Magyar-British Relations in the Age of Romanticism, Reform and Revolution,1795 -1849: Paget, Széchenyi and Kossuth.   1 comment

Reform or Revolution?

In the last decades of the eighteenth century, a certain British influence could be detected in  both the political and economic life of Hungary; at the same time, Hungarian intellectual life, poetry and literature received a stimulating impulse from English authors whose works were read and became popular on the Continent. The Hungarians were, at first, interested in the English authors and poets known in Vienna, as these works were the most easily accessible. The works of Shakespeare, Milton, Pope and Young, the moral meditations of the Spectator, Richardson’s sentimental novels, and Sterne’s capricious ramblings all became well-known. English literary influence could first be felt among the Transdanubian poets and it was from there that the new spirit spread further.

By contrast, the Jacobin movement in Hungary was never able to win over the masses. It was led by Ignác Martinovics, a Franciscan friar, who was the leader of a secret society faithful to the principles of the French Enlightenment. The philosopher was, in reality, an agent provocateur, a secret agent of the Viennese Court, whose task was to exert pressure on the conservative aristocracy to take the wind out of the sails of radicalism, made all the more dangerous because it was uncontrollable, composed of recruits from a middle class longing for bourgeois liberty. The son of Leopold II, Francis I (1792-1836) was a reactionary ruler who ended all ambiguity about the Hungarian Jacobin movement. He put its participants on trial and beheaded its leaders, including Martinovics. The death sentences were carried out on Buda’s Vérmező (shown below).


British Sojourners in Hungary in the Age of Reform

006The Hungarian nobility, meanwhile, continued to look towards the other side of the channel for its inspiration. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Count Joseph Teleki, who later became President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, made the journey to England in 1815. However, it was not only aristocrats who, at the turn of the century, travelled to what they still saw as the land of freedom to add to their store of knowledge. The economic well-being and intellectual development of the island kingdom continued to penetrate the consciousness of a growing Hungarian bourgeois culture more effectively than the French revolutionary élan.

At the same time, English travellers continued to find their way to Hungary, particularly to the northern region, the mineral wealth of which was of particular interest. They also noted various episodes of Hungarian life, and all the contemporary Hungarian critics agreed that Dr Robert Townson was the first traveller who, at the end of the eighteenth century, made Hungary if not fully, yet better known to Europe. Townson’s book was still widely read in Hungary when, in 1818, Richard Bright published his descriptive book in 1818. Unlike Townson, Bright was not primarily interested in Hungary’s natural resources and mining towns, nor particularly in the great Hungarian plain richly covered with golden corn. Instead he tried to ‘paint’ a complete picture of Hungarian life, including the intellectual life of the newly developing nation, about which he intended to write exhaustively. He was unable to realise this plan, however, and only one chapter of his book dealt with language and literature. Nevertheless, his was the first English literary work which attempted to deal with Hungarian intellectual life.

In 1814, Gábor Döbrentei had declared, in an introductory article to the first number of Erdélyi Múzeum, that one of the aims of his literary enterprise was an ampler exposition of the Literature of the English. A few years later he wrote in the same journal that it was desirable that many of our young people should devote themselves to learning the English language and should show the nation by translating the works of that lofty and so original literature what affinity the English mind can kindle in the slumbering Hungarian soul… In 1828 John Browning requested certain Hungarian scholars, including Gábor Döbrentei and Ferenc Toldy, to give him an outline of the most outstanding pieces of Hungarian poetry. His translations of these poems were published in an 1830 volume entitled Poetry of the Magyars. In the previous year Catherine Gore published her three volumes of Hungarian Tales, which she prefaced with the remark that there was hardly a country in Europe where ‘anglomania’ was so great as in Hungary.

