Archive for November 2013

Football’s Match of the Century, Wembley, 25th November 1953.   1 comment


The 25th November, 2013 marks the sixtieth anniversary of the so-called ‘Match of the Century’ at Wembley Stadium, between two national teams of England and Hungary. England had never been beaten on home soil by continental opposition and Hungary had gone twenty-four matches without defeat, winning twenty of them. Besides being the year of the Queen’s Coronation in the UK, it was also the ninetieth anniversary of the Football Association, now celebrating its 150th anniversary. The Hungarian ‘Golden Team‘ of the 1950s  had won international recognition in 1952 when they became Olympic Champions, beating Yugoslavia 2-0 in the final with late goals from Puskás and Czibor. Their 1953 international season began for the Hungarian team in April 1953 with a 1-1 draw against the Austrians in Budapest. Puskás played, alongside Czibor, who scored Hungary’s goal. However, some weeks later in Rome, the official Gusztáv Sebes ‘ensemble’ turned out for the European Cup match. The Olympic Stadium allowed eighty thousand spectators to watch with a mixture of awe and shock as the Magyars ran rings around their Italian opposition. Puskás twice found Lucidio Sementi’s net, followed up by a goal from Hidegküti. So the Hungarian team ran out of the new stadium as 3-0 winners. The team’s next match was in Stockholm where Puskás scored the opening goal as Hungary secured a 4-2 victory. Next came a clash with Czechoslovakia in October in Prague, with Puskás’ men securing an impressive  5-1 victory.   On October 11th, the Austrians were the opposition for the second time that year, this time in Vienna. This was Puskás’ fiftieth appearance for the national team. He didn’t celebrate with an individual goal, although the Hungarians were 3-2 winners. There were some unpleasant post-match minutes for the leader of the ruling Hungarian Workers’ Party, Mihály Farkas, who was there to present the captain with a beautiful twenty-four piece porcelain dinner service on the occasion of his fiftieth cap. In return, Puskás presented Farkas with a small silver cup, which were accompanied by some carefully chosen but sharp remarks about the situation in their homeland, which rather took the ‘statesman’ by surprise.

So it was that on 24th November 1953, ‘the Golden Team’ arrived in London, still unbeaten. The story of the match itself has been well told in documentary and feature films,  including the surviving recordings of the live television coverage, which is almost complete in both English (with commentary by Kenneth Wolstenholme) and Hungarian. In addition, there are many printed sources covering the match, from match programmes, to still photographs and newspaper reports. Some of these are inserted below, together with the sleeve notes from the recently released DVD.:








With their emphatic 6-3 win against England in 1953 at Wembley, Hungary had become the first team from outside the British Isles to defeat England on home soil, and they had followed this up with a 7-1 humiliation in Budapest before the World Cup. Billy Wright was England’s captain on both occasions, as he was in the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland,  in which  they beat the host team 2-0, before the losing to Uruguay in the quarter-finals, the team which the Hungarians beat in the semi-final to go through to the ill-fated 3-2 defeat in the final against West Germany. The Hungarian team recovered over the next two years, and their last match was another 2-0 defeat of Austria on 14th October 1956, just nine days before the Uprising began in Budapest, resulting in the invasion by the Soviet Union in November and the flight of many refugees, including sportsmen and women. Puskás went into exile in Spain, playing for the glory team of Real Madrid, and many other members of the Golden Team also left to play their football elsewhere. They therefore went down in history as the greatest team never to win the World Cup, and although qualifying for the finals since, most recently in 1982 and 1986, the Hungarian national side has never again looked like one which could lift the trophy, as it looked certain to in 1954.


Tibor Bán & Zoltán Harmos (2000), Ferenc Puskás. Budapest: Aréna

Putting Away the Fear of Childishness: C.S. Lewis   Leave a comment

My younger son, Oliver, is ten, and loves the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis, who died 50 years ago today. I read most of them to him in English years ago, though we only finished The Last Battle earlier this year, as I thought it was ‘too grown up’ for him until then. Oliver is now reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe again in Hungarian. Lewis is reported to have said that when he was ten, he read fairy stories in secret and would have been ashamed had he been found doing so. ‘Now that I am fifty’ he said in 1952, ‘I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.’ Yet grown-up matters, which were preoccupying Lewis when he continued to write about Animal-Land (The Last Battle was written in 1956), find no mention in the Narnian books. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joypublished in 1955, he writes of two lives, the ‘outer’ and ‘inner’, the life of the intellect and the life of the imagination, being lived over each other, at the same time. The ‘outer’ is chiefly concerned with those things that he spoke about openly, whereas the ‘inner’ is essentially the story of Joy, or intense longing, working on his imagination. The Welsh word for ‘Joy’ is ‘hwyl’, which is not the same as happiness, and is close to ‘hiraeth’, which is a heart-felt longing, especially for one’s homeland. Narnia would never have come into being had Lewis not come to understand the deep meaning and purpose of Joy, what he defined in the books as ‘the deep magic from the dawn of time’.

As Walter Hooper has pointed out in his useful little book, Past Watchful Dragons: A Guide to C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis, as a child, was all too aware that religion seemed to be associated with lowered voices and stained glass windows. Wanting to make belief shine out in all its strength and splendour, he created the make-believe world of Narnia as one of the ways to ‘steal past those watchful dragons’.

Oliver was born without fingers on his right hand. C.S. Lewis was also born with a deficiency in his right hand; he had only one joint in his thumb, which kept him from taking up the hobbies and sports that interest most young boys. His manual clumbsiness was what drove him to write. When his family moved into Little Lea on the outskirts of Belfast in 1905, he took over one of the attics and there wrote his first stories, stories that combined his chief literary pleasures – knights in armour and dressed animals. When his brother came home from school in England, the attic became a shared land. Warren brought India into it and it became related to Jack’s Animal-Land (‘JacK’ was the name he preferred to ‘Clive’). They eventually merged into the single state of Boxen and, with great invention and patient endeavour the boys created a Boxonian saga spanning several hundred years. Ambitions run high and are almost solely concerned with money and political power. These were the chief topics of conversation among the group of friends who conversed with Lewis’s father. Although as an adult he came to hate these topics himself, as a juvenile Jack wanted his stories to reflect as nearly as possible the things that seemed important to adults.

In his autobiography Lewis defines Joy by relating three experiences from his early childhood. He remembered a morning on which his brother had brought a toy garden into the nursery. The memory of this evoked in him a ‘longing’ for the joy he had felt at that time. His second glimpse of Joy came through Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin, a book whose ‘Idea of Autumn’ also plunged him into an experience of intense desire. The third glimpse came when he was reading Longfellow’s poem, Tegner’s Drapa and his mind was uplifted into huge regions of the northern sky. At the very moment he felt stabbed by desire, he felt himself falling out of that desire and wishing he were back in it. He tells us that Joy, the common quality to these three experiences, is an unsatisfied longing which is itself more desirable than any sense of satisfaction. This authentic Joy disappeared from his life when he was sent to school in Watford, Hertfordshire. A few years later he was a pupil at Cherbourg House in Malvern, Worcestershire. It was there, while looking at Arthur Rackham’s illustrations to Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods that his feelings of Joy returned. However, as this thrill became less and less frequent, he became desperate to ‘have it again’ and turned from one medium of Joy to another, hoping always to find permanent contentment. He experimented with erotic pleasure, but found that while ‘Joy is not a substitute for sex, sex is very often a substitute for Joy’.

Jack lost his virginity in Malvern, but it was the ‘potent, ubiquitous, and unabashed’ eroticism of William Morris’s romances which chiefly persuaded himself that sex might be the substance of Joy. Writing Loki Bound, a pessimistic Norse tragedy, he became a convinced atheist, and later wrote from Little Bookham in Surrey, where he had become a pupil of William T. Kirkpatrick, to his Belfast friend, Arthur Greeves:

You know, I think, that i have no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best. All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man’s own invention – Christ as much as Loki. Primitive man found himself surrounded by all sorts of terrible things he didn’t understand…Thus religion…grew up…Of course, mind you, I am not laying down as a certainty that there is nothing the material world: considering the discoveries that are always being made, this would be foolish. Anything MAY exist.

When he went up to Oxford after serving in the trenches during World War I, Lewis was determined that there were to be no flirtations with the idea of the supernatural. All the images he associated with Joy were, he had concluded, sheer fantasies. He had at last ‘seen through’ them. However, all his reservations about the Christian faith were swept away one by one and, after long searching, he was brought to his knees in the summer of 1929 and forced to admit that God was God. It was in the sidecar of his brother’s motorcycle on the way to Whipsnade Zoo, in 1931, that he became a Christian. After that, the old bittersweet jabs of Joy continued as before.

