol of our hopes deceives us in the expectations we have formed of him.
The Hungarians, however, need not entertain such fears : whatever may be the difference in opinion as to the means, no one can doubt the rectitude of Széchcnyi's object. It cannot be denied that the support of high moral principles, the unflinching advocacy of just rights, and the unyielding defence of the injured and oppressed, are yet more important to the well-being of mankind than the mere improvement of their material existence ; but few in the Hungarian Diet have fulfilled these duties better than Széchenyi, while the other objects at which he has so industriously laboured, the detractors of his fame have entirely neglected.
Those who read Széchenyi's works, and know the reception which they met with,—who are acquainted with the excessive national susceptibility of the Hungarians, and who recollect how just, and therefore how bitter, was the satire he directed against them, — will not suspect him of seeking popularity, except so far as it is necessary to the furtherance of his objects.
That Széchenyi has not attempted what he could not do, and what others have failed in doing, when they did attempt, is, both at home and abroad, no uncommon subject of complaint against him. To me it appears one of his greatest merits. To have known his own powers, to have calculated accurately how far his means would enable him to go, to have reflected deeply on the practicability as well as utility of a scheme before he proposed it for adoption, would seem just those qualities which best entitle a man to the confidence of a nation ; and which, when united to high talents, necessarily make him the leader of a party. But Széchenyi's objects and hopes are best described by himself in concluding the " Hitel."
" The contents of my work will prove to all that
I hate all extreme measures, all excesses ; that I
am a friend of moderation and harmony. Gladly
would I see parties unite ; and much more willingly
would I attain, by a middle path, the possible good,
than vainly strive after that imaginary bliss, which
we may probably never know but in a better world.
It would be difficult, as it would be unjust, to conclude this notice of Count Széchenyi, without mentioning Mr. Tasner. This gentleman, educated for the bar, has accepted the office of assistant and secretary to Count Széchenyi ; and the Count only does him due credit when he calls him his right hand. There are few strangers who visit Hungary, who are not indebted to Mr. Tasner for many polite services, who are not aware of the extent and accuracy of his information, and of the kindness with which he imparts it. It is no niggard praise to say that Mr. Tasner, in the less ambitious sphere he occupies, is not less unwearied in application, not less zealous in his exertions, not less devoted to the cause which he believes most certain to work out the good of Hungary, than Count Széchenyi himself.
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