   The intellectual legacy of this age was subsequently taken over from the minor authors by greater personalities. From the Age of  Romanticism the stimulating effect of Byron and Scott is well-known, and the British writers roused a vivid echo in the minds of Arany and Petöfi. Scott’s novels were exceptionally popular in Hungary; they were widely read, known and quoted. From the point of view of literary history their greatest importance lies in the fact that under the influence of the great Scottish story-teller the Hungarian historical novel was born. Baron Nicholas Jósika was called the Hungarian Walter Scott by his contemporaries. The effect of the cult of Byron was felt by Hungary’s lyric and epic poems for decades, since there were many enthusiasts for his work in Hungary at the time. As can be detected from contemporary newspapers and periodicals, Hungarians showed interest not only in his public works, but also in his lifestyle, his wanderings, caprices and eccentricities. Even in the fashion of the day signs of the imitation of Byron may be found. Nevertheless, Shakespeare remained the foremost English literary figure and obligatory reading for the Hungarian poets and the reading public. According to Vörösmarty, the translation of Shakespeare was worth a half of any nation’s literature, and Petöfi went so far as to declare that Shakespeare was a half of the creation by himself. The great Hungarian bards joined forces in translating the dramas of the Bard of Avon into a Hungarian worthy of him.

The Hungarian cult of Shakespeare did not stop at translation and imitation. There were also eminent Shakespearean actors and the National Theatre, then only just founded, made some excellent productions and its actors gave first-rate performances.In his Letters from Budapest (1847), John Palgrave Simpson commented that Shakespeare is, on the Hungarian stage, the sun of dramatic art, in the rays of which author and actor seek to bask. He saw several plays at the National Theatre and commented that the production of Romeo and Juliet might have given Shakespeare’s own native land a lesson.  

This extraordinary interest in all things British naturally met with reciprocation from other British writers who did not go as far as to settle permanently in Hungary. Besides John Bowring’s translations of Hungarian poems, Julia Pardoe, who had become famous in Britain for her description of her journey across Hungary, wrote an essay in the Foreign Quarterly Review about Hungarian literature. A British student also undertook to write the history of Hungary. Edward Wakefield began this with great enthusiasm, but, although working on it for years, he never finished it, perhaps because he mistook the scale of the project. In the literature of the Age of Reform (1825-1848) we meet most frequently with the names of Scott and Byron, but other British poets and authors were also well known, most notably Bulwer-Lytton and Thomas Moore. In addition, the first success of Dickens was reflected in Hungary, since Hungarian periodicals published ‘English Stories’ of the adventurous, romantic kind, in translation. British intellectual and literary life exerted their influence over receptive authors and poets. Besides poets and novelists, the traveller Edmund Spencer was not only able to compare Austria and Hungary and their relations within the Hapsburg Empire, but was also able to compare life in Hungary at significant points in the Age, in 1830, 1847 and 1850. However, his two volumes of  Travels in European Turkey was not published until 1851, so although his third visit had the intention of studying the difference of political and social conditions that had arisen since his second visit in 1847, it is obviously retrospective in its recollections of life before the revolution and War of Independence, and therefore needs to be dealt with in the context of other reflections on Hungary after these cataclysmic events.

An Englishman’s Transylvanian Rhapsody

In the two decades before the War of Independence, when commercial and political considerations focused the attentions of the Hungarian leadership on British links, there was also a strong and growing desire among this élite to become better acquainted with English language and literature. We have no knowledge of how many people actually began learning English at this time, but we do know that there were opportunities to do so not only in the capital but also in the larger provincial towns. A variety of sources provide this qualitative evidence. For instance, Pál (Paul) Csató was in lively dispute with József Bajza over the pronunciation of certain English words, and called upon the expert opinions of the English teachers not only of Pozsony (Bratislava) and Pest, but also those of Debrecen, Patak, Kolozsvár, Enyed, Pápa, Kecskemét, Losonc and Nagykőrös, in order to prove his case. According to R. T. Claridge, a contemporary British tourist, the Hungarian capital at this time was quite justly called the Hungarian London. This he explained by referring to the way in which:

The English style of building and the desire everywhere manifested to imitate the manner and customs, and even adopt the language of our own metropolis, make Pest an object of peculiar interest to the English traveller, who is, moreover, sure to be treated with the greatest kindness and hospitality.

Hungarians were well-versed in English intellectual life at that time. John Paget, who married a Transylvanian noblewoman, the Baroness Polyxena Wesselényi, and settled in Transylvania, commented on how well British political, social and cultural matters were understood in Hungary; it could almost be said that the Magyars were enchanted by them, and this feeling was certainly mutual in Paget’s case. He first visited the ‘magical’ lands of the Magyars in Hungary and Transylvania in 1835, settling in Transylvania after his marriage on the estate belonging to his wife. The purpose of his first visit was to familiarise himself with the life of the Hungarian people. Rather than simply travelling extensively, he learnt to read Hungarian and for eighteen months he studied public life, investigating both present and past.  His two-volume work, Hungary and Transylvania, published in London in 1839, was greeted by the Hungarian writer and critic, Ferenc Toldi in the following glowing terms:

The eminent author is undoubtedly the first foreigner who, apart from being more or less well-informed about the conditions of Hungary, has arrived at an independent attitude respecting our country.

