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Old Homes of New Americans

Hungary, the America of the Old World
Chapter 11

Points of Resemblance -- The Cosmopolitan Make-up of Hungary -- The Assimilative Powers of Hungarians -- The Irresistible Contagion of the Magyar -- The Variety of Climate and Production -- The Constant Tide of Emigration -- The Contrast between Magyar and Slav -- The Hungarian Noble -- The Magnates -- The Position of Women -- I kiss your Hand -- Love of Education -- Illiteracy of Eastern Church -- Higher Education -- Hungary's Great Poet -- Her Novelists -- The Newspaper of Hungary -- Hospitable to Foreigners -- A Support of the Hapsburg Dynasty -- The Eloquent Hungarian -- Hungary's Great Resources.


In studying the characteristics of the Hungarians, both from the printed page and by personal intercourse with them in their own land, I have been struck with their points of resemblance to Americans, If there is any country which may be called "The America of the Old World," it's that compact kingdom which lies in the heart of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The cosmopolitan make-up of the people is like America. The Magyars themselyes, the true Hungarians, are a mixed race like our own, and many the nation has inherited the best blood of many peoples since their early ancestors came down from the Asiatic plateaus of the Ural Mountains, crossed the steppes of Russia, and drove out or assimilated the peoples whom they found on the banks of the fair Danube.

In their assimilative powers, too, the Hungarians have shown their likeness to America, or since they are the older nation, perhaps we Should say that America, in absorbing so many races, making of all of them good Americans, has shown its likeness to Hungary. The Slavs are of many varieties. Slovaks, Slovenians, Ruthenians, Croats, and Servians are found within the borders of the crown lands of Hungary. Though some of these races are making a brave fight to maintain their individuality, and though the racial consciousness has been awakened in many quarters of late years, yet of all the many peoples within the borders of Austria-Hunagary, the Magyars show the greatest assimilative qualities. Their language is the dominant one. They are foremost in politics and the industries of the country, and multitudes who were not born to the Magyar speech use that tongue in all the daily transactions of life, just as Germans, Scandinavians, Italians, and Greeks after a little speak only English when they come to America. Even the Jews often adopt Magyar Christian names, to show their fealty to the dominant race of Hungary, and in many quarters the German is resented as unpatriotic, and French and English are much preferred to the language of the Teutons.

Says a distinguished writer: "It is agreed by many foreigners living in Hungary that there is a contagion about the nationalist aspiration which is almost irresistible. In no country in the world are there to be seen so many divers races making one (despite local jealousies) in their support of Hungarian national tradition, and all are as vehement in their advocacy of Hungarian independence as the Magyars themseives. Jews and Germans swell with patriotic pride over their ancient constitution, and more than one instance could be cited of Hungarian patriots (some well known as the exponents of the Magyars to Europe) who have not one drop of Magyar blood. The contagion, the attraction, are in the Magyar people themselves, and surely in this magic quality lies the secret of their success."

In the variety of its climate and its productions, Hungary bears some relation to America. Though comparatively small when placed side by side with the nation that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, it is yet larger than Great Britain, Italy, or Austria, and ranks seventh among the nations of Europe in the number of square miles. In the varieties of climate found within its borders, it more resembles America than in the extent of its territory; for the traveler can go in a comparatively few hours from the sub-tropical regions of Dalmatia, like Ragusa and Abbazia, to the sub-Arctic regions of the high Carpathians, and in that journey he will find almost every kind of vegetation that grows in the United States, from the orange and lemon of Florida to the hard "A No. 1" wheat of the Northwest.

Perhaps because of these similarities between the two countries, America of late years has proved to be a great magnet, drawing the Hungarian peoples from their Alfold, or prairies, to the virgin prairies of the new world. In 1906, 168,000 Hungarians landed in America; and though the figures vary according to the prosperity (or lack of prosperity) in the two countries, yet doubtless for many years to come there will be a constant outflow of hardy Hungarians to the country in the new world, in which they will find so many characteristics that will remind them of their old home. A few years ago the Government of Hungary became quite alarmed at the steady increase of emigration to America, and tried in various ways to stem the tide. They forbade lectures concerning the new world, and advertisement of the steamship companies which carried the emigrants. These efforts doubtless succeeded in keeping at home many thousands, but will scarcely affect, to any considerable extent, or for any great length of time, the mighty stream of emigration.

