21 May 2019

Széphalom – The Utopia of an English Garden – Part II



The garden at Széphalom that came to fruition during Kazinczy’s lifetime tells us the story of unfulfilled plans and a difficult-to-maintain lifestyle, when we reconstruct his desired and completed plans from the wealth of surviving documents.

It does not take much brain work to figure out what the main cause of the failure of his highly ambitious plans was, and why the history of Széphalom can be divided into what Kazinczy dreamed of, and what he was eventually able to afford: his arrest and the unusually severe sentence, followed by over six long years of imprisonment, had subverted his original intentions in every respect, especially as it seemed for a while that he would never be able to return to his half-built, and later completely run-down house. In a letter to his mother in 1803, he declares that he has given up on his grand plans.1

By the time he was finally able to move into the estate he now regarded as his own in the summer of 1806, he realistically concluded that everything he had studied with such enthusiasm, and which had affected him so profoundly as a new artistic and aesthetic experience, would forever be out of his reach. Even a relatively small but truly English-style garden in the Zemplén Mountains would have needed a great deal of money and well-qualified experts, to say nothing of the time that would have to be devoted to nurturing and developing the garden. Kazinczy had none of these, only his in-depth knowledge of the aesthetics of the English garden.

And while he declares in the fifth point of his principles of garden aesthetics that “[o]ne who has not studied architecture, and has for a long time not practised the viewing of beautiful creations, shall have no luck with the drawing of beautiful gardens”, he had nevertheless felt sufficiently qualified, some fifteen years earlier, to undertake the drafting of such plans, and to later continue developing and altering them.

Kazinczy’s early principles of garden aesthetics have survived as a sort of imprint, but until now a rare series of plans has gone unnoticed: the three surviving plans were made at Kazinczy’s request after August 1795, with the intermediation of his younger brother, and they bear multiple corrections and alterations by Kazinczy himself.2 Their special importance stems not only from his handwritten corrections and comments, but also from the fact that the plan written in German, made by the cartographer with darker ink (Plan 1), showed the situation prior to his imprisonment, and shows the English garden’s network of paths and spatial layout had been completed by this time.3 In 1794–1795, therefore, the plan of his garden in Széphalom was still of central importance to him, and he also liked to work on it during his incarceration.

In reality, Széphalom (which means “Fairhill”) was spread over not one, but two hills: on the first, closer to the road, he built his house. Meanwhile he planned to cultivate the other hill, to the west of this in the direction of the forest, and the meadow in front of it, by planting it with clover; and he designed a small building on the high ground. This was a chapel, or certainly some kind of church-like structure for his English style garden. It features on both the Hungarian (Plan 2) and the German (Plan 1) drawing. The German plan shows it with an octagonal roof, but the Hungarian one depicts the front elevation. Here, in the centre of the building’s façade a large entrance, and on the front and rear end of the roof some kind of ornamental protrusion can be seen. The plans, which never left the drawing board, are even more exciting if we glance at the upper left corner of Plan 1: in significantly fainter ink – probably later than the drawing of the central part of the garden, made with dark ink – he drew a small, pantheon-like Greek style building with four columns. According to the barely readable inscription, this was a shrine to “Enlightenment”. Thus Kazinczy himself had adopted a gardening philosophy, strongly influenced by Freemasonry, which regarded the man-made natural environment as a suitable vehicle for the expression of ideologies. In Hungary at that time, the most pronounced example of this principle was represented by Lajos Battyhány’s garden in Körmend. Another idea set down on paper also suggests a similar mindset to that of Batthyány. On the left edge of Plan 1 are two drawings by Kazinczy. Both are designs for a monument that he planned to erect to Judith Heidegger; that is, Mrs Gessner, or “Gessner’s muse”. The first drawing depicts a seated female figure, at whose knee a winged putto figure can be made out. The female figure is holding an oval portrait in her hand, with the inscription “Gessner”. The other, much smaller sketch shows the pedestal underneath the figure, with three numbered faces. Explanations for the numbers are given below the drawing. Below number 1 is the “Der Muse Gessners” inscription. Number 2 is the text on the left-hand face of the plinth: “In the imagining of Abel the Remainder worthily honour the ashes of the Poet.” Here, Kazinczy is referring to Gessner’s work The Death of Abel, one of his favourites, which he later also mentions in relation to the death of his daughter Iphigenia. The text labelled with number 3 is unfinished, and contains corrections: “In the Idylls their lives are like one sweet song that two pipes...”