In his personal epilogue to his book on his ‘Guide Book’ to Narnia, Walter Hooper argues that there should never be any attempt to read the Chronicles as Lewis’s ‘autobiography’. Writing about the desire for heaven as part of the desire for God, Lewis said that ‘the proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.’ The ‘old Narnia’ flowed into the ‘real Narnia’. In the penultimate chapter of The Last Battle, Jewel the Unicorn, arriving on the other side of the Stable door, expressed the feeling of all the others. He stamped his hoof, neighed and cried, ‘I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.’

After years of illness, Jack Lewis was taken to the Acland Nursing Home in Oxford. He went into a coma immediately, and a priest gave him extreme unction. Walter Hooper and other friends waited close by, and, to their amazement, he awoke and asked for tea. When he came home, he dictated many letters describing his feelings about his experience in the nursing home. He wrote, ‘the door was open, but as I started through it was closed in my face. I would rather have died, but apparently it is my duty to live. I am happy to do either, but – oh, I would like to have gone through that door.’

A few months later – the same day, the same hour, that John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas – the door opened again. This time he went through.

RIP, Clive S. Lewis



Walter Hooper (1980), Past Watchful Dragons. London (Copyright, 1971 by Walter Hooper and the Trustees of the Estate of C.S. Lewis): Fount Paperbacks.

C. S. Lewis (1956), The Last Battle: A Story for Children. London: The Bodley Head.

St Cecilia’s Day, November 22nd: Patron Saint of Musicians.   1 comment

St Cecilia’s Day, November 22nd.

Earlier this year (July 2016), I found myself standing in front of the  stained glass window pictured above in the Cathedral of St Edmundsbury (Bury St Edmunds). Appropriately, an organ practice was taking place at the same time, and the impact of the sight of the window and the sound of the organ lifted my spirits after the political upheaval of the summer in Britain and reminded me of more important and pleasurable aspects of my life. Although I don’t really pay much attention to saints, I make an exception for St Cecilia as the patron saint of music, my first love. The poet laureate, John Dryden, wrote these words about her:

But bright Cecilia rais’d the wonder high’r

When to her Organ, vocal breath was given,

An Angel heard, and straight appear’d

Mistaking Earth for Heaven.




File:St cecilia guido reni.jpg

Saint Cecilia by Guido Reni, 1606

Saint Cecilia  was martyred for her Christian faith in A.D. 176, under the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, when both she and her husband were put to death. She was high-born Roman of a Christian family, and a great Church was built over the house in Rome which is said to contain her body, the Church of St Cecilia Trastevere. The present church was built in 1599, when Stefano Maderno claimed to have seen the body of the saint and carved her the sculpture of her lying on her side, uncorrupt, as he saw her.


There are legends about her attracting an angel to earth by her singing and of her singing at her martyrdom. The thirteenth century Golden Legend tells of how she sang as she took three days to die:

And while the organs maden melodie

To God alone in hearte thus sang she.

This is the source for Chaucer’s Second Nun’s Tale. From this rather flimsy evidence Dryden attributed to her the invention of the organ, by which she added length to solemn sounds.

In the middle ages, guilds of musicians adopted her as their patron saint and painters produced works showing her playing the lute or the organ, or another instrument. At the time of the Reformation in Britain she went out of fashion, for many puritans were suspicious of music, which they thought was a dangerous cup of poison. Despite this, St Cecilia’s Day was celebrated in 1683, when the programme included a church service and an entertainment which included an ode, or poem of praise. In that year the Musicians’ Company was formed to keep the Day in a worthy manner, and each year after that the Company met at St Bride’s Church in London. Later, they transferred the ceremony to St Paul’s Cathedral, where in 1907 a stained glass window was presented in honour of the saint.

File:Saint Cecilia Wymondley.jpg

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries several provincial cities held similar festivals, including Wells, Oxford, Salisbury, Winchester and Devizes. Dublin and Edinburgh also staged celebrations in more recent times. These festivals inspired Odes by Purcell, to words Nicholas Brady, and by Jeremiah Clarke, to words by Dryden. In 1942, Benjamin Britten, whose birthday was 22nd November, also composed an Ode to St Cecilia. In 1946, after a public lunch at which the Lord Mayor spoke and the Poet Laureate recited a poem, there was a service at St Sepulchre’s Church and a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, attended by the Queen. Two orchestras took part and works by Purcell and more recent English composers, Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Walton were performed, including Purcell’s Ode of 1692.    

Saint Cecilia with an Angel, Gentileschi

Hungary and the World, 1919-2008: A Powerpoint Presentation and Gallery   1 comment

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Click on this link to access the powerpoints:

Motivational Magyars (1996-2006)

Hungary and the World, 1919-2008

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Hungary, Europe and the USA, 1848-1918: Two Powerpoint Presentations   Leave a comment


Click on the links below to open the powerpoints



Click on the links below to open the power-points for educational use:

Hungary, Europe and the USA,1849-1918

The Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence, 1848-9

The War of the Poppies – Peace at any Price?   1 comment


In the 1970’s I was an ‘absolute pacifist‘, based mainly on my Christian faith and interpretation of Jesus’ words in the gospel. Having studied Wilfred Owen’s poetry for A Level, I refused to buy a red poppy when the British Legion volunteers came round. I told them that while I respected the memory of  the soldiers and sailors who died in a futile war (my Great Uncle was one of them), I would not wear a red poppy with General Hague’s name on it. At that time, the Poppy Fund was named the Hague Fund, after ‘the butcher of the Somme’ (a title which I have since discovered was somewhat unfair, and not the way in which the millions of ex-servicemen who turned out for his funeral saw him at the time).  Instead I wore a badge with a white poppy on it (the Peace Pledge Union didn’t sell paper poppies then). It said ‘Peace in our time, for our time’. At that point, I hadn’t studied the history of the thirties, ‘the devil’s decade’ and appeasement. Having done so in detail over the last forty years, it is no longer the red poppy I have a problem with, but the white.

From 1936-38, despite the obvious threat of continental fascism demonstrated by the Civil War in Spain, the Peace Pledge Union conducted a campaign in support of the National Government’s policy of non-intervention in Spain which was then turned into one of appeasement of first Mussolini’s chemical war in Ethiopia  and then Hitler’s seizure of Austria and Czechoslovakia. As a member of the largely pro-fascist and pacifist Welsh Nationalist Party commented at the time, this last act, approved by Chamberlain, was just another fascist way of murdering a small, defenceless nation without going to war about it. The Left in Wales, and throughout Britain, supported the democratic, Republican side against Franco, Mussolini and Hitler, but the brave volunteers of the International Brigades from working-class areas of Britain like the mining valleys of south Wales could do little against Franco and Mussolini’s troops, backed up by German bombers, like those who bombed Guernica and the refugees trying to escape the conflict. Pacifists like The Quakers helped to receive the Basque refugees brought from Bilbao to Southampton later in the war, but by then the cause  was obviously lost. In the meantime, The Peace Pledge Union fought and won by-elections, Oxford Union debates and signed up millions on its pledge cards. As one of its leading and longest-serving members, Lord Soper, later reflected, it was easy to get people to sign the pledge, but achieving peace in Europe was a far more difficult task.

So when Chamberlain returned from Munich in 1938, waving his piece of paper with the German Führer’s signature on it, and talking of ‘peace in our time’, he was cheered all the way to Downing Street.  The British public had been fooled into thinking that a permanent peace accord had been struck with Germany. The Peace Pledge Union was the major architect of this, and they were happy to take acclaim. Only a handful of Labour MPs, including Harold Nicolson and Clement Attlee supported Churchill in the House of Commons debate on the issue. They were condemned as ‘war-mongers’ in the House and the press, in November 1938.

So, if we base our remembrance purely on the historical record, it is the white poppy which bears the most shame. However, acts of remembrance are not, thankfully, the acts of historians alone. They are acts of commitment to the memory of all our families who died suffered, whether as civilians in Coventry in 1940, as sailors at Scapa Flow and in the Atlantic and Arctic convoys, or as soldiers in Afghanistan. We are not making historical judgements, which would leave us all shame-faced, neither are we in the business of apportioning blame. Like Donald Soper, we acknowledge all our mistakes of yesteryear, and then re-commit ourselves to what J F Kennedy described as the hourly, daily, weekly, task of constructing a peaceful future.  Sometimes that can only be done by fighting for freedom, as in Spain in 1936 or, more recently, and where I am now, in Hungary, in 1956.

That’s why, when I taught at Sidcot School in the nineties and noughties, I wore both a white and a red poppy together, despite the historical problems associated with both.  These days, I am happy to wear the red poppy on its own for the weeks before Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day, as a commemoration of those who gave their lives in the wars of the twentieth century, for whatever motivation, since it is not my place to judge them, or question their judgement or bravery. I try to honour their ‘sacrifice’ through my own commitment to make warfare something only referred to in the past tenses, something I hope that my children and grandchildren, yet unborn, will never have to deal with in their personal present or futures. As nurse Edith Cavell wrote on the eve of her death by firing squad in 1915, ‘patriotism is not enough’, but it does, at least, take us beyond our own narrow self-interest.