The leading characteristics of the Magyars are brought out in striking contrast when we consider them in relation to the people of other races with whom they live side by side. For the most part these are Slavs, and the difference between the Slavic temperament and the Magyar is noticeable even to the hasty traveler. Each race has its virtues and each its easily besetting sins. Each, in a measure, balances and supplements the other; and if they could be induced to live in harmony and peace, and could sink their racial animosities, they would form, perhaps, the strongest combination in all Europe.

The Magyars are virile and strong, even with the substratum of ferociousness, as their early history shows before they were tamed by the gentler ways of modern civilization, The Slavs are dreamy and imaginative. The Magyars were nomads, originally, who pastured great flocks and herds; while the Slavs were agriculturists, and tilled the ground where they made their permanent homes. The Magyar nature is aristocratic, and the "great nobles" or "Magnates," as they are called, from the earliest days of their history down to the present time have exerted a tremendous influence upon the government of the state and its social organizations.

The Slavs are far more democratic by nature. They have resented the trammels of a strong government, which the Hungarians have always been willing to endure, provided that government was their own, and provided they did not have to bow the knee to a foreign power. For this reason the Slavs of Hungary have always been at a disadvantage, politically, and have lived under the shadow of the stronger and more warlike race that believed in a strong and centralized government.

Throughout all its history, in its evil days and its prosperous days, in its many disasters brought upon it by foes within and foes without, Hungary has maintained its individuality. It is characteristic of the people that in the ancient times a bloody sword was sent around as a token of war, and the levy in the time of the great King Matthias called for one in twenty to serve the country in the army, though often a far larger proportion were drafted in times of war.

The word "hus" means twenty, and because one in twenty was drafted, we have our modern word " hussars," which has come down to us from the days of the great Hungarian King.

Thus, while the other races of Hungary are fragments of a greater whole, Hungary is and always has been, with the exception of some brief interregnums in its history, a complete and independent nation. Its Power of recuperation from disaster has been remarkable. In the Middle Ages the Hungarian nation numbered over five millions of people. The long, long wars with the Turks succeeded, and the five millions of Magyars were reduced to about half that number in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; but as soon as comparative peace smiled upon Hungary again, the nation, which had been harried and decimated by centuries of war, at once gathered its forces together, renewed its youth, and multiplied its population, until now there are nearly twice as many who boast of Magyar blood as in the palmiest days of the Middle Ages.

AIl the children of nobility in Hungary take their father's rank. In England, only the eldest son inherits his father's titles and the entailed estates of the family As a result, there is a multitude of nobles in Hungary, many of whom are very poor, and some of whom are ignorant; nevertheless, their social rank is maintained and admitted by the peasants. These are the "smaller nobles," while the "Magnates," or "great nobles," are few in number and exceedingly aristocratic. It is said that the lesser nobles are afraid to associate with the great nobles for fear they may have to show them a deference which they do not admit is their due. The women are especially afraid of this intercourse, lest they be addressed by the too Presuming "you," instead of "thou," which is used between equals.

The smaller nobles go into politics and, to some extent, into trade and commerce which the Magnates despise, for the most part. In former days this attitude toward the work of the world resulted in many cases in a frivolous, useless life on the part of the descendants of the greatest families, -- a tendency, I am told, which is being corrected in these days, as the great nobles realize their responsibilities and are stirred with nobler feelihgs of truer patriotism.

