1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Széchenyi, Istvan, Count
SZÉCHENYI, ISTVAN, Count (1791–1860), Hungarian statesman, the son of Ferencz Széchenyi and the countess Juliana Festetics, was born at Vienna on the 21st of September 1791. Very carefully educated at home till his seventeenth year, when he entered the army, he fought with distinction at the battle of Raab (June 14, 1809), and on the 19th of July brought about the subsequent junction of the two Austrian armies by conveying a message across the Danube to General J. G. Chasteler at the risk of his life. Equally memorable was his famous ride, through the enemy's lines on the night of the 16th-17th of October 1813, to convey to Blücher and Bernadotte the wishes of the two emperors that they should participate in the battle of Leipzig on the following day, at a given time and place. In May 1815 he was transferred to Italy, and at the battle of Tolentino scattered Murat's bodyguard by a dashing cavalry charge. From September 1815 to 1821 he visited France, England, Italy, Greece and the Levant, carefully studying the institutions of the countries through which he passed, and everywhere winning admirers and friends. A second—scientific—tour with his friend, Baron Miklos Wesselenyi, taught him much about trade and industry, which knowledge he subsequently applied to his country's needs. In 1825, when he went to France in the suite of Prince Pàl Esterházy, to attend the coronation of Charles X., the canal du Midi especially attracted his attention and suggested to him the idea of regulating the rivers Danube and Theiss. At the Diet of 1825, when the motion for founding a Hungarian academy was made by Pal Nagy, who bitterly reproached the Magyar nobles for so long neglecting their mother-tongue, Széchenyi offered to contribute a whole year's income (60,000 florins) towards it. His example was followed by three other magnates who contributed between them 58,000 florins more. A commission was thereupon appointed to settle the details, and on the 18th of August the project received the royal assent. Another of his great projects was the opening up of the Danube for trade from Buda to the Black Sea. He satisfied himself of the practicability of the scheme by a personally conducted naval expedition from Pest to Constantinople. The Palatine Joseph was then won over, and on the 20th of June 1833 a Danube Navigation Committee was formed which completed its work in ten years. Széchenyi was also the first to start steamboats on the Theiss, the Danube and the lake of Balaton. It was now, too, that he published his famous work Stadium, suggesting a whole series of useful and indeed indispensable reforms (1833), which was followed by Hunnia (1834), which advocated the extension and beautifying of Budapest so as to make it the worthy capital of a future great power. His A Few Words on Horse-racing, a sport which he did so much to introduce and ennoble, appeared in 1839.
All this time Széchenyi had been following, with some anxiety, the political course of Kossuth. He sincerely believed that the exaggeration and exaltation of the popular editor of the Pesli Hirlap would cast the nation back into the old evil conditions from which it had only just been raised, mainly by Széchenyi’s own extraordinary efforts, and in Kelet nipe, which is also an autobiography, he prophetically hinted at an approaching revolution. "Trample on me without ceremony," he wrote to Kossuth on this occasion, "but for God's sake don't use the nimbus of your popularity to plunge Hungary into chaos." On this very point of reform the nation was already divided into two parties, though only the minority held with Széchenyi. But neither this fact nor the gradual loss of his popularity restrained Széchenyi, both in the Diet and at county meetings, from fulminating conscientiously against the extreme demands of Kossuth. His views at this period are expounded in the pamphlet Politikai programm toredekek ("Fragments of a Political Programme"). He held the portfolio of ways and communications in the first responsible Magyar administration (March 23, 1848) under Batthyany, hut his increasing apprehension of a revolution, with its inevitable corollaries of civil war and a rupture with the dynasty, finally affected his mind, and on the 5th of September he was removed to an asylum. Here he remained for many years, but recovered sufficiently to correspond with his friends and • even to meditate writing fresh books. In 1859 ne published the pamphlet Ein Blick in which he implored his countrymen to accept the Bach system as the best constitution attainable in the circumstances. The sudden death, of his old friend Baron Samuel Josika and the once more darkening political horizon led him, in a moment of despair, to take his own life (April 8, 1860). He richly deserved the epithet “the greatest of the Magyars” bestowed upon him by his political antagonist Kossuth.
Most of his numerous works on political and economical subjects have been translated into German. The best complete edition of his writings has been published, in nine volumes, by the Hungarian Academy (Pest, 1884–1896). See Life of Széchenyi, by Zsigmond Kemeny (Hung.; Pest, 1870); Aurel Kecskeméthy, The Last Years and Death of Count Széchenyi (Hung.; Pest, 1866); Menyhert Lonyai, Count Szechenyi and his Posthumous Writings (Hung.; Budapest, 1875); Max Falk, “Der Graf Stephen Szechenyi und seine Zeit” (in the Oesterreichische Revue, Vienna, 1867); Antál Zichy, Count Széchenyi as a Pedagogue (Hung.; Budapest, 1876); Pal Gyulai, Széchenyi as a Writer (Hung.; Budapest, 1892); Antal Zichy, Biographical Sketch of Count Stephen Széchenyi (Hung.; 2 vols., Budapest, 1896–1897). (R. N. B.)