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The language which has prevailed in Hungary for nearly a thousand years and is spoken at the present day by about 12,000,000 persons, is a pithy and very pliant language, rich in vowel-sounds and fundamentally different from the majority of literary tongues. As was determined by the Jesuit Sajnovics in 1770, it is most nearly related to the Vogul-Ostiak, though the Hungarians have been separated for more than two thousand years from the people using that tongue. Together with the Vogul-Ostiak, Hungarian, as well as Lappish, Finnish, Cheremis, Mordvin, and Samojed, belongs to the Ural group of languages, and further, together with Turkish and Mongolian - all of Asiatic origin - to the Ural-Altaic group. The vocabulary of Hungarian has been greatly enriched by words borrowed from neighbouring peoples, as from the Persian and especially from the Turkish, even before the immigration into the present Hungary (896), so that it was for some time thought that Hungarian was most nearly allied to the Turco-Mongolian stock (Vámbéry). After the immigration, words were further borrowed from the Slav, German, Latin, and Italian languages. Hungarian, in spite of a certain harshness, is particularly well suited for oratory and for serious poetry, especially since it has been systematically developed and enriched by Révai, Kazinczy, and a school of so-called neologists, c. 1770-1800. Excluded from scientific and political life by the use of Latin until about 1840, Hungarian, during the course of the nineteenth century, came to be regarded more and more as a bond of national unity and a safeguard of political independence, and, as such, was zealously cultivated in spite of the Germanizing efforts of Austria. The oldest monument of the Hungarian language is a funeral oration, "Halotti beszéd", about 1230, and a hymn on the Virginity of Our Lady, c. 1300. Hungarian literature, a markedly national product, was always in closest contact with the historical development of the people, and accordingly may be divided into five periods.
(1) The Pre-Reformation Period
The pre-Reformation period, which in pre-Christian times, up to about A. D. 1000, produced chiefly popular epics, and after the introduction of Christianity, works chiefly of a religious character, such as legends and hymns, mystic meditations and lives of the saints. Amongst the latter the most noteworthy is that of the Hungarian princess, Blessed Margaret. Almost all of these were the work of religious, such as Temesvári Pelbart and Ráskai Lea. Contemporary with these are the sagas of the heroes and the chronicles. These latter are mostly in Latin and show especially the influence of the Renaissance, which was promoted largely by King Matthias Corvinus (1458-90), whose court became a centre of humanistic culture (Archbishop Vitéz; Bishop Janus Pannonius; the magnificent Bibliotheca Corvina). Culture and literature were suddenly brought to a standstill by the invasion of the Turks and the consequent devastation of bishoprics, monasteries, and schools, and later through the divisions and confusion of the Reformation.
(2) Reformation and Counter-Reformation Period
Towards the middle of the sixteenth century began the printed controversial literature. The polemical warfare was commenced by the Protestants and was carried on more by means of personal abuse and raillery than by argument; e. g. the Hungarian Reformers Dévai and Melius, later Geleji-Katona, Alvinczi, and others. They were met on the Catholic side by Telegdi, Monoszlai, Balásfi, Veresmarti, and the Jesuits. These, however, were all far surpassed by Cardinal Peter Pázmány, S.J. (1570-1637), Primate of Hungary, one of the greatest figures in the history of Hungarian civilization and literature. Besides many controversial writings, spiritual books, and a large volume of sermons, his chief work is the great "Hodegus" or "Kalauz" (1613), a complete apology for Christianity and Catholicism, written in a clever manner suited to the times, displaying a very full acquaintance with the literature of the Reformation, often ironical and sarcastic, and above all full of sharp and caustic logic. This work became an arsenal which furnished weapons to the champions of the subsequent Catholic reorganization. The Hungarian Protestants were unable to answer him, and sent the great work, translated into Latin, to Wittenberg. Balduinus, the dean of the Lutheran professors at this university, required ten years for his reply. To this Pázmány soon wrote a "counter-reply", which secured the final triumph of the Catholic cause in Hungary. This work led to the re-conversion of the greater part of Hungary, and to the end of the religious controversy, while it also brought about a great development of Hungarian as a literary language, and formed, according to Toldy, the father of Hungarian literary history, "the basis of the later Hungarian prose style". The Bible was also repeatedly translated into the vernacular. The monk Bathor (c. 1516) had translated the Bible in pre-Reformation times, and