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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vörösmarty, Mihály

< 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica

VÖRÖSMARTY, MIHÁLY (1800-1855), Hungarian poet, was born at Puszta-Nyek on the 1st of December 1800, of a noble Roman Catholic family. His father was a steward of the Nadasdys. Mihaly was educated at Szekesfejervar by the Cistercians and at Pest by the Piarists. The death of the elder Vbrosmarty in 1811 left his widow and numerous family extremely poor. As tutor to the Perczel family, however, Vorbsmarty contrived to pay his own way and go through his academical course at Pest. The doings of the diet of 1823 first en kindled his patriotism and gave a new direction to his poetical genius (he had already begun a drama' entitled Salamon), and l)e flung himself the more recklessly into public life as he was consumed by a hopeless passion for Etelka Perczel, who socially was far above him. To his unrequited love we owe a whole host of exquisite lyrics, while his patriotism found expression in the heroic epos Zatdn futdsa (1824), gorgeous in colouring, exquisite in style, one of the gems of Magyar literature. This new epic marked a transition from the classical to the romantic school. Henceforth Vorbsmarty was hailed by Kisfaludy and the Hungarian romanticists as one of themselves. All this time he was living from hand to mouth. He had forsaken the law for literature, but his contributions to newspapers and reviews were rriiscrably paid. Between 1823 and 1831 he composed four dramas and eight smaller epics, partly historical, partly fanciful. Of these epics he always regarded Cserhalom (1825) as the best; but modem criticism, has given the preference to Kcl szomsed vdr (1831), a terrible story of hatred and revenge. When the Hungarian Academy was finally established (November 17, 1830) he was elected a member of the philological section, and ultimately succeeded Karoly Kisfaludy as director with an annual pension of 500 florins. He was one of the founders of the Kisfaludy Society, and in 1837 started the Athenaeum and the Figychnczo, the first the chief belletristic, the second the best critical periodical of Hungary. From 1830 to 1843 he devoted himself mainly to the drama, the best of his plays, perhaps, being Venidsz (1833), which won the Academy's loo-gulden prize. He also published several volumes of poetry, containing some of his best work. Szozat (1836), which became a national hymn, Az elhagyolt anya (1837) and Az ilri holgyhijz (1841) are all inspired by a burning patriotism. His marriage in 1843 to Laura Csajaghy inspired him to compose a new cycle of erotics. In 1848, in conjunction with Arany and Petbfi, he set on foot an excellent translation of Shakespeare's works. He himself was responsible for Julius Caesar and King Lear. He represented Jankovics at the diet of 1848, and in 1849 was made one of the judges of the high court. The national catastrophe profoundly affected him. For a short time he was an exile, and when he returned to Hungary in 1850 he was already an old man. A profound melancholy crippled him for the rest of his life. In 1854 he wrote his last great poem, the touching A ven cigdny. He died at Pest in 1855 in the same house where Karoly Kisfaludy had died twenty-five years before. His funeral, on the 21st of November, was a day of national mourning. His penniless children were provided for by a national subscription collected by Ferencz Deak, who acted as their guardian.

The best edition of Vbrbsmarty's collected works is by Pal Gyulau (Budapest, 1884). Some of them have been translated into German, e.g . Gedichte (Pest, 1857); Ban Marot, by Mihaly Ring (Pest, 1879); Ausgeuiahlte Dichte, by Paul Hoffmann (Leipzig, 1895). See Pal Gyulau, The Life of Vorosmariy (Hung.) (3rd ed., Bi 'apcst, 1890), one of the noblest biographies in the language; Brajjer, Vorosmarty, sein Leben und seine Werke (Nagj'-Becskerek, 1S82).

(R. N. B)