His correspondence provides us with a point of reference for this unusual concept. In the summer of 1793, Kazinczy was corresponding with Gessner’s widow. On one occasion, in Kassa (today: Košice, Slovakia) he read out one of Mrs Gessner’s letters to his girlfriend, Teréz Radvánszky. In the letter, the widow expressed her joy and gratitude at having learned that Prince Batthyány was erecting a monument to her husband in Körmend. Teréz said to Kazinczy, half in jest, that the lady who had been his muse was surely more deserving of the memorial, since the book containing Kazinczy’s Hungarian translation of the poet’s works was already a worthy enough tribute to the poet. Kazinczy thanked her for this double compliment with a kiss of the hand, and hurried to bring these thoughts to Mrs Gessner’s attention.4 We assume that this was what inspired the monument design made in prison.

In a semicircle behind the small church, we can make out a sketch of four large, leafy trees. The drawing of the Greek-style church bears an uncanny resemblance to the Kazinczy Memorial Hall designed by Miklós Ybl. However, we should bear in mind that Ybl probably made use of Kazinczy’s own monument design, sent in a letter in 1814, for the design of the memorial hall:5 Kazinczy proposed a “Temple” for the burial site of Miklós Wesselényi Sr in Zsibó (today: Jibou, Romania), and he drew it from several perspectives, with a pattern of trees similar to his design for the garden at Széphalom. He cites a volume of etchings by the Italian Calderari as the source of this detailed concept.6

Kazinczy’s first plan, 1795–1799, Department of Manuscripts and Rare Books, Library and Information Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Ferenc Kazinczy’s manuscripts

The most distinctive feature of the Széphalom garden, designed for the two hills, is
that it embodies the “transitional” style of Hungarian garden design: one half has a geometric layout, in which long straight paths converge on a round central space that is probably sown with turf. The symmetrically laid-out garden paths, however, are bordered with fruit trees, and the plots bordered by these contain not flowers, but various species of fruit trees. Below the central round space, a vineyard spreads out like a fan – although the explanatory text of the second plan later states that a vegetable garden should be planted instead of the grapevines, because the area is not good enough for wine-making, and too large for growing table grapes. In front of the intersection of the circular rows of fruit trees, he wanted to build the house of the gardener, who would not only tend the kitchen garden, but would also serve as a watchman, guarding the fruit in the orchard.

Of these plans, the avenue of lindens leading through the orchard was probably completed before his imprisonment. A round area planted with apple trees was also created, bordered with blackberry bushes.7

Another path leads from the geologically arranged orchard to the house, running into another round space referred to as the “Paradplatz” in German, or the zöld gyep (“green lawn”) in Hungarian. The German name is telling, as it refers to the ornamental function of the space. The turfed area separates the ornamental garden-like yard positioned behind and directly adjacent to the house, from the English style garden that is also used for the growing of produce. But the large lawn also separates the geometrical and irregular parts of the garden from each other as the other half of the garden is broken up into irregular patterns by winding paths and the natural boundary lines of areas set aside for agricultural use. Here there is nothing else but meadow and hill, the cornfield and the forest. The whole area can be traversed on winding paths that lead past all the “attractions” of the estate, with the small, church-like building standing in what is more or less the centre point. The plan was clearly unfinished, and additional features are sketched faintly onto it in pencil. In the middle of the English-style part of the garden, which is already marked out in ink, we can make out the outlines of two, straight-trunked trees that resemble Lombardy poplars.

The third plan shows the layout of the immediate surroundings of the house’s “yard”, but this sheet also contains Kazinczy’s instructions regarding additional tasks to be performed.