006He travelled all over Hungary, visiting all the better known towns and regions alike in the lowlands which were so rich in romance, as well as the mountainous province of Transylvania and the territory of Transdanubia.  His interest in Hungary had been first aroused in Italy, where he first met Baroness Polzxena Wesselényi, whom he married after his first travels. He became an enthusiastic farmer, in addition to playing an active role in public life. He was warmly attached to his adopted country and rapturously espoused the cause of the Hungarian nation. In 1848 he served both as a soldier and a writer, keeping the English press constantly informed of events in Hungary, but after the surrender of the Hungarian army to the Russians at nearby Világos (pictured on the right in a painting from 1851), he was forced to leave the country. He went back to Britain, not returning until 1855, when he found his estate in a very poor state. Even his library had been scattered to the winds by the Romanians. All his life he took an exceptional interest in the Unitarians of Transylvania, acting as a connecting link for them with their coreligionists in Britain, who made an endowment to the Unitarian Church of Hungary. Later, his son Oliver served with other Hungarian volunteers in Garibaldi’s army. John Paget eventually died at the age of eighty-four in 1892.

His work dealing with Hungary and Transylvania gives a detailed cross-section of Hungarian social and political life. Before crossing the frontier from Austria, he was told many tales in Vienna of the wild Hungarians and the dangers of the journey. One of the first remarks he made, therefore, was that travel in Hungary was just as safe as it was in Britain. He enthusiastically espoused the Hungarian cause and almost his first feeling on arriving there being one of gratitude at being once again in a country where liberty was still valued. He contradicted the popular Viennese view of the Hungarians as rebels, simply because they spoke more loudly about matters which their more cautious neighbours did not even dare to talk in whispers about. He was entranced by the warmth and openness of Hungarian life, and was also moved by listening to the great men of the country. He heard Ferenc Deák speak at the Pozsony Diet. Not a sound was to be heard as Deák spoke in his deep and passionate voice in the matter of Wesselényi Trial. Deák was followed by Kossuth, whom Paget described as a young orator of great promise. However, what he saw and heard at the Diet were not the only aspects of Hungarian public life that impressed Paget. Despite the censorship, political isolation and other obstacles which the absolutist Hapsburg emperors had placed in the way of Hungarian discourse and intercourse with the West, the Hungarians had developed sounder perspectives on a variety of issues, especially in their County administrations, than many other European nations which, supposedly, possessed a higher civilisation. In conclusion he declared that the Hungarians had no need of a revolution, because the spirit and form of their constitution provided for every desirable liberty.

Paget refuted the daring, yet absurd, generalisations of others of his fellow countrymen who had only spent a few days, or even just a few hours, in the country, but saw fit to publish their rushed judgements nonetheles. He was able to write of Hungary with such understanding and cordial sympathy partly because he was given a hearty and heartfelt reception everywhere he went. At Lőcse a young girl presented him with a bouquet in the name of the ladies of Hungary. They honoured him as the compatriot of Shakespeare, Byron, Scott and Bulwer Lytton, and he met many people who had read the English classics either in the original, or in translation. There were few educated women in Transylvania who could not hold a conversation about these writers of classics. Paget even met in the valley of the Vág an old Jewish man who pulled from his pocket a German translation of Ivanhoe and asked him whether Walter Scott was still alive. He frequently met Hungarians who spoke English fluently and the ‘anglomania’ of the country which had originated with the aristocrats had found its way into other ranks of society. English customs were everywhere being introduced into Hungary and English sport was making headway. Paget himself helped to spread British cultural ideas in Transylvania. In Szolnok, the Deputy Sheriff, on hearing of the English strangers passing through the town, had their carriage filled with choice fruit and Szolnok loaves, which he declared to be the best bread in Hungary. Writing of this incident, Paget commented:

It is true, all this might be nothing but the effect of good-nature: and yet, reader, had you seen the real kindness with which it was done, the interest the good man took in our journey, the sentiments he expressed in favour of our native land; had you received all this attention from an individual you never saw before, and whom… you would never see again; and had you felt that it was your country rather than to yourself you owed it, – you must be differently constructed from me if you did not find yourself a happier man than when you entered Szolnok.