The position of woman in Hungary has always been a noble one, and here again we may say there is an evident point of contact between the Hungarian and the American in the respect and honor which is accorded to the gentler sex. Even the meanest employee kisses the hand of the mistress of the house, not in degrading servility but as a kindly and gracious courtesy. A lady from America, in visiting Hungary, is often rather embarrassed by this unusual attention, as her hand is grasped by all classes and conditions of people, and a fervent kiss implanted upon its back. In the higher circles, however, a compromise is often effected in these days, and as the lady's hand is taken, the gentleman says, with great grace and impressiveness "I kiss your hand," and allows it to go at that.

In their love for education, too, we find another point of contact between the Hungarians and the Americans. Though decimated and impoverished by centuries of war, the desire to have their children educated and obtain a good start in life never died out of the Hungarian heart, and the percentage of illiterates, now that the nation has become prosperous, is being cut down with very gratifying and speedy regularity. The Germans of Hungary are still slightly ahead in the percentage of those who can read and write, though the Magyars are rapidly overtaking them, and at the present rate of progress they will soon be (if they are not already) among the best educated races of Europe.

When we consider the progress of education in the outlying provinces of the Magyar land, we find that there is still much to be desired. In the whole Hungarian kingdom, something over sixty per cent of the inhabitants can read and write; but the percentage is constantly growing, and it must also be remembered that the illiteracy in Croatia, Slavonia, and the more backward parts of the kingdom greatly reduces the percentage in the whole country.

There is also a great difference in this respect between the Western and Eastern churches of Hungary. In the Western churches, which comprise the Reformed, the Lutheran, the Roman Catholic, and the Unitarian, over seventy-one per cent of the people read and write; while in the Eastern churches, represented by the Russian and Greek Orthodox communions, according to the last statistics, only twenty-two per cent can read and write. The Jews present the highest proportion of educated people, more than eighty-three per cent of them being able to master the printed page. The Evangelical Protestants come next, and are less than one per cent behind their Jewish neighbors.

In higher education, too, Hungary is making rapid progress. There are fifty-nine institutes of university status in Hungary proper, though forty-six of these are theological colleges, which would seem to be a great disproportion, according to American ideas; but there are many sects in Hungary, and each one must have its own theological faculties. There is a great desire to establish more universities for science and the classics; and there is evident need of this when we remember that the University of Science in Budapest enrolls over seven thousand pupils, a number which is constantly increasing. The inherent love of the Magyars for education is shown in the rapid advance of university extension, which recently enrolled in its classes among the common people no less than three hundred and thirty-seven thousand pupils.

When we come to the higher realms of literature, though the Hungarian writers have not as yet made a great impression upon other lands, the nation has had noble authors who deserve to be better known and in a wider circle.

Petofi is the great national poet of Hungary, his countrymen claiming that he ranks with Shakespeare and Goethe. He fired the hearts of the Hungarians to stand for liberty in the Revolution of'48, and though at first all seemed to be lost, his patriotic verses rang in the hearts of the Magyar people until they attained the liberty for which he sung but which he never lived to see.

Jean Arany and Vorosmarty are also reckoned as poets of national stature and of international fame, while the novelists Jokai, Kemeny, and Eotvos are held in high esteem by all who can read their novels in the original. The genius of the Hungarian language makes it difficult to translate into other tongues, and on this account the niceties of expression and the beauties of form are often lost when translations are attempted.

The libraries of Hungary, too, are no mean addition to its literary life. The Hungarian National Museum at Budapest contains a million and a half volumes, pamphlets, and manuscripts, "preserving many of the oldest monuments of the Hungarian language, as well as a host of manuscripts invaluable from the point of view of Hungarian literature and history."

The circuiation of the newspapers, while it may not argue much for the literary taste of the Hungarians, declares them to be a reading nation, for the latest statistics available show that over one hundred and fifty millions of newspapers were delivered through the Hungarian post-office in a single year, in addition to the unknown millions which were sold locally and delivered at the houses by newsboys. A large proportion of these newspapers are in the Magyar language, though the German is well represented, with a smaller number in Croatian, Slovak, Roumanian, and Servian.

The prophets of evil frequently announce the downfall of the United States, because of the great number of alien peoples who are constantly coming to our shores. In their gloolny croakings they tell us that we can never absorb them, and that they will be our overthrow and ruin, because of their antagonistic qualities.