after him, towards the middle of the sixteenth century, Catholics like Komjati, Mizsér, Erdösi, and others preceded the Protestant translators. The first complete Protestant translation of the Bible was published in 1589 by Károlyi, and the first Catholic one in 1626 by Káldi, S.J.; both translations, the Catholic one revised by Tárkányi, 1865, are still in use. The profane literature of this period is represented by the epics of the wandering minstrel Tinódi (died 1557), the lyric poet Balassi (died 1594), and especially by Pázmány's disciple, the deeply religious Hungarian general, Nicolaus Zrinyi, who, in 1651, wrote the first Hungarian epic, "The Fall of Sziget", dealing with the heroic death of his grandfather and namesake at the destruction of the fortress of Sziget by the Turks. Gyöngyösi (died 1704), besides lyric and epic poems, such as "Venus of Murány", also wrote religious verse, it is to be regretted that, like those of his master Ovid, his poems are frequently immoral. For the rest, the literature of this period breathes a spirit of glowing patriotism and deep religious feeling. Worthy of mention are the folk-songs, especially those belonging to the time of the wars for the liberation of Transylvania; amongst these is the "Rákóczy Song", which even to-day is often set to music by Hungarian composers. The drama, both in Latin and Hungarian, was cultivated in the numerous schools of the Jesuits and later in those of other religious orders.
(3) Period of Peaceful Development
After the close of the Turkish and civil wars (Peace of Szatmár, 1711) began the age of peaceful development, in many respects under the influence of the flourishing literature of Western Europe. At this point, too, begins the literary treatment of the different branches of learning, which up to then had been confined to elementary school textbooks (Apáczai-Cseri). To history belongs the first place, especially to the works of the Jesuits Pray and Katona, the latter of whom composed an invaluable pragmatic history of Hungary in forty volumes. Second place must be given to the science of language, represented by the Piarist Révai (died 1807). The Jesuit Faludi (died 1779) wrote novels and moral essays; he is looked upon as the best stylist of his time. Mikes, the faithful companion in banishment of the hero of freedom, Francis Rákóczy II, wrote his classic-elegiac "Letters from Turkey", while Amade wrote lyrics. Bessenyei and others produced works closely modelled on French writers (Voltaire). These are unjustly regarded by modern anti-Catholic writers of literary history, such as Beöthy, as the starting-point and creators of modern Hungarian literature. The old classical models were followed by many members of religious orders, such as Baróti-Szabó, Virág, and others. In fact from the beginning Hungarian literature was much indebted to the religious orders. The most successful classicist was the lyric poet Berzsenyi (died 1836). Kazinczy (died 1831), the delicate critic and enthusiastic admirer of classicism, modelled himself on German writers, as did also the lyric poet and orator Kölcsey (died 1838); who composed the national hymn "Isten áldd meg" (God Bless Hungary), and the freemason Kármán, who died young, in consequence of dissipation, and others. The naturalistic and often coarse writer of lyric and comic verse Csokonay, the Piarist Dugonics, Gvadányi, and others strove after independence from Western influence.
(4) The Augustan Age of Hungarian Literature
The Augustan Age begins with the nineteenth century in Berzsenyi and Kölcsey and Alexander and Charles Kisfaludy. Alexander Kisfaludy wrote the "Minnelieder of Himfy", and Charles (died 1830), besides writing lyric patriotic verse, produced especially tragedies from national history, and popular comedy. Under the influence of national ideals which sprang up throughout Europe, and which were especially promoted in Hungary by Count Stephen Széchenyi (the "Greatest of Hungarians", and the founder of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 1825; he died in 1860), Hungarian literature reached its acme in the middle of that century. Michael Vörösmarty (1800-55) is regarded by many as the greatest lyric, epic, and dramatic poet of Hungary. Among his writings are "Zalén's Flight", "The Two Neighbouring Castles" etc. Katon (died 1830) wrote the best Hungarian tragedy, "Banus Bank". Garay, the Benedictine Czuczor, Fáy, Bajza, Vajda, Kúthy, and others cultivated various forms of literature. The popular Alexander Petöfi (1823-49) is generally regarded as the greatest Hungarian lyricist. He fell, when still young, as a volunteer in the War of Freedom. His poems are full of glowing patriotism and love of liberty, of bold and original imagination, expressed in pure idiomatic and popular language. He is bright and lively, but at times somewhat trivial, and the love-theme plays too large a part in his verses. Among political orators before 1848, Louis Kossuth (died 1894) is especially worthy of mention; after the Revolution, Francis Deÿk (died 1876) was the most prominent orator.