The second part of Paget’s book deals chiefly with Transylvania, and Paget takes his readers everywhere, from wretched Romanian cottages to the splendid life-styles of the aristocracy in their mansions at Kolozsvár. Paget was also interested in the lower classes, in the Székler and Romanian lower classes in particular. Both were poor, but the Székler reminded Paget of the Scots in their enterprise, endeavour, and endurance. They were literate and well-educated, their schools being of a surprisingly high standard. The Romanians, by contrast, were, according to Paget, lazy, and drank too much. When harvest was at its height, he observed the Romanian workers taking pleasure in sleeping in the sun. He added:

His corn is always the last cut, and is very often left to shell on the ground for want of timely gathering; yet scarcely a winter passes that he is not starving with hunger. If he has a wagon to drive, he is generally found asleep at the bottom of it; if he has a message to carry, ten to one but he gets drunk on the way, and sleeps over the time in which it should be executed.

His treatment of the Romanian question was in the light of the opinion then prevailing. He felt certain misgivings when he reflected that the Romanians owed their allegiance, through their religion, to the Russian Tsar and the Archbishop of Moscow. To Paget the Romanian priests were also merely agents and spies of the Russian Court. This Russian threat, which the British were beginning to sense on the borders of their Empire, especially near to the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of that Empire, India, was perceived to extend all the way to the Viennese Court. In Paget’s own words, the Austrian Cabinet had shamelessly thrown itself into the luring arms of the Russian camarilla.

From Transylvania, Paget travelled via Nagyvárad to Pest and then on to Transdanubia. He gave a few cameos of life in the lowlands, of the Pest Carnival, of the romance of Bakony, of the highwayman Joe Sobri and his fellow outlaws. The last pleasant episode of this journey through Hungary was his short sojourn at Nagykanizsa, a visit made memorable by a splendid dinner. The fellow Englishman who was accompanying him spoke with rapture of the Hungarian cooking. He would defy anyone who presumed to declare that Hungary was not at an exceptionally high level of civilisation:

I should be glad to know where else such a dinner as this, and a good bottle of wine to it, could be had for twenty pence, – I am sure not in England!

In the closing chapter of his book, Paget was at pains to point out (by 1839) how there had been few commercial connections between Britain and the lands of the Magyars worth speaking about, despite the exceptional wealth of the country’s resources. The fertility of the lowlands and the rich mines and forests of Upper Hungary and Transylvania could supply Britain with much of what she needed to import. A reciprocal trade between the two countries would be to the benefit of both. The anglophile atmosphere in Hungary at that time made it the ideal point to establish such economic connections, since the conditions were very receptive to British commerce.

The Economic Links of István Széchenyi

British culture reached its zenith in its influence on the development of Hungarian national culture in the twenty-five years preceding the Hungarian War of Independence, for throughout the period Count István Széchenyi continually drew the attention of the nation towards Britain, as a land from which much could be learnt, particularly in economic and industrial respects. Despite the mass of literature about him, however, it is difficult to obtain a clear picture of the intellectual imports resulting from his travels in Britain. We know that Széchenyi learnt a great deal from Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham, who was elected a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. We also know that in matters of horse-racing, steamship and bridge design, he always had an English example to follow; but we know little of the influence of the cultural conditions which he observed in Britain on his great Hungarian personality.

Count Ferenc Széchenyi, István’s father, had founded the Hungarian National Museum. In the early part of the century, British machines had occasionally been imported into Hungary, but it was István Széchenyi who first drew Hungarian public attention to the progress in economic life being made in Britain, and the possibilities for applying that science to Hungary. He first proposed to follow the example of the British Isles in encouraging horse-breeding and arranging horse-racing. He then acquired British plans for the technical innovations which he wanted to introduce into Hungary, engaging British engineers and experts to carry those plans into execution. In the history of the Danube navigation we often come into contact with British names; the Budapest ‘Chain’ Bridge was planned and built by Scottish engineers, while the diving bell used during the improvement of the lower reaches of the river was tested by an Englishman. Széchenyi’s guiding spirit was to be sen everywhere.