We may gain some comfort, however, from the history of Hungary, which, as I have already said, is a nation of mixed races, and has gained its strength largely from the infusion of foreign blood in the original stock.

Says an eminent Hungarian, Dr. Julius de Vargha, the Director of the Statistics of the Kingdom of Hungary: --

The Hungarian (Magyar) nation of to-day is no longer an Asiatic people, but a European nation composed of the intermingling of various races under the influence of the natural conditions prevailing in the country. . . . Mighty conquering peoples the Goths, Franks, Lombards, Normans, and, of the Hunno-Scythian peoples, the Bulgarians -- became completely absorbed in the conquered races: only the Hungarians have succeeded in maintaining their racial individuality, despite the intermixture of blood.... The Hungarian nation, which on obtaining possession of its new home was thrown on a huge ocean of foreign races, owes its preservation as a nation entirely to the fact that it was never exclusive. It was never in favor of racial exclusiveness, and was always only too glad to receive into its ranks the best sons of other races. The selected representatives of foreign people brought with them the best characteristics of their own race, and helped to form a strong, hardy, almost indomitable nation, which was able to endure terrible catastrophes that would have wiped other peoples entirely off the face of the globe.

In another chapter some of these catastrophes, entailed by the long and bloody wars with the Turks, have been related.

You cannot insult a true Magyar more than by intimating that his nation is in any way subject to Austria, and that he belongs to the Austrian Empire. Yet in spite of this independence, which sometimes is carried to an almost absurd extreme, the Hungarian Kingdom seems to be the strongest support of the Hapsburg Monarchy. We may believe, however, that it is only because the Emperor is wise enough to treat the Magyars as an independent nation.

In the many-tongued monarchy at present under the rule of the House of Hapsburg [says Dr. Vargha], it is the Hungarian nation whose interests and national ambitions are identical with the interests of the dynasty, and do not act as a centrifugal force. However strong the specially Austrian traditions may be, the Germans (in Austria-Hungary) stand under the alluring influence of the splendor and power of the great German empire. The Italians long to join Italy; the Slovenians, Croatians, and Servians dream of the establishment of a great Southern Slav Empire; the Roumanians are drawn towards the independent Kingdom of Roumania. The Hungarians (Magyars) alone are possessed of no dreams of disintegration: their past, present, and future binds them to their present home; and they are, consequently, the firmest pillar of the House of Hapsburg.

To prove that the Hungarians are an eloquent race, we need only point to the long array of great orators, some of whom, like Kossuth of a former generation and Apponyi of the present day, are almost as well known in America as in Hungary. I recently attended the meeting of the synod of the Reformed Church of Hungary in the city of Debreczen, where Kossuth, nearly seventy years ago, proclaimed the absolute independence of the Hungarian nation at the beginning of his valiant but ill-fated struggle for liberty. The great Reformed Church building where the independence of Hungary was proclaimed still stands; and as I listened to the eloquent words of the members of the synod, drawn from all parts of the kingdom, I realized that Kossuth's mantle had fallen upon more than one of his compatriots of the present day, and that, if need were, many another voice would be lifted with equal effect for the national freedom which, at last, after so many struggles, seems to be assured to the brave people of Hungary.

Another likeness to America is found in the vast stores of coal and iron that Hungary contains, two products which lie at the very base of industrial expansion. With the splendid prairies of the lowlands, prairies with soil as deep and rich as that of Iowa; with coal and iron mines which have not yet begun to be developed; with an enterprising and progressive people; with a mighty river like the Danube to transport the products of industry to the sea; with a magnificent system of railroads, divided into zones, which makes transportation cheaper than in any other land, the future industrial and commercial progress of Hungary would seem to be assured. There are few countries in the world with greater natural advantages, none perhaps with a more beautiful and stately capital, none with a more enterprising and virile people. May the future of Hungary be worthy of the distinguished favors which have been heaped upon it by a kind and generous Providence!

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