(5) Modern Period
In modern Hungarian literature the novel claims the foremost place. The patriotic historical romance was cultivated by the licentious Baron Jósika, and by the Barons Kemény (died 1875) and Eötvös (died 1871), both very expert in the delineation of character. To them belong "The Carthusian" and "The Village Notary", a satire on the Hungarian officialdom of the time, which was reformed as a result of the publication of this work. They were in some respects surpassed by the most prolific and capable of Hungarian novelists, Jókai (died 1904), of whose more than one hundred novels most of the later ones are of minor literary value and are disfigured by passages offensive to morality and by an attitude hostile to the Church. His best novel is "Az uj Földesur" (The New Squire). In this period the lyric and epic poet John Arany (1817-82) may be looked upon as the most important representative of poetry proper. He stands unsurpassed in Hungarian literature for perfection of form and depth of thought and feeling. He is moreover distinguished for his pure patriotism and the grave character of the subjects he treats: he has not written a single love poem. He shows a special preference and ability for the employment of the ballad. Next to him ranks the deeply religious elegiac poet Tompa (died 1868), whose favourite themes are folk-songs and poems about flowers. Worthy of mention as poets, chiefly lyrical, are Lévay, Szasz, Gyulai, Reviczky, and especially Mindszenty (died 1877), by far the most gifted Catholic writer of religious lyrics in recent times. Other late Catholic writers of religious poems are Tárkányi, Sujánszky, Szulik, Rosty, Rudnyánszky, Kálmán, Erdösi. The peasants also still produce folk-songs of literary value. Dramatic poetry is represented in the modern period by Szigligeti, Tóth, Dóczy, Teleky, the apostate Csiky, and others. The first, especially, may claim credit for the revival and perfection of popular plays, with themes drawn from the healthy patriarchal life of the people. Madách produced a dramatic poem rich in psychological and historical delineation as well as in depth of thought, "The Tragedy of Mankind" which has been translated into several languages. The stage of to-day in Hungary is but little concerned with literary excellence. Of recent novelists the most prominent are Herczeg, Mikszáth, Rákosi, Kincs, Andor, Gárdonyi, and as orators Cardinals Haynald, Schlauch, Samassa, Bishop Prohászka, Minister of State Apponyi, Ugron, Rakovszky, and others. Since the prevalence of modern infidelity, looseness of morals, and class feuds, Hungarian literature is abandoning its ancient ideals of patriotism, religion, and moral earnestness, and imitates the fashionable French and German writers.