Every chapter of his work entitled Lovakrul (Of Horses, 1828) betrays the practical sense of the British. He always has British examples in mind and constantly refers to them. The horse-races in Hungary were arranged on the British model; while from 1827 a Gyepkönyv (Turf Book) was issued along the lines of the Racing Calendar and the Stud Book.  The British racing regulations were translated by Anthony Tasner in 1836. British horses were also imported and British trainers and jockeys with them. Baron Nicholas Wesselényi sold his stud because he proposed to breed only horses of English origin and race, an example which was followed by others.  Fox hunting and stag hunting also became popular in Hungary at this time. Hunts of the ‘British’ kind were arranged from 1823 by large landowners in the County of Szolnok, as well as in Nyitra and Fóth, and later in Trans-Tisza and the Banat (South Hungary). István Széchenyi, Mihály Esterházy, János Hunyadi and Lajos  Károlyi were the first to introduce fox-hunting. Hunters and beagles were introduced from Britain and the pack was trained by a British huntsman, William Baldogh. In both Hungary and Transylvania, where hunting with hounds was introduced by John Paget, so that British usages were copied faithfully. The slavish addiction to the imitation of the British aristocracy at play became the subject of mockery and satire, especially of the great hunts at Csákó and Körösladány:

In mud and rain it is no joke

To run with the stag.

Maybe ‘ twould be better

To roof in the ditches

Than to ape  Albion..

Széchenyi’s interest and enthusiasm also met with a response in Britain as well as in Hungary. There was a marked increase in the number of British visitors touring Hungary and recording their impressions and experiences. There were many who went to Hungary at the personal invitation of Széchenyi, but there were also people in whose estimation Hungary’s significance had risen considerably as a result of the improved means of transport and communication, in particular with the opening up of steamship navigation on the Danube. The author of an article published in the journal Századunk, wrote that the English had discovered Hungary only recently… they use it as a open house facing East, in which they look around ‘en passant’. The more frequent English-speaking sojourners met with much recognition and praise for their written observations on Hungary, and although they approached the Hungarian border with the prejudices whispered in their ears in Vienna  still fresh in their minds , they returned to Britain pleasantly surprised by what they had found and experienced. Critical opinion considered the writings of John Paget and Julia Pardoe to be the most thorough and trustworthy, though not without their flaws. By the 1830s, however, there were also a growing number of ‘fashion-travellers’ who travelled rapidly down the Danube from country to country on board the steamships. At least one Hungarian writer who observed this early development of mass ‘guide book’ tourism was unimpressed by the quality of the guests arriving at the jetties:

Now…our poor country, hapless Hunnia, is next, where steamships begin to gather the sons of proud Britannia; is not that a natural consequence?

What Charles Nagy was making fun of in 1837 was the consequence of the association of Steamship-navigation on the Danube with British companies, and throughout the 1830s and 1840s there were several ventures to establish economic relations between Hungary and Britain. As a further consequence, there arose a whole literature connected with boat voyages on the Danube. A British man named Andrews, who was resident in Vienna, was the first to run a steamer on the Danube, together with his compatriot Pritchard, in 1829. For the first three years, he was hardly able to cover his expenses, since there was often not even a single passenger on the boat. Nobody would believe that the enterprise could be successful, not even Széchenyi. However, Andrews and Pritchard struck lucky when they were asked to ferry three hundred curious passengers from Pest to the fair at Zimony. From that time on Széchenyi followed the enterprise with the keenest attention, and steamship-navigation became his ‘hobby’, to quote one of his British acquaintances. Navigation in general became more than a hobby to him, as he correctly discerned its economic potential on the Danube in particular, the river which connected the Occident with the Orient. Constantinople came nearer to Pest, and nearer to London too. In London, Széchenyi’s efforts to make the Danube navigable attracted great attention, and it was with British backing that he achieved his plan. The Birmingham factories of Matthew Boulton and James Watt made the engines for the boats, and in much later years, the engines of the steamers plying their trade on the Tisza, which Széchenyi straightened for their use, and on Lake Balaton were still mostly manufactured in Britain.