ARMISTICE DAY: Christ in No Man’s Land   1 comment

ARMISTICE DAY Christ in No Man‘s Land 

Now that the last of the veterans of the First World War have died, we are left with black-and-white movies, sepia photos, and a wide variety of art-work. Then we have the literature, especially the poetry, and this remains perhaps the most poignant testimony both to the nature and the impact of the conflict on the western front, if not elsewhere. And yet, it wasn’t until the era of the Cold War and Vietnam that the work of the soldier-poets of the trenches was fully recognised. Fifty years after a premature death in Flanders which prevented him from becoming the greatest poet in the English language since John Keats, a third generation, myself among them, discovered the power of Wilfred Owen‘s poetry as a ‘weapon’ against the warmongers of the late twentieth century. I still use my anthology of  ‘1914-18 in Poetry’ from which I learnt, by heart, many of his poems. They are anthems which still reverberate in my head, have shaped my adult values and formed the essential documents in my teaching about the Great War over the past thirty years.

The Poetry and the Pity

Owen was born in Oswestry in 1893 and from 1911 to 1913 he was a lay assistant to the vicar of Dunsden in Oxfordshire. His strongly Christian parents had always hoped he would enter the Anglican priesthood, and his Biblical upbringing had an obvious influence on his poetry in both its phraseology and theology of the justification of war.  In October 1915 he returned to England from his role as a tutor in France, in order to enlist as an officer in the Manchester Regiment.  Very early in 1917 he was on the front line of the Somme with the Lancashire Fusiliers. His letters to his mother reveal how shocked he was to discover the horror and muddle of war at the front in wintertime. In May he was invalided home with neurasthenia and sent to Craiglockart Hospital in Scotland. There, on 17 August 1917 he met Siegfried Sassoon, a much-published poet, who encouraged Owen to continue writing his war poetry. Although both poets came close to accept the principle of pacifism, both insisted on returning to the front to remain as leaders and spokesmen for the ordinary men in the trenches.

Just before the Shropshire lad left England to rejoin his company at the front, on 31 August 1918, Owen was planning a volume of poetry that he never lived to publish. He thought of it as a kind of counter-propaganda, as his scribbled preface to it reveals:

This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them. Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War. Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why true poets must be truthful.

Doomed Youth

Owen’s best and most typical poetry is in harmony with this Preface. He stresses the tragic waste of war, and his characteristic attitude is one of compassion rather than anger. He fills us with a sense of pity for the dead who died such agonizing and undignified deaths. He makes us painfully aware of all the good that these young men, whether British, German or French, could have achieved if only they had lived. Pity, in Owen’s use of the word, was not self-pity. The sacrifice of the Cross represents the crossing-out of the capital ‘I’. Owen pitied others, not himself; his revisions of his poems gradually rid them of all mention of himself; his poems, like ‘Dulce et Decorum Est‘, present universal pictures of typical scenes of the Western Front, like the horror of soldiers suffering a gas attack.  He is concerned with the plight of individual soldiers when they are typical of the plight of doomed soldiers as a whole. Unlike Sassoon’s ‘young man with a meagre wife and two small children in a Midland town’, Owen’s men are unknown, unidentified, like the dead young man in ‘Futility’. This poem arraigns God in the most direct way for ever allowing Creation to take place:

Was it for this the clay grew tall?

O what made fatuous sunbeams toil

To break earth’s sleep at all?

His finest poetry, however, is not that in which he despairs; it is that in which his faith and his doubts are held in balance. Two types of tension give his poems their cutting edge. He seems unsure about whether God exists and whether pacifism is the only answer to war. He carries on an internal debate on these two problems just below the surface of his meaning; the consequent tension gives a terrible intensity to his poetry. Just as the rural poverty he experienced in helping the Oxfordshire vicar before the war made him doubt conventional Christianity, so his terrible experiences in France made him doubt any form of Christianity. Even ‘Exposure’, written during his first tour of duty in Flanders, admits that ‘love of God seems to be dying’. In ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth‘, his subconscious debate rises less respectfully to the surface, when he asks ‘What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?’ The bells represent the strong religious associations, while the phrase ‘die as cattle’ summons up the contrasting atmosphere of an abattoir.   ‘Apologia Pro Poemate Meo‘, written in November 1917, still professes a belief in God:

I, too, saw God through mud –

The mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled.

Other poems also profess a belief in an afterlife in which the the dead soldier is ‘high pillowed on calm pillows of God’s making’ and a shared conviction with ‘some’ who ‘say God caught them even before they fell’.  However, his poem ‘Greater Love’ expresses doubt as to whether it is possible for a good god to exist while such torturing agonies continue. It describes the dead as:

Rolling and rolling there

Where God seems not to care.

A similarly uncertain debate about pacifism is hinted at by his best poetry but rarely expressed directly. ‘Exposure’ briefly states the case against pacifism:

Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn:

Nor ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.

Dulce et Decorum Est has often been misquoted by the ‘white poppy brigade’ as evidence of his pacifism, but the ‘old lie’ that he refers to is not that soldiers should be prepared to die for their country, but that in doing so they were doing something ‘sweet’ or ‘decorous’. War, as he observed it in the face of a gassed comrade, was anything but…

Christ in no-man’s land

However, in his letters, Owen sometimes puts the case for Christian pacifism with passionate intensity:

Already I have comprehended a light which will never filter into the dogma of any national church: namely that one of Christ’s essential commands was, Passivity at any price! Suffer dishonour and disgrace, but never resort to arms. Be bullied, be outraged, be killed; but do not kill…

Christ is literally in no man’s land. There men often hear his voice. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life – for a friend. Is it spoken in English only and in French? I do not believe so. Thus you see how pure Christianity will not fit in with pure patriotism.

Other poets, both civilians and soldiers, were moved to similar expressions of pity or protest based on Christian principles. Sassoon’s simple prayer of protest, ‘O Jesus make it stop’  echoed millions of cries from the trenches, while Kipling, his attitude to the ‘Great War’ changed by his son Jack’s death at the Front, compares the modern soldier’s agony to Christ’s agony in Gethsemane.  Like Jesus, the soldier in his poem prays that the cup of suffering might pass, but it doesn’t, and the soldier drinks it sacrificially in a gas attack ‘beyond Gethsemane’.

Ultimately, Wilfred Owen does not blame God for the suffering of the soldiers he seeks to represent in his poetry. In July 1918 he wrote to his mother from the Yorkshire seaside town of Scarborough, that he wished ‘the Boche’ would ‘make a clean sweep of ….all the stinking Leeds and Bradford war-profiteers now reading John Bull on Scarborough sands’. Owen condemns ‘the old’ in ‘the Parable of the Old Men and the Young’ in which he rewrites the story of Abraham and Isaac, envisaging the old man killing his son rather than obeying God’s command to sacrifice a ram instead:

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Another special target for  Owen’s satire was the hypocrisy, self-righteousness and insincerity of the Church. In ‘At a Calvary near the Ancre’ Owen attacks the militarist chaplains:

Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,

And in their faces there is pride

That they were flesh-marked by the Beast

By whom the gentle Christ’s denied.

On October 4th, 1918, after most of his company had been killed, Owen and his corporal captured a German machine gun and scores of prisoners. He was awarded the Military Cross for this feat. However, just one week before the Armistice, on 4 November 1918, he was killed when trying to construct a make-shift bridge to lead his company over a canal in the face of heavy machine-gun fire. His mother received the news of his death on Armistice Day at home in Oswestry, with the church bells ringing out in celebration of the cease-fire.


‘Goodbye to the Mobilised’ , by the official French war photographer Jacques Moreau. Between 8.5 and 9 million servicemen and women from all warring nations were killed in action during the first world war

True and Just?

The recent poet Laureate, Andrew Motion,  believes Owen’s maxim about the ‘pity of war’ and the ‘truthfulness of true poets’ has held firm throughout the years, even in such wars, such as the Second World War, which are generally considered ‘just’. Poems about the Holocaust, or Vietnam, or the Gulf War of 1990, or the Bosnian War of 1993, also contain these essential ingredients, as those in the anthology for which Motion writes his afterword, show. This is especially important when the language of war is changed in order to disguise its realities. In the age of modern media transmission, euphemisms such as ‘friendly fire’ and ‘collateral damage’ need to be challenged by the poet’s scribble, just as much as in the trenches of 1914-18, if not more so. Images can be used to mislead; poets must not do so, not if they wish to remain true to their art. They have a higher moral, human calling, if not a divine one. As Motion points out, poetry ‘shows us, whatever our faith, we compromise, betray or wreck ourselves when we take up arms against one another’.