Historically we note two periods in Hungarian literature: the period before 1867 and that after. The first Hungarian newspaper, the "Magyar Hirmondó", appeared in 1780 in Pozsony, and the first literary magazine, the "Magyar Múzsa", in 1787. Literary periodicals edited by Kazinczy and Kisfaludy contributed much to the development of Hungarian literature. The first scientific magazine was the "Tudományos Gyüjtemény", founded in 1817 by the historian Canon Fejér. Kossuth's organ, the "Pesti Hirlap" (1841-48), exercised great influence on the events of the wars of freedom and on the period of the Revolution. The "Pesti Napló", edited by Kemény with the co-operation of Deák, was an important factor in the preparation of the settlement with Austria (1867). The political press after the defeat of the national movement (1849), greatly degenerated, but after the settlement the revival of national independence, and the removal of political censorship, began the modern period of rapid development. In 1830 there were in all only 10 Hungarian newspapers and magazines; in 1840 there were 26; in 1848-49, the year of the Revolution, 86; only 9 in 1850; 52 in 1861; 80 in 1867 (year of the settlement); l40 in 1868; 368 in 1880; 636 in 1890; 1132 in 1900; 2069 in 1907. In 1909 the number of newspapers, not counting magazines, was 1384, publishing 152 million copies annually; of these 2 million were Catholic, of the remaining 150 million some are neutral, the majority anti-Catholic. The Catholic press is weak because, owing to the dominant position of the Church for centuries, the Catholics did not feel the advantage of a representative press as keenly as the minority, especially the Jews, who saw its financial advantages. Hence it comes that to-day the Hungarian press is overwhelmingly Liberal and Jewish, strongly hostile to the Church and to a terrible extent pornographic. To its influence, above all, is to be ascribed the growth of religious indifference amongst Catholics, by which the unchristian church laws of 1890 and the spread of Social Democracy were made possible. Catholics possess only one central daily paper of importance, the "Alkotmány", since 1895, which has a circulation of only 7000. Another old daily, "Magyar Allam", had to cease publication in 1908; a 2-heller daily [a heller=one-fifth of a cent], the "Uj Lap", since 1901, is making great progress, thanks to the powerful support of the Catholic Press Association of Hungary. The subscription list rose in a few months from 19,000 to 60,000, and the number of subscribers is increasing daily. The anti-Semitic "Magyarország" has 36,000 subscribers, and the Moderate Liberal "Budapesti Hirlap" 30,000; these are the only papers not hostile to the Church. Then come with outspoken anti-Christian character the Jewish dailies, such as the "Pesti Napló" with 40,000, the "Pesti Hirlap" with 42,000, the "Budapest" with 45,000, the pornographic scandal-chronicle "Nap" with 60,000, the "Kis Ujság" with 80,000, the "Friss Ujság" (a 2-heller daily) with 160,000 subscribers, and many others. Moreover, the literary journals also are mostly objectionable from a moral point of view, and the scientific periodicals (mostly in the hands of Liberal university professors) are for the most part anti-Catholic or indifferent. The lack of criticism, a result of the linguistic isolation of Hungary, makes itself felt especially in this department. Two associations have undertaken to improve the literary position of the Catholics: the Society of St. Stephen, founded in 1847, and the still youthful Catholic Press Association. The former provides Catholic book and magazine literature, and possesses its own magnificent buildings and printing-press (annual income in 1908, $260,000; membership, 20,000). The Press Association (up to May, 1909, with a capital of $40,000) works chiefly for the improvement and spread of the daily press and is justly looked upon as the most important and most promising of Catholic institutions. There are on the Catholic side at present besides the 2 central dailies, 2 provincial dailies, 5 journals appearing several times in the week, and 25 weekly newspapers. Of the 60 Catholic periodicals, about 10 are scientific and literary in character, 9 religious, 16 devotional, and 6 juvenile. The most important are: "Katholikus Szemle" (Catholic Review) since 1887, with 15,000 subscribers; "Elet" (Life) since 1909; "Religio", the oldest existing Hungarian periodical, and "Zászlónk" (Our Flag) for the youth, with 22,000 subscribers. On religious questions the Catholic periodicals are strongly orthodox. In the United States 23 periodicals are published in Hungarian, including three daily newspapers, and 5 or 6 Catholic journals. Canada, also, has 1 Catholic periodical in Hungarian.
The best scientific Hungarian grammars are by SIMONYI, SZINNYEI, SZARVAS. Dictionaries: YOLLAND, A Dictionary of the Hungarian and English Languages. English-Hungarian Part (Budapest, 1908); scientific Hungarian dictionaries by CZUCZOR-FOGARASI, SZARVAS-SIMONYI, SZILY. Literature: RIEDL, A History of Hungarian Literature (London, 1906); BOWRING, Poetry of the Magyars (London, 1830); REICH, Hungarian Literature (London, 1898); Hungarian hand-books by TOLDY, BEÖTHY (anti-Catholic tendency), HORVÁTH, BARTHA, BEÖTHY-BADICS, and others. Life and works of Hungarian writers by SZINNYEI, at present 12 volumes. Periodical literature: Magyar Könyvszemle (Budapest, 1908).