003 004

Above: The experimental railroad at Kőbánya – an engraving by János Hofbauer & Eduard Gurk, 1829. As we look into this picture and admire the viaduct and the elevated rail section, we begin to understand how it was possible for Hungary, by the end of the nineteenth century, to carve out a leading place for itself in its machine industry and electrification.

Right: A lithograph by V Katzler, showing, in a circle of pictures the achievements of István Széchenyi (1791-1860). Oddly, his chief project is omitted, and the one to which he sacrificed most of his wealth: The Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which stands at the Pest end of the Chain Bridge, as an institution and a great public building. Adopting the methods of the Scottish engineer, MacAdam, Széchenyi also constructed a network of stone streets in Pest. Moving in the most exclusive circles of the British aristocracy and the court, he was almost arrested for smuggling a gas engine across the Channel. He had a relationship with Caroline Meade, an English woman who was married to his brother’s wife, whom he eventually married after his brother’s death. However, the marriage failed.


The construction of the Suspension Bridge connecting Pest with Buda attracted many British engineers to Hungary. Originally Count Maurice Sándor had consulted the great engineer, Isambard K Brunel of London in the matter of constructing a bridge to connect Pest and Buda. That scheme was never realised; but it was a letter of Sándor’s that gave the impulse to Széchenyi’s most eminent technical achievement. The greatest Hungarian never abandoned the idea and when he visited Britain in the company of Count György Andrássy in 1832, they met engineers and well-known bridge-builders, including William T Clark, as well as Thomas Telford, Harley, Ogden and the American, Wright. They also wanted to study American bridge-building, but their Parliamentary duties prevented this. Their visit to Britain convinced them, despite all opinion to the contrary, that the perfect type of bridge was the suspension bridge. In 1837 William Tierney Clark (1783-1852) came to Hungary accompanied by several other engineers. After a very short sojourn and having completed his investigations, Clark returned to Britain and drafted plans for the suspension bridge. For some time, however, it was uncertain whether he would return to Buda/Pest  or accept another invitation to work in St Petersburg. Széchenyi was very annoyed by this prevarication, and for some time the question of who would build the suspension bridge remained unanswered. Nevertheless, in 1839 Clark chose to return to Hungary, and began the construction work. On 24 August, 1842, in the presence of the Archduke Joseph the foundation stone was laid (pictured right in the watercolour by Miklós Barabás from 1842). The national newspaper, Pesti Hiírlap (28 August) published an interesting description of the ceremony. Clark entrusted the personal supervision of the construction work to his nephew, Adam Clark.  The Scottish engineer was an enthusiastic admirer of Széchenyi, and the work was carried out mostly by Scottish workmen. Their number must certainly have been quite considerable, for when the Revs. Duncan and Wingate, ministers of the Scottish mission, began their ministry, they were appointed as chaplains, to take care of the spiritual needs of the Scottish workmen working on the bridge. Fantastic rumours were in circulation concerning the proportion of the work started and other plans. According to the periodical Életképek, 26,000 British workers hoped to settle in Hungary to develop factories. Another periodical, Pesti Divatlapwrote in 1845, in a sarcastic tone, that our famed national unity would be strengthened by another race.

Meanwhile, British officials began to give serious attention to the improvement of the Danube route and thus Hungary’s political and economic conditions. Sir Robert Gordon, British Ambassador at Vienna from 1841 to 1846, followed Széchenyi’s activity with keen attention, accompanying Széchenyi on a visit of inspection to the bridge and to the shipyards in Óbuda, while British bankers vied with one another in offering as cheap loans as possible for the construction of the Fiume Railway. Metternich was accompanied by Lord Banville on the occasion of the opening of the Budapest-Szolnok Railway Line. David Urquhart, legational secretary at Constantinople discussed the international importance of the Danubian waterway at great length in his book on Turkey. While Hungarian matters were being discussed in London, in Hungary itself the question raised was how to gain a market in London for Hungarian goods, as a result of which an ‘Anglo-Hungarian Institute’ was organised for the sale of Hungarian wool, corn and other agricultural produce. Paul Almási Balogh strove to establish viable commercial relations with Britain, with the declared aim of lifting our country from obscurity by encouraging Hungarian producers to create national industry. Henry Kirk, the agent of a London firm, accompanied by a son of Israel named Abrahamsohn and brandishing a letter of recommendation from Prince Paul Esterházy, the Austrian ambassador in London, came to Pest to arrange for a storehouse for Hungarian products. However, Kirk fell out with Balogh, and the Hungarian producers sustained losses because of this. He returned to London after a short time and was succeeded by John Gifford and later by Cunliffe Pickersgill as the Head of the Anglo-Hungarian Institute. Lajos (Louis) Kossuth, principal spokesman for the Hungarian movement, who was appointed Finance Minister by the Emperor Ferdinand V in the early spring of 1848, wrote in the newspaper Pesti Hírlap that:

There is nothing left but to congratulate ourselves that through the action of Mr Gifford the first links of international trade with the English nation are welded together.