Poppies for commemoration

That’s probably why Owen’s poems are not among the most memorable of the first world war. The ones which are used for the purpose of remembering nevertheless contain ageless truths. That is why they form essential parts of our Acts of Remembrance, our collective commemorations. John McRae’s ‘In Flanders Fields’ also reminds us that the ‘Great War’ was an imperial conflict, involving what were then known as ‘the dominions’, including Canada, where McRae was born. He went to Europe in 1914 as a gunner, but was transferred to medical service and served at the front line during the Second Battle of Ypres.  His poem first appeared in Punch in December 1915. McRae imagined how the dead lying beneath the poppies of Flanders would call on future generations to sustain the causes for which they died. When the flowers were the only plants which grew in profusion in Flanders in the spring of 1919, they became the symbol of remembrance for the British Legion, collecting funds for the injured ex-servicemen and war widows:

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place, and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly,

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We  shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Left: Armistice Day in Toronto. Oil on canvas by Joseph Ernest Sampson

All her paths are peace…

Another poem we associate with Armistice Day ceremonies, especially the Royal Festival of Remembrance on the eve of Remembrance Sunday, held at the Royal Albert Hall, is Laurence Binyon’s ‘For the Fallen’. However, like McRae’s poem, it was actually written in the early part of the war and published in The Times on September 21st 1914.  It is based on the words and rhythm of the Authorised Version of the Bible in II Samuel, i, 23, 25:

….in death they were  not divided…How are the mighty fallen in the midst of battle!

Born in 1869, Binyon was typical of the older generation of civilian poets who wrote about the war. He wrote the poem while working at the British Museum, which he did for forty years, becoming Professor of Poetry at Harvard on retirement. In 1916 he went to the Front as a Red Cross orderly. The poem’s fourth verse is used today all over the world during services of remembrance, and is inscribed on countless war memorials and monuments:

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them. 

One poem which is better known as a hymn, and not especially associated with the First World War, is ‘I vow to thee my country’, often sung to the tune ‘Thaxted’ by Gustav Holst, part of ‘Jupiter’ in his ‘Planets Suite’.  The words, written by Cecil Spring-Rice (1859-1918), have been criticised as overly patriotic, especially the phrase in the first verse which pledges ‘the love which asks no question’ to the earthly country. This suggests a blind, uncritical, ‘my country, right or wrong, kind of patriotism. When he wrote it in Stockholm, between 1908-12, he was thinking of the notion of sacrifice, as he pointed out in a speech in Ottowa, on completing his revision of the poem in 1918:

The Cross is a sign of patience under suffering, but not patience under wrong. The cross is the banner under which we fight – the Cross of St George, the Cross of St Andrew, the Cross of St Patrick; different in form, in colour, in history, yes, but the same spirit, the spirit of sacrifice.’

His rewritten poem now became hymn, now set to Holst’s tune, published in 1925. The second verse about the heavenly kingdom was kept much as it was, but the first was altered significantly. The original poem had been belligerently patriotic, glorifying war. Leaving his role as British ambassador to Washington in January 1918, having encouraged Woodrow Wilson, the US President, to enter the war, Spring-Rice sent the new verses to an American friend with an accompanying note that read; ‘the greatest object of all – at the most terrific cost and most tremendous sacrifice – will, I hope, at last be permanently established, Peace.’ He died suddenly in Ottowa a month later.

Although England does not, yet, have a national anthem of its own, many people would like this hymn to be adopted in that role, both because of the tune and the second verse, which reminds us that, as Christians, and people of faith, we are subjects of two kingdoms, and that there are only ‘paths of peace’ in the heavenly one:

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,

Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;

We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;

Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffereing;

And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,

And her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace.


Fiona Waters (2007), A Corner of a Foreign Field: Transatlantic Press.

Ian Bradley (2005), The Daily Telegraph Book of Hymns

Matthew Hollis & Paul Keegan (2003), 101 Poems Against War: Faber & Faber

E L Black (1970), 1914-18 in Poetry: University of London Press


‘Magyar Amerika’: Hungarians in the United States of America, 1831-67, Part Two   Leave a comment

A Concise Comparison of the Works of Bölöni and Nedtvich


Although Sándor Bölöni Farkas’s work was the most popular of his time, Károly Nendtvich’s Amerikai utam may be considered just as important. However, it was only published once, in 1858, whereas Bölöni’s work was re-published seven times since the first edition of 1834. Nendtvich’s work is more academic and circumspect, less enthusiastic about the States than Bölöni’s, though he still considers their institutions worthy of study, providing a model for other nations. Perhaps the difference is partly due to the very different times in which they were writing. Bölöni was a political idealist in the forefront of the movement for progress which culminated in the Revolution of 1848.


Nendtvich, writing after the Habsburg reaction and before the Compromise of 1867, was far more of a realist. He had been a supporter of the reform movement in the 1840s, and so emphasised the effect of democracy on the political and economic life of a nation. Just as Bölöni’s work was a product of the romantic age in which he was writing, and contributed to the revolutionary spirit at the time of the political awakening of Hungary, so Nendtvich’s work was a product of a period in Hungarian history in which the ship of state was being carefully crafted by more sober politicians.

Fig . 1: The Tour of ……

006In terms of cityscapes and landscapes, both works give a colourful picture. Both Bölöni and Nendtvich visited the biggest cities on the east coast. Besides New York and Boston, they both saw Cambridge, Lowell, Albany, Buffalo, Pittsburg, Economy, Baltimore, Washington DC, Mount Vernon, Philadelphia and both went north, visiting Niagara Falls. Bölöni spent more time in Canada, visiting some Canadian towns, while Nendtvitch went further west to visit Chicago, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri. While Bölöni’s accounts are more broken up with his anecdotes and views on different topics, Nendtvich was careful to describe each city or town according to the same set of criteria. He observed the geometrical planning of the streets, the architecture, the population, the public buildings, economic and intellectual life, schools, universities, newspapers and associations.

Fig. 2: The Tour of…


Both visitors were amazed by the rapid growth of the American cities. Nendvitch chronicled the recent, rapid growth of the newly-formed cities in Wisconsin, Illinois, Missori and Ohio. They both found Philadelphia to be the most beautiful city in the Union. Together with Boston, it was seen as a centre of culture and science as well as of charitable institutions. In Washington the immense planning of the capitol engaged the attention of both of them. They tboth thought Pittsburg similar to Manchester or Birmingham in Britain. They both regarded Baltimore as one of the biggest commercial centres in the US. Referring to Nendtvich’s introductory notes, Anna Katona has observed how …all Hungarians were struck by the beauty of the scenery in America. Nendtvich, she noted, was less impressed, but he did find Illinois and Pennsylvania particularly attractive.

Law and Order:

Both Bölöni and Nendtvich commented on the lack of a standing army and compulsory military service. Nendtvich observed that the United States did not need to maintain a large army in order to keep the recently acquired territories of Texas, Louisiana and Florida, which had only belonged to the Union for a short time. They also observed that although the number of policemen was limited, there were no more criminals than in European countries. Nendtvich remarked that this was partly due to the religious character of the American people and their commitment to civic order. There was, however, a considerable difference between the American and European practices regarding crime, as the Americans’ main concern was to prevent criminal incidents by promoting public education and that the American penitentiaries aimed to reform criminals by work, instead of humiliating them. Bölöni explained the principles of the Auburn and Pennsylvanian systems in these respects.

Equality and Slavery:

Bölöni found the notion of equality of citizens made him feel like a person reading a fairy tale. Nendtvich also observed the Americans’ indifferent attitude towards titles, which Hungarians found new and unusual. There was also an obvious absence of domestic servants, since no American man or woman would be willing to serve another man. However, they found the contradiction of this principle and practice in the institution of slavery revolting. Bölöni expressed his sorrow about slavery when he reached Maryland where slavery was legal at that time. However, he conceded that the slaves were probably happier in their civilised state, although unfree, than they had been in their primitive state, when they had freedom.

Nendtvich provided a more reasoned excuse for American slavery. First of all, it wasn’t the Americans who had brought black people to America to be slaves; second, those who had employed slaves had originally been Spanish; and third, the European immigrants were completely unfit for working on plantations in so hot a climate. He also believed that black people were not intended to be as intelligent as white people. He mentioned the discrimination he found against the freed slaves he saw in free states, and admitted that Europeans and even Hungarians were no better and perhaps worse, as they discriminated against other Europeans. Later, Nendtvich spoke out against active anti-Semitism in his own country and continent, though he was also against what he saw as the financial and political power of the Jews. This view resulted, later in his life, in him being accused of incitement against the Jews, in 1883, though the charge was later withdrawn.