Kazinczy’s third plan, 1795–1799, Department of Manuscripts and Rare Books, Library and Information Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Ferenc Kazinczy’s manuscripts

The yard was situated on an area forming the flat top of the mound-like elevation, behind the building: here, he envisaged two oval forms planted with turf, blackcurrant bushes or gooseberries. He recommended leaving a wide path between the two oval forms, so that carts would have no trouble turning. He also designed a semi-circular parterre, separated with a hedge, on the northern side of the yard, to the right of the house. An interesting feature of its ornamental garden layout which is regular, but not traditional in its use of flowers, is that he envisioned shade trees and Lombardy poplars in the oval parterre closer to the house, and even went as far as specifying which species should be used: there were to be plane, cigar tree and horse chestnut arranged in a semicircle, with the Lombardy poplars between them. As he commented: if the trees grow, this will raise the hill even higher as viewed from the road to Sátoraljaújhely, and will also complement the house. In the centre of the other oval area he marks the place of the well, which was dug out before 1794.8

It was only the burial site made for his daughter Iphigenia in 1806 that gave the Széphalom garden, extending to the forests in the direction of the mountain, a layout similar to its present-day appearance. Towards the grave site, in the place of a cellar that was badly dug and subsequently collapsed (see Plan 3), a natural “eternal lake”, or rather a duck pond” formed.9

Recalling the marking out of the house on the hilltop, in his memoirs Kazinczy placed the most emphasis on how he oriented the building: “I was present at the staking out of the foundation. I took care to ensure that the line pointed, through the door into the hall and out of the central window of the dining room, towards the tower of Kis-Toronya Church. Thus, the building stood well relative to the hill and the road passing below it.”

The orientation, as the word itself suggests, indicates the direction in which we see something of the surrounding landscape. If we draw an imaginary circle around the point named as Kazinczy’s house, then moving in a semicircle from the north to the east and then the south, gives us a view of the whole Hegyköz region, which is the water catchment area for the Bozsva Brook. The broad plain that forms the valley of the brook is encircled by two mountain ranges. The peaks behind the house in Széphalom have already been mentioned. The valley opposite is closed off by the protrusion of the Tokaj foothills, with the last village of this wine-growing region, Kistoronya (Malá Tŕňa), which is now in Slovakia. Today this geographical unit is difficult for us to imagine, if only because the landscape is cut into two by the artificially drawn national boundary; so in our minds we no longer connect up these two, once unified and geologically inseparable tracts of land making up the plain and the vineyard slopes of the mountain. Along this imaginary semi-circular arc, Kazinczy had views of a total of twelve villages (the twelfth, Mikóháza, is missing from among those listed by Kazinczy). He proudly described this to his friend János Kis when he moved to Széphalom, in a letter giving a detailed description of his estate: “I see, then, the tower of Újhely, the ruins of Borsi, the two Toronyas, Hosszú-Láz, the bankside mansions of Legénye and Lasztócz (the latter being that of Péter Kazinczy), Mihályi, and the two Regmeczes. Kázmér is two hours away from me, but covered by the mountains. To the west from the door of my hall, I see wooded, but beautifully formed large mountains.”10

If we place the villages listed by Kazinczy on a map, we see that his eye would have scanned the countryside from the house to the south, then from the tower of Sátoraljaújhely in an easterly direction, with the visible settlements marking out points on that more or less semicircular arc. We also learn that he could not see his wife’s parents’ house in Nagykázmér, as it is obscured by a ridge of the Zemplén Mountains, although it was no farther away than Lasztóc (today: Lastovce, Slovakia). Lasztóc is the most distant point of this panorama, some 20 kilometres from Széphalom. The picturesque landscape is coloured by the tiny buildings and church towers of the surrounding villages, and another essential part of any landscape composition worth its salt: the ruined castle on the mountainside. The ruined castle of Kazinczy’s landscape is Borsi (Borša) Castle, which holds special importance for him as the birthplace of the freedom-fighter Ferenc Rákóczi.

The letter to János Kis not only highlights for us the importance of the view, but also gives us an insight into his idea of the perfect landscape composition that he intended to create, and eventually gaze upon, when he staked out the position of his house. This was Kazinczy’s true English landscape garden, as it fulfilled point six of his principles of garden aesthetics: “The great English garden style is where the Visitor believes himself to be not in a garden, but in the lap of nature. What could be more beautiful than the groves of the Danube, and the comely oak and poplar and locust trees on the margins of the Tisza? What could be more beautiful than the enchanting valley between Bag and Gödöllő? How little would be needed to transform these into a Paradise!”

Even the “uncharitable” assumption that Kazinczy’s enforced abandonment of his original plans was what made him into a believer in the wider natural environment, as opposed to his own, landscaped garden, does not stand up