However, the links were not as strong as they appeared to Kossuth. The cause of Reform in Hungary had a good friend in the person of J. A. Blackwell, who was the political agent of the English government in Hungary from 1843 to 1851. He was also very interested in the British-Hungarian commercial connections which were beginning to be forged. At the same time, he viewed the expansion of Russia with thinly disguised anxiety, repeating with almost naive conviction the political proposition that the more Hungary’s power spreads, the more will England’s power grow and that of Russia diminish. His favourite idea was a Danube Confederation, with Hungary as the leading state. Such a Hungary would fully deserve the British government’s moral support. Blackwell also wrote a tragedy in verse, Rudolf of Varosnay, published in London in 1841, dealing with the tragic story of Count Samuel Beleznay.

1848-9: The Defeated Heroes in Britain

011It would be interesting to discover, through further detailed research, the extent to which it was these anglophone and anglophile links which helped to create the climate in which Hungary made its courageous bid for independence. It is always assumed that Paris was the birthplace of the ideas of the 1848 Revolutions throughout Europe, but given the ease with which the Hungarian Jacobins were defeated in 1795, and these ongoing, organic links with Britain and the wider English-speaking world beyond, including post-revolutionary America, it is perhaps questionable as to whether the 1848 Hungarian Revolution would have been, initially, quite so successful without the determined support of its increasingly anglophile and progressive nobility and gentry classes. Intellectuals may give voice to revolutionary ideals, but they don’t sustain the revolutionary impulse among its people.


The defeat of the Hungarians in the War of Independence which followed their successful Revolution certainly made a deep impression in Britain. The indignation of the British people was heightened when the news of the execution of the thirteen generals at Arad on 6 November, 1849, (pictured above in a contemporary painting by János Thorma) reached London. The Reformer Richard Cobden, who later espoused the cause of Kossuth and the Hungarian refugees, addressed an open letter to the Austrian Minister, Bach, in which he gave expression to the widespread indignation in British public opinion. In the name of humanity, he asked the Minister of the Interior to put an end to the butchery, for civilisation had, he said, advanced much further than to tolerate on its stage such ‘heroes’ as Alba and Haynau. In the same year, eighty-three members of the United Kingdom Parliament  addressed a memorandum to the government in the interest of Hungary. With the exception of ultra-conservative circles, sympathy for the Hungarian cause was general, and the emigrants met with the greatest admiration everywhere. Lajos Kossuth was greeted with great enthusiasm when he arrived for his first stay in Britain.  Before he arrived in the country, his friend and secretary Francis Pulszky had reported to him that his arrival would not be welcomed by the government, but that the people would give him a reception surpassing that given to crowned heads. This statement was well-founded as Kossuth made his triumphal entrance to Britain. The sober, cool-headed British public, perhaps fuelled by their own Chartist movement, was swept away by his appearance and oratorical power, a testimony to his abilities in English by this time.

This Hungarian had never been to Britain before, neither had he yet been to the United States. However, he won great admiration for his ability to play with the rhetorical beauties of the language of his mass audiences. In his first speech, delivered on his arrival in Southampton, made an extraordinary impression on them. After his Guildhall speech, it was resolved to post a printed copy of his oration on the wall of the auditorium of the Guildhall as a memorial. In Birmingham he was received amid the ringing of bells, the buildings bedecked with tricolor flags; he was carried in a coach and four, Hungarian-style, and cheered as no other foreigner was ever cheered in that century at least, except perhaps Garibaldi twenty years later, whose eventually victory for national liberty he helped to make possible.


One response to “Magyar-British Relations in the Age of Romanticism, Reform and Revolution,1795 -1849: Paget, Széchenyi and Kossuth.

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  1. Reblogged this on hungarywolf.

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