Despite slavery being a great blemish on the North American Republic, both Bölöni and Nendtvich were impressed by its constitution. Bölöni not only wanted to make his readers understand the meaning of American freedom and equality in their institutions, but also pointed out how the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were indispensible pieces of furniture in all American households. Nendtvich, trying to expand the knowledge of his Hungarian readers, explained how the Ohio constitution guaranteed almost unlimited rights of its citizens and the unmatched self-restraint with which they exercised those rights. In regard to public elections and Presidential elections, while Bölöni provided the most detailed account, Nendtvich called the attention of his Hungarian readers to the lack of drunk people whose presence was usual at public elections in Hungary. Visiting the White House, Bölöni was impressed by the lack of formalities in the President’s retinue, and Nendtvich came to a similar conclusion about the simplicity of Presidential power, which they both regarded as the outcome of a democratic constitution.

Freedom of the Press and Religion:

The other manifestation of democracy was the freedom of the press and the great number of periodical publications. Bölöni had only praise for the American newspapers, though Nendtvich, observing the abundance of newspapers in every town, wondered whether their influence on the American people was entirely benign. He also wrote about the way the Americans edited their newspapers and referred to the numerous advertisements which were indispensable parts of the daily papers as well as the periodicals, as they provided enough money for publication, keeping the price low, making them accessible to all.

Religious freedom was also an important political issue for both travellers. For Bölöni, as an Unitarian, this was an essential part of the notion of freedom he admired in the USA, considering it to be the main message to deliver home to Hungary. Catholicism was in the ascendancy in Hungary under Habsburg rule, so his beliefs had been something of an obstacle to his career. Bölöni was ready to extend his tolerance to the beliefs of those religious sects which Nendvitch considered religious insanity, though the latter was willing to accept the traditional tolerance shown towards dissenting Americans such as the Quakers and, more recently, towards the Mormons. As Anna Katona has pointed out in her essay;

Yet in the American System he found a sure guarantee that none of the insane sects could endanger freedom overseas, thanks to the great Jefferson. 

Despite Thomas Jefferson’s founding principle of religious freedom, there were clashes between the followers of different religions in Cincinnati and elsewhere. Nendvitch emphasised that the Germans’ attitude to religion was completely different from that of the early Dutch and English puritan Americans. In the German states, since the Reformation and before Unification, the dominant religion in each territory and city had been decided by its ruler, with other churches barely tolerated. In spite of the fact that Americans were not forced to practice religion by law, they kept strictly to the rules of their faiths, including the observance of the Sabbath. While Bölöni was pleased to see people going to their chosen places of worship in perfect freedom three times a day every Sunday, Nendtvich emphasised the rather gloomy atmosphere this created and was pleased when he reached Cincinnati and found the air  not quite so stuffy with puritanism.

Economy and Society: 

Nendtvich was more concerned in his writing with the economic life of the States than Bölöni had been a generation earlier. He recognised the symbiotic connection which existed between economic development and the democratic government under which hard-working Americans could establish a comfortable life, such as the one he observed in Cincinnati. He also stressed that although the scholastic standards of American universities were lower than in Europe, the Americans were far better than all other nations in their application of knowledge to practical life. He acknowledged;

The American willingness to probe into new ways, make up his mind quickly, make rapid decisions, to be ready to improve, all qualities lacking in mid-nineteenth century Hungary.

Just as Bölöni’s book is full of observations on the political life of the States, Nendtvich’s work contains an abundance of examples for the rapid economic growth of the country. In most of the cities he visited he did not only mention the most important factories, but also found time to visit them. Of course, many of these would have been established and expanded in the intervening period between the two visits. He was particularly impressed by the conditions he found while visiting Boston, and described the industrial life of Cincinnati as a model for Hungarian industrialists, writing a whole chapter on it. He was less impressed by the speed of industrialisation in some of the recently populated territories, such as Wisconsin.

While the main purpose of Nendtvich’s study was to demonstrate to Hungarians that without the application of the natural sciences to industry no progress was possible, Bölöni had also, earlier, visited the industrial centres of Pittsburg and Lowell. He had observed that Lowell was the most industrial town in New England. They both observed the considerably higher wages and the opportunities that the factory system provided for its workers. Both were also interested in developments in transport and communications such as steam-boats, railroads, etc. Bölöni was deeply impressed by the recently cut Erie Canal, admiring the human skill and effort with which it was constructed. Nendvitch explained the practical management of the horse-drawn omnibus system which he witnessed in New York. Bölöni was fascinated by the American steamboats and he remarked that the Americans surpassed even the British in their application of steam-power. He also gave an account of the first-ever steamboat built in the States. Nendtvich was more scientific in his description of the structure of the boats and, of  course, they were not a novelty to him. Conversely, however, he was also pleased to see the large number of traditional sailing boats on the Hudson. He was sometimes horrified by the poor conditions on board the steamboats, but he also stressed that, during the development of the American cities such as Davenport, the good communications and transport systems in the form of canals and railroads, had had a tremendous effect  on the improvements in trade and industry.

Bölöni also went into raptures about the steam-carriage on the city streets, but believed that carriages running on rails were still the future, even in the cities, just as he had seen in Manchester. This belief was fulfilled by the time of Nendtvich, who doesn’t mention steam-carriages or steam-omnibi. He travelled everywhere either by steamboat or train, and, between Jamesville and Afton, by stage-coach. Of course, the coach had been an invention of the Hungarians, named after the village of Kocs (pronounced with a ch sound) where it had been invented in the fifteenth century, as a large, closed four-wheeled carriage with comfortable suspension, with two or more horses harnessed, driven by a coachman and used to travel long distances, by stages. So, Nendtvich travelled by stage, in a coach, one similarity with contemporary travel in Hungary. He admitted that, although travelling by train was quick, it was definitely less comfortable, because there were always more passengers than the carriages were designed to take.

Manners and Social Life:

Nendtvich gave a thorough picture of the manners and social life at this time, devoting a whole chapter to a description of the Yankees, even describing their physical appearance in less than flattering terms. However, he praised the enterprising spirit and zeal which characterised their everyday life. He agreed with other European travel writers that there were some defects in the manners of the new nation which were difficult to tolerate, such as chewing tobacco, spitting and general bad behaviour at the theatre, but he took issue with some writers, such as Mrs Trollope, who had accused Americans of a universal deficiency in good manners and graceful demeanor, both in men and women…Nendtvich agreed that their eating habits were strange and almost impolite, but was convinced that their quickness had a very practical reason, that of not wasting time on unnecessary trivia during meals, such as conversation, but to spend as much time as was necessary on eating and then get back to work as soon as possible.

One of Nendvitch’s main concerns was to refute the prejudice that Americans were obsessed with money-making and that they were also mean with their money. He remarked on the hypocrisy of these criticisms coming from rich European aristocrats who were ready to lose their inherited fortune in one night of gambling but were afraid of making donations to charity. The favourable attitude of many Americans towards alms-giving had also caught Bölöni’s attention. He remarked that all the institutions in New York were private foundations, something unknown to Hungarians, as well as to most Europeans who, even then, expected every essential public service to be provided by governments, local if not national.

Bölöni was by the generally democratic way of behaviour, observing that the Americans were not accustomed to bowing and were unfamiliar with the niceties of etiquette. He attributed their simple but cordial conduct to their political system. Nendtvich also approved of the egalitarian nature of social intercourse in America and did not miss the snobbery of European etiquette which, by his generation, was unknown to most Americans. Bölöni also wrote about differing concepts of luxury in Europe and America. The first time he realised that this was valued in American homes he felt disappointed, because he found it irreconcilable with the value of simplicity. Both travellers were impressed by the hospitality they received, for both were invited to the homes of only recently acquainted Americans. Nendtvich noticed that, nonetheless, they never invited anyone they didn’t like, so that an invitation was an expression of their appreciation and not given merely out of a sense of duty or politeness.

However, Nendtvich also noted that, while they tolerated any immigrant minority which was willing to obey the existing laws and mores of American life, the established Anglo-Saxon settlers generally hated the Germans, because they often ignored the puritan customs of the areas they moved into, especially by drinking and revelling on Sundays, when the established Americans went to church three times. The Germans in Milwaukee also set up their own theatre, the presence of which was not greatly appreciated by the host population. He disapproved of the conditions of theatres, often the least attractive buildings in the cities.

Nendtvich also mentioned an encounter with a Hungarian immigrant, Toto, whom he met in Madison. He commented that Toto was a good example of complete assimilation into the puritan ethic and ethos of the States. When Bölöni visited there was more of a raw atmosphere of a great diversity of people bursting with energy, living and working, quite literally, in each other’s pockets. This, he observed, was no bad thing for the future unity and progress of the American nation.

Nendtvich also observed that the Americans did not waste time and money on public parties and, if they did hold such events, they were often rather awkward affairs. Although they liked dancing, they were not good at it. He seemed to agree with Mrs Trollope that in matters of taste and learning they are woefully deficient. However, he also wrote that the Americans could not be condemned for these insignificant defects, when they continued to achieve so many significant improvements. Bölöni also mentioned being invited to a ball, but he was more interested in the people attending than the amusements.

