Poetry of the Magyars/On Magyar Literature

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Various are the opinions respecting the origin of the Hungarian people. Dr. F. Thomas has written three volumes to prove them to be de- scended from the ancient Egyptians.[1] The word Hungariai is of Mogol root, and was originally Ugur or Ingur, meaning foreigner or stranger. The Hungariai denominate themselves and their language Magyar, which was undoubtedly the name of one of the tribes from which they sprung. In the fourth century they took possession of the land of the Bashkir (Tartars), between the Volga, Tobol, and Jaik. They were subdued by the Turks in the sixth century; and in the seventh, eighth, and ninth, they associated themselves with the Chazars in Lebedia, (now the province of Katherinoslav,) and subsisted by robbery and ravage. In the middle of the ninth century they were called in by Ratislaw, Duke of Moravia, to assist him against the Germans; and not long after, their territory being intruded on by the Pechenegers, they took up their abode under the Carpathian mountains, and combined with King Arnulf against their former Moravian allies. In their absence the Bulgarians had devastated their province, and they took possession of a part of Galicia, but afterwards broke through the Car- paths towards Munkach, attacked the Bulga- rians on the river Theiss, and seized a part of Pannonia. They were at this period composed of seven tribes, of which the Magyar was the strongest, and ultimately gave its name to all the rest. A part of the race still occupied Bashkiria, and are mentioned by Carpini in 1246, and Ru- brivis in 1251, who speak of them as having ori- ginally gone forth from the Bashkirs. In our time, however, no fragments of the Magyar lan- guage are left in Bashkiria, though Von Orlay reports that one of the Caucasian tribes is still called Ugrichi (Hungarians) by the Russians, and uses an Hungarian dialect. Among the Hunga- rians it has always been a favorite theory to con- sider themselves as Huns, with little other reason than the similarity of name. The Huns were undoubtedly a Mongolian race, and nothing can be more unlike than the languages, characters, persons, and habits, of the Hungarians and the Mongolians. Of late, a theory that the Hunga- rians and Finlanders have a common origin, has found many intelligent advocates; but probably nothing more than the orientalism of both can be deduced from the affinities of their language.

We know little of Etele (Attila), except from testimony which must be received with the great- est distrust. Priscus Rhetor, who was sent by Theodosius the Second to the Court of Etele, speaks of the fondness of the Huns for their na- tive language, and of the festal songs in which, after their festivals, the deeds of their heroes were celebrated in so touching a style, that the aged men of the assembly shed many tears. He men- tions also, that when Etele returned to his castle, he was met by maidens in white veils, who greet- ed him with Scythian hymns. During the reign of the Arpadian kings, which brings us down to the beginning of the 14th century, (Andreas Ve- neta having been poisoned in 1301,) many are the references to the Joculators and Trufators,[2] the

Poets and Jesters, who were always to be found about the person of the monarch. And Galeotti, the librarian of King Matthias, asserts that his father, the celebrated John Hunyadi, awakened the martial spirit of his master by the hero-songs which he caused to be recited to him. “At table too,” he says, “musicians and cithara players sung the deeds of valiant warriors in their native tongue to the music of the lyre-an usage," he continues, “brought from Rome, and which passed from us (Italians) even to the Hungarians."[3] At this period the literary influence of Italy upon Hungary was very remarkable, and Dante has expressed in his Paradise s bright anticipation for the

Beata Ungria! se non si lascia
Più malmenare.Cant. xix.

But of this period little remains, except such scattered notices and fragments as are scarcely remarkable enough to occupy a place in this brief notice.

Simon von Reza is the first of the Hungarian Chroniclers. His history is from the earliest times down to the end of the thirteenth century. John von Küküllo wrote the Life of Lewis the First, 1342—1382, and John De Turocz publish- ed a Chronicle of the Kingdom of Hungary down to the year 1473, in which he has introduced, word for word, the writings of his above-men- tioned predecessors, as well as the Chronicon Budense of an anonymous author printed at Buda in 1473.[4]

The battle of Mohács (1526) is the "Dies irae" of the Hungarians, and its story of defeat and humiliation is more melancholy from its so immediately following a period of hope and of brightness. Hungary had been enlightened by the efforts of her own sons, and by the influx of illus- trious strangers, as if merely to contrast with the darkness of Turkish oppression. The Reformation which soon after this period broke in upon the land, did much for the language. The spirit of Lutheranism was essentially popular. Its instru- ment, the vernacular tongue, especially repre- sented in that mighty machine of knowledge and of power, the Press, whose efforts have changed and continue to change the character of nations, and which acts as a security against their perma- nent decline and fall, began to exert its beneficial influences. In the sixteenth century many printing presses existed in Hungary. The great circulation of the Bible in the vernacular tongue produced a great demand for books. In the cities of Bartfeld, De- bretzen, Várad, Neusohl, Kassa, were printing establishments supported by the public, and the Magnates assisted those of Detrekö, Ujszigeth, Galgócz, Alsóhendra, Némethujvár, and Pápa. In the following century presses were erected in Trentsin, Silein, Senitz, Puchov, Leutschau, and Csessreg. No censorship existed in any shape during this period.

The names of Magyar authors begin now to thicken, and a list of chroniclers and poets occupy the pages of literary story. The works of this period are for the most part biographical and his- torical.[5] The poetry can hardly be said to be much elevated above dull and sober prose, the ars poetica of the age being little more than the art of making common-place sentences dance to the jingle of a rhyme. The best poet of the day was Tinódi, who wrote both foreign and do- mestic history, and who does not seem to have had patronage enough to exalt him even above bodily suffering; for in a single verse, which he introduces more than once, he gives a description of himself which brings him and his misery pictorially before us. It may thus be rendered:

This was written in his chamber by the penniless Tinódi, Often blowing on his fingers, for the cold was in his body.[6]

  1. Conjecturae de Origine, prima sede et lingua Hungarorum. Buda, 1806. 3 Vols.
  2. Trufator, Trufa, (now Tréfa,) is an old Magyar word for Jest. Schedel asks if Troubadour, Trobador, and Trufator, may not he synonymous.
  3. Of one of the Hungarian Bishops, Galeotti writes, "Perplacuit etiam mihi illa familiae suae dignitas et elegantia sempereuim in ejus domo aut oratur aut studetur aut carmen cantatur ad lyram aut sermo habetur honestus." Cap. 31.
  4. Eichorn, Geschichte der Litteratur, II. 319.
  5. See a Catalogue of these early productions in Sandor's Ma- gyar Könyvesház, Raab, 1803, in 8vo.
  6. Ennek lö́n irása a' jó kolosvárba
    Tinódi Sebestyén könyvnyomtatásába;
    Szerzé nagy buába, egy hideg szobába,
    Gyakran fú körmébe, mert nincs pénz tasolyába.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.