Attitudes of/ to women and children:

While Bölöni had earlier mentioned the chivalrous and deferential attitude of American men towards women, despite their apparent egalitarianism in other respects, Nendtvich described the life of American women very thoroughly, including detailed observations on their behaviour and education. He was impressed by the careful attention with which they were approached in every situation. He observed that women had their own nicely furnished parlours in every hotel and even on steamboats, that they were the first to be served at meals, and that they were always offered a seat on a train or omnibus whenever they got on. At the same time, women received higher education in the States at a time when they were still excluded from entering universities in Europe. As a result, they were often far more sophisticated in their conversation, and they never blushed! He was surprised when he noticed that young girls travelled alone, considered far too dangerous in Europe. He explained that this was because every woman and girl naturally assumed that every man was her natural protector.

Nendtvich was also concerned to comment on children in America. By contrast, Bölöni had shown little interest in the lives of women and children in his study. American children, whom Mrs Trollope referred to as little republicans, seemed to Nendtvich to be brought up in a completely different way to their counterparts in Europe. American parents were never impatient with them and were not disturbed by the noise of other children. They also avoided the use of corporal punishment as a means of correction and education. They were not taught to be modest, to be seen but not heard, but, on the contrary, they were encouraged to take first place everywhere. Parents disapproved of prohibitions because they thought they would damage the independence of their children.

The negative results of this relaxed discipline sometimes caught Nendtvich’s eye, especially when he was visiting Harvard University and noticed orange peel and nuts littering the ground everywhere. He disapproved of this degree of looseness but welcomed the overall outcome of this more liberal form of education, that of nurturing young Americans who were confident, independent and unspoiled by their parents. In matters of finance, he contrasted rich European and rich American parents. The European parents would bestow their fortunes in allowances on their children as soon as they came of age, but the Americans would expect their sons, and sometimes their daughters, to work hard in the family business or another business in order to become self-reliant, diligent and useful citizens before settling their full inheritance on them. Otherwise, they argued, their children would quickly lose their fortunes, not knowing how to administer the funds.


On education, both Bölöni and Nendtvich reached the same conclusion, that elementary schools provided a high standard. They were both impressed by the support given by Americans to their schools and this made them aware of the differences between attitudes to public education in the States, Europe and Hungary. Although Bölöni had visited Harvard University in Cambridge, Nendtvich was more concerned with higher education, never-failing to visit any university in the cities where he stayed. He went to both Harvard and Yale, and also paid visits to medical colleges in St Louis, New York, Cincinnati and Philadelphia. The last of these was called the medical metropolis of the United States. Although he praised the readiness of the Americans to found universities, he stressed their low standard compared with European ones. However, he believed that, in theoretical sciences at least, this was only temporary, as the Americans seemed determined to catch up with the Europeans. In his opinion, they had already overtaken them in practical sciences, which he felt was significant, as he considered the application of the practical sciences to industry as the key to industrial progress. He also set great store by the patriotism of the Americans in believing their country to be the biggest and best in the world. Since their self-confidence was well-founded on the scientific study of their own country, he felt it was a justified world view.

Another indispensible means of popular education, public libraries, came in for analysis in the works of both travellers. Bölöni commented that he never visited any small town in the States which did not possess a public library. Nendtvich wrote about the Astor Library in New York, as well as the libraries in Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Boston. Also, both were impressed by the great number and variety of associations. Nendtvich referred to the Society of Oddfellows in Cincinnati, and both found the Smithsonian and Philadelphian libraries remarkable. The interest in these societies was said to be due to the fact that in the States, public and private interests were easily reconciled. Nendtvich was pleased to see how the Americans were concerned with popularising the theoretical sciences, and both travellers testified to the way in which Washington’s founding principles of an enlightened and educated democracy were being implemented with remarkable results.

Political and Economic ‘Models’?:

It is not surprising that the influence of the democratic model provided by Bölöni’s book was far greater in the period of Hungary’s awakening than that of Nendtvich, which was published only six years after the defeat of the Revolution of 1848-9, when the movement progress and reform was still alive, but muted and truncated. The lack of independence and self-government were severe obstacles for a country in dire need of economic change. Nevertheless, Nendtvich’s book, by emphasising the independence of different states through the Ohio Constitution, by giving examples of rapid economic transformation in the cities of the US and by demonstrating the favourable effects of a democratic constitution regarding religion, the press, institutional life and education, was as important in its time as Bölöni’s. It drew fresh attention to the importance of the American ideas first popularised in Hungary by Bölöni, which had been suppressed by the Habsburg reaction. Besides their common interests in the democratic institutions of the United States, their books also provide us with uniquely Hungarian insights into the mid-nineteenth century lifestyles of American citizens. Being more scientific and less enthusiastic in his method than Bölöni, Nendtvich was not as depressed when leaving America as his forerunner, but pleased to have seen the young country with his own eyes. However, he was just as convinced that this country was, and would be, an example for all the nations of the world to follow. After the historic Compromise of 1867, his work could begin to have practical effects within his own nation.

Hungarians in the Civil War and after, 1862-1867:

Count Béla Szechenyi, the adventurous son of the reformer István, also wrote about his 1862 travels to the US. He praised the role of American women, and the US educational system, but criticised the treatment of African-Americans and Amerindians, as well as complaining that Americans sometimes displayed rude manners.

These petty aristocratic criticisms of American manners and customs which also featured in the works of other Europeans were soon overshadowed by a new perspective on the United States as a country making rapid economic progress, but first it had to go through the crucible of civil war. Many Hungarians actively participated in the American Civil War, almost all on the Union side. Several continued their public service after the war, most notably in the diplomatic corps.

003For example, Hungarian exile and Civil War veteran Philip Figyelmesy was appointed as the US Consul at Demerara (Georgetown), Guyana, in 1865. In February 1866, former Union Army Colonel George Pomutz began a long career as an American diplomatic representative in the Russian Empire, first as US Consul in St Petersburg and then as Consul General. Another exile, Sándor (Alexander) Asbóth, ended the war with the rank of Major General. He was then appointed as the US Minister to Argentina in 1866, where he served until his death from war wounds two years later. At the request of  The Co-ordinating Committee of Hungarian Organisations in North America, Major General Asboth’s remains were exhumed from the English cemetary in Buenos Aires and re-intered in Arlington National Cemetary in 1990. Gyula (Julius) Stahel-Számvald was appointed US Consul at Kanagawa, Japan, in June 1866. He had also served in the Union Army in the Civil War, also rising to the rank of Major General and later receiving the Medal of Honor for heroic conduct during the 1864 Battle of Piedmont. Following his appointment in 1866, he went on to a distinguished and honourable diplomatic career in both Japan and China, exposing corrupt practises in US consulates in Asia.

011Another immigrant who left Hungary in 1864 to serve in the American Civil War was Joseph Pulitzer, who founded the most prestigious journalistic prize in the world, having been born in the small town of Makó. After the War he became a well-known publisher and, in 1892, he offered money to Columbia University to set up the world’s first school of journalism. However, the Graduate School  did not open its doors for another twenty years, after his death. The first Pulitzer prizes were awarded in 1917, in accordance with his wishes.

Select bibliography of secondary sources:


Bolgár György (2009), Made in Hungary. Budapest: Kossuth Kiadó.

US Department of State (2007), The United States and Hungary. Washington: Bureau of Public Affairs.

Rozinka Stefánia (1989), Two Hungarians on the United States – Bölöni and Nendtvich. Szeged: Attila József University M.A. Dissertation (unpublished).

Katona Anna (1971), Hungarian Travelogues on the Pre-Civil-War US, in Hungarian Studies in English, V. Debrecen: KLTE.

Katona Anna (1973), Nineteenth Century Hungarian Travelogues on the Post-Civil-War United States in Hungarian Studies in English, VII. Debrecen: KLTE.

Pachter, Marc (ed.) (1976), Abroad in America: Visitors to the New Nation, 1776-1914. Smithsonian Institute: Addison-Wesley.

Jancsó Elemér (1972), Bölöni Farkas Sándor in Irodalomtörténet és időszerűség. Bukarest: Kriterion.

Könnyü László (1975), Xantus János geográfus Amerikában, 1851-1864. St. Louis: Unknown.

Sándor István (1970), Xantus János. Budapest: Magvető.

Sztáray Zoltán (1986), Haraszthy Ágoston, a kaliforniai szőlőkultúra atya. New York: Püski.

Vasváry Ödön (1988), Magyar Amerika. Szeged: Somogyi Könyvtár.

© ChandlerozConsultants, Kecskemét, Hungary, 2013. November 3.

‘Magyar Amerika’: Hungarians in the United States of America, 1831-67, Part One   Leave a comment

Early contacts between the United States of America and Hungary were sporadic and personal. Historian and poet István Parmenius of Buda accompanied Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s British expedition to Newfoundland in 1583. According to some accounts, Captain John Smith, one of America’s first settlers, travelled in Hungary in 1600-1602, and fought the Turks there before his excursions to the New World, where he met the native princess Pocahontas. An estimated 140 Hungarians fought in the American Revolutionary War. Colonel Commandant Michael de Kováts of the Pulaski Legion trained the first American cavalry unit in the tradition of the Hungarian Hussars. Kováts was killed in Charleston, South Carolina in 1779, fighting for American Independence. He therefore ranks among the first Hungarian freedom fighters and a revolutionary martyr pre-dating those of the Hungarian War of Independence by nearly seventy years.


By the 1820s, the Hungarian view of America was changing, due mainly to the influence of the Enlightenment on Hungary. Before, and even after the American War of Independence, the New World was primarily a geographical expression. János Ferenczy, in his Közönséges Geográphia, published in 1809, and Zsigmond Horváth, in Amerikának haszonnal mulattató Esmértetése (1813), went beyond providing basic information about towns such as Philadelphia and Boston, to emphasize the importance of public libraries, learned societies, hospitals and self-government. They also mentioned the problem of slavery and the treatment of the Amerindians. In the 1820s and 1830s in Hungary, there were more and more articles about the United States, translated from German and French, published in Hungarian periodicals. In these descriptions, there was an increasing emphasis on the political equality of the American people. These articles also projected a positive image of the Americans as skillful, hard-working people.

Bölöni Farkas Sándor (1795–1842) író, műfordít...

Bölöni Farkas Sándor (1795–1842) író, műfordító, utazó, művelődésszervező (Vasárnapi Újság, 1871. július 23.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Among these articles, written by other Europeans, Sándor Bölöni Farkas’ work was the first to give the first-hand impressions of a Hungarian author who deliberately presented these as part of a treasury of progressive ideas ideas for what he saw as a backward Hungary. These progressive views resulted in the book being banned a year after publication. His diary entries show that he knew exactly what he was trying to do; to awaken the spirit of independence in the Magyar nation.

In the mid-nineteenth century, in addition to those Hungarians arriving in the States with the intention of settling down and establishing a new life, there were many who chose it as a place of exile after the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 and the War of Independence which ended in defeat in the following summer of 1849. There were also many others who wished to see The New World with their own eyes, like many other European travellers, but set out intending to return home after an extended sojourn in the USA.

Sándor Márki’s Amerika s a magyarság was published in 1893, the first summary of the experiences of Hungarians who visited or settled in the USA. Several studies appeared afterwards, the last of these being Ödön Vasváry’s Magyar Amerika, published in Szeged in 1988.

Hungarians in the States, 1831-48

In 1831, Hungarian scholar Sándor Bölöni Farkas journeyed to the United States and wrote about his encounters with Americans and their new form of government. In his book, Utazás Észak-Amerikában (Journey in North America), published in 1832, Bölöni Farkas wrote of a land of unlimited opportunity, and presented a rosy picture of the American political system. He translated the Declaration of Independence into Hungarian, noting that it attributes all rights to the people and the people yields only some of them to the administration. During his visit he met President Andrew Jackson and saw the Philadelphia Mint. He commented on the commitment to public education, the US penal system, religious diversity and slavery – the one fly in the ointment, as far as he was concerned. His book became popular with Hungarian readers.

Bölöni started on his journey in 1830, but didn’t arrive in New York until 3rd September 1831. Besides touring all the major eastern cities, he also visited Canada, spending time in some of the towns there. He returned home on 23rd November 1832. We can therefore assume, allowing for the homeward journey, that he was in the States for no more than a year. His aim was to inspire his countrymen to establish independent institutions in their own country.

Photogravure of Charles Alexis Henri Clérel de...

Photogravure of Charles Alexis Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Besides Bölöni’s popular work, the Hungarian middle classes in the 1840s were also influenced by a translation of Alexis de Tocqueville’s study of the United States. It was published in two volumes between 1843 and 1845. He and his friend Gustave de Beaumont visited the states when they became disillusioned following the July Revolution of 1830 in Paris. Their official aim was to study the penal system, but their real goal was to write a book on the ’mechanics’ of the American way of life. For Tocqueville, the United States was of interest because the future could be studied in the present. He was impressed by the prospects for freedom and equality, and moved by the genuine concern shown by Americans for the liberty of others and the well-being of their communities. He observed that though the Americans were law-abiding, it was their religion which forbade them from committing injustices. He was interested in the details of the Americans’ lifestyle, especially their manners. However, he was somewhat prejudiced by his own aristocratic background, finding many of their ways dull and uncivilized  The picture of American society he drew was therefore more a reflection of his own class consciousness rather than a true image of a social system not based on class distinctions. He wrote that the Americans had no desire for the finer arts of life born of aristocratic leisure.

As the United States expanded westward across North America, extending its new constitutional government, the Hungarian National Revival was emerging, with its emphasis on enlightened ideas of national identity and self-determination. During the 1820s the Hungarian Diet had begun to press for increased us of the Magyar language in schools and to discuss individual rights and economic development. In the early 1830s, a reformist group led by Ferenc Deák came to power in the Diet, or Parliament. Some of its members looked towards the United States as a model, in particular its jury trial system and traditions of religious tolerance. Contemporaneously, a group of Young Parliamentarians formed around Lajos Kossuth, a lawyer appointed as the delegate of an absent baron. In 1835, the Habsburg Government cracked down on Kossuth’s group, and Kossuth himself was arrested in 1837 and jailed until the opposition in the 1839-40 Diet forced a discussion of freedom of expression. The following year he began a new political journal, Pest Hírlap, which called for reforms based on the capitalism and political liberalism of western Europe and the United States.

Other Hungarian scholars who travelled to the United States before the 1848 Revolution included Károly Nagy, a mathematician and astronomer who met with President Jackson and established links between the Hungarian Academy and the American Philosophical Society founded by Benjamin Franklin.

Fig. 1: The Tour of…

007Ágoston Mokcsai Haraszthy published a book about his American travels in 1844, ten years after Bölöni’s work. While in the States he also founded a settlement (originally named after him, now known as Sauk City) and a humanist society in Wisconsin. He later travelled to California, where he imported vine cuttings for the state’s emerging wine industry. Haraszthy’s Utazás Éjszakamerikában was more of a study of economic progress than Bölöni’s book, which was more of a text book on American democracy than a travelogue. Haraszthy was impressed by the technical improvements he witnessed there and was constantly thinking of their application to Hungary. Passages detailing these improvements were interspersed among accounts of his hunting episodes and other adventures. He found other topics interesting, such as the public amusements


Nevertheless, as a practical person he was impressed by the enterprising spirit of the New World and obsessed by economic possibilities engendered by a democratic society. Although he listed the most popular religious sects existing in the States, he did not comment on the religious freedom exercised by the American people.

Haraszthy’s work was less comprehensive than the later works of the exiles Wass, Xántus or Árvay.

Hungarian Exiles and Emigrants, 1848-1862

In 1847, Kossuth and Deák created an opposition party. The April Laws passed by the Diet in 1848, following the Revolution, provided for a constitutional monarchy on the western European model. Power was to be centralised in bourgeois Budapest and limited to the Hungarians. It appeared to the minorities that the ideas of equality, liberty and national self-determination would not be extended to them. Although Croatia was part of the ancient crown lands of King Stephen, the Croatian leadership remained loyal to the Emperor, a major factor in the ultimate defeat of the Hungarians in the War of Independence.


Despite these failings, many Americans were sympathetic towards Hungary’s revolt against Austrian rule, especially since some Hungarian laws cited the American Revolution and War of Independence as their inspiration. Although the Hungarians lost their War of Independence at Temesvár in August 1849, following the Czar’s intervention in autocratic alliance with the Habsburgs, the theory and practice of an independent nation had been experienced, and would not easily be forgotten. Its leaders were either executed or exiled, but the Fillmore Administration succeeded in negotiating the release of Kossuth and his men from captivity in Turkey, smuggling them to Britain aboard the USS Mississippi, and from there to the United  States. Kossuth arrived in New York to begin a tumultuous tour of the country, following which streets, squares and even some towns and counties were named after him. His hundreds of speeches received wide press coverage on both coasts of the country. Though Kossuth was given a respectful, sympathetic and even enthusiastic hearing everywhere, he received no official support for an independent government in exile. He left for Britain in July 1852.


Conscious of growing domestic tensions over the status of slavery in the mid-western territories, American leaders were unable to intervene, against their own policy of non-interference and in the face of strong Austrian protests in support of defeated European freedom fighters who had little chance of restoring their independent government. However, in July 1853, Commander Duncan N Ingraham of the USS St Louis did succeed in rescuing Márton Koszta, one of Kossuth’s comrades, from the Austrian warship Huszár, anchored in the port of Smyrna. Koszta had been seized in the Ottoman city by the imperial navy, but after interviews with the US Consul, Ingraham learnt that Koszta had lived in the United States for nearly two years and had declared his intention of becoming a US citizen a year earlier. However, he had not yet received a reply to his application from the US Chargé in Constantinople (Istanbul).  Both ships prepared for battle before Koszta was transferred to the St Louis just before Ingraham’s ultimatum expired. Although the Austrians protested, the US Secretary of State declared that, though not yet a citizen, Koszta had a home in the States and was therefore being considered for citizenship, a position which gave him the right to the protection he had placed himself under, and to be extradited to the US by agreement with the Ottoman authorities. The US newspapers praised Ingraham for his brinkmanship in standing up to the imperial navy.

General Hungarian immigration to the US increased throughout the 1850s. By the time of the outbreak Civil War an estimated four thousand Hungarians lived in the States. Some stayed for a while before returning to Hungary, while others made the US their new home. László Újházy, originally one of Kossuth’s associates, chose to stay and found a Hungarian settlement, New Buda, in Iowa. He later became American consul in Ancona, Italy. János Xantus belonged to the Kossuth Emigration, as did Samu Wass and László Árvay, arriving in America in 1851. Xantus’ first book on North America was published in 1857. He returned to Hungary in 1861 but then went back to the States in 1864. Árvay, also a political exile, remained in the states until 1855. Samu Wass’s travelogue was published in 1861. He spent ten years in America, having fled Hungary at the end of the War of Independence, not returning home until 1859. Xantus became a unique contributor to Hungarian-American relations. He conducted scientific research and worked for the US Government, serving in the Army as a geologist and explorer, as well as becoming a US consul in Mexico. His sometimes exaggerated accounts were published, accompanied by drawings of Native Americans and western landscapes. He once wrote:

I like riding in the prairies best. They very much resemble our own beautiful, unforgettable plains. Often I hum a folk song, but instead of our fata morgana, the roar of the buffalo is heard.

005However, even the roar of the buffalo could not compare with the mirages known as castles in the air seen on the Hungarian plains. Xántus’ Letters from America were originally written to his family and are therefore of a personal character. However, this did not prevent his works from being those of a political exile who had the chance not only to visit but also to live in the USA. His book therefore provides a closer look at the reality of the American way of life, giving examples of the problems facing someone who is forced to live as a stranger in a foreign land. He had to adjust himself to a far more practical way of life than the one he had left behind. According to his letters, he found his place in his new home, though he described his American life as much more interesting and exciting than it actually was. Hungarian critics have pointed out that the details of his expedition to Elk River in Kansas where he met the Witchita Indians must have been at least partly born of his imagination, and that these passages appear to have been translated from English.

Between 1855 and 1857, he had to stay in Fort Riley in Kansas, where he was a surgeon’s assistant,  and did not have the opportunity to take part in expeditions over the western territories in the manner of Irving and Cooper. Apart from his partly imaginary trips to the plains, of which Europeans can have little idea, he was the only one of our six travellers who visited some of the cities on the west coast, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. Anna Katona has remarked that:

János Xántus tried to explain life in the States to his immediate family, consequently most of his Hungarian-oriented remarks were of an everyday character. One of his main concerns was the mail. His remarks are certainly in praise of the efficiency of America.

Among his many adventures, he inserted true descriptions of the American way of life and means of transport and communication – he described travelling by train, including on top of a railway carriage, life on a steamboat, and even discussed the problem of servants with his relatives. Though he gave hints about the equality that he found among people and the opportunities that were open to all, he seems not to have been fascinated by the political system in the way in which other Hungarian writers were. However, he claimed to have paid his respects to President Buchanan, probably an invention. However his account of the life of the exiles in the Hungarian settlement of New Buda is considered to be reliable and is the only account we have of this.

Fig 2: The Tour of…

 008Nine Years in the Life of an Exile was the first volume of his planned memoirs. Although it contains a thorough chapter on New York, it’s likely that most of his North America material would have gone into the second volume which never saw publication. The chapter he devoted to New York is not merely descriptive but also summarised the development of the city based on his impressions and experiences gained during many visits.


László Árvay’s work remains in manuscript form, unpublished. He gives an account of his life in exile, having taken part in the Revolutionary War of Independence in 1848-49. He crossed the border at Fácset after his troops were defeated at Lugos in August, 1849. They fled to Turkey where they lay low for two years in Aleppo, before setting out for America. He travelled with János Fiala, a Colonel in the Revolutionary Army, arriving in New Orleans in March 1852. Árvay’s life there was reported to be strenuous, but his own accounts are about living in a hotel, visiting the theatre and having lunch at Puneky’s Hotel (Puneky was a Hungarian from Szeged who had been living in New Orleans for some time). They stayed in the city until Kossuth arrived there in March 1852, but did not accompany him to New York for the passage to Britain but went to St Louis to earn their living there. Although there were plenty of jobs available, at first Árvay found it humiliating to accept manual labour.  He tried his hand at farming, fencemaking, gardening and labouring on a farm. As well as living in St Louis, he also stayed in Davenport and spent some time on the farm of his fellow exile, Tivadar Rombauer. With the help of Börnstein, the chief editor of the local newspaper in St Louis and another early Hungarian immigrant, he managed to get a post as an engineer at the Pacific Railway Company. He worked in Jefferson City but still found it difficult to settle. Since he was given free train tickets he decided to visit the eastern cities; New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinatti, Buffalo, Chicago, Pittsburg, Washington and the Niagara Falls.

Having seen so much of the States and being provided with a free ticket for a sailing ship to Britain he finally left America in February 1855. He later took part in the Crimean War in 1856, from where he returned home to his family in Szeged.

Although Árvay’s diary mostly contains the events of his own American life and an account of the political exiles after the War of Independence, it does contain passages on the manners of Americans and on transport and communications which are useful to the historian looking for evidence of the social and economic development of the USA at this time. His view of American life is quite critical, however, partly due to the difficulty he had in settling into the raw newness of life there and in making a living. There are no direct references in the diary to the political economy of the States at this time, and it seems probable that he was unimpressed by a country which many of his fellow countrymen had considered a model of democracy in the years before the 1848 Revolution.

In the conclusion to her essay on Hungarian travellers in the United States, Anna Katona has remarked, drawing on the contemporary sources,  that:

…amidst the awakening of the backward country in the 1830s and 40s, America figured as a model of material, spiritual and moral modernisation as well as material improvement.

She claims that, as before 1848, the vast majority of post-1849 Hungarian visitors were still attracted by American institutions and prosperity. This became the main focus for Haraszthy’s work, and for that of Károly Nendtvich, for which he was awarded a prize by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1864. A review in Budapesti Szemle praised the book for its scholarly approach, reflective method and truthful portrayal of public and private life, institutions, professions and classes of society.


Nendvitch was born in 1811, brought up in Pécs, studied Medicine in Pest and became an obstetrician. However, he preferred Chemistry and graduated in it, becoming a professor. As the discipline was not considered a natural science at that time, he had little chance of getting a salaried post at the Budapest University, so he resigned and taught introductory Chemistry to medical students to make a living. In the period before the 1848 Revolution, he wanted to become more actively involved in the reform movement. He was among the founders of the Association of Natural Sciences in 1841, whose aim was to popularise the natural sciences among the common people and to make them understand that without scientific knowledge there could be no progress for the nation. He also analysed the different types of coal found in Hungary, classifying them according to their value for industrial purposes. For this research he was awarded a prize by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He was asked by Kossuth to assist in the work of the Iparegyesület (Chamber of Trade), founded in 1841, and in 1848, following the Revolution, he was offered the post of Head of Chemistry at the University of Budapest.

However, he had hardly taken up this post when the War of Independence began, and when the Revolution was suppressed, he was court-martialed for his radical ideas and activities. These had included giving introductory lectures in Chemistry to the Army, since it was accepted that the soldiers could not use gunpowder properly without an elementary knowledge of Chemistry. He was removed from his post at the University, but allowed to continue his work at the Trade Institute which later became the University of Technology in Budapest.

Fig 3 :  The Tour of ….

010Nendtvich was desperate over the state of post-revolutionary Hungary and was also embittered about his own situation. The institute where he led the Department of Chemistry was not properly equipped, and not suitable for proper research. Therefore, the possibility of visiting the USA gave him new enthusiasm. So, in 1855, he spent two months in the States, from mid-July to mid-September, publishing his two-volume work three years later. During his visit, nothing seemed to escape his attention and he provided a thorough, scholarly description of the States. The two volumes of his work have the same topic but differing themes.

In 1857 the Trade Institute was granted the title of University of Technology, and he remained there until his retirement. He died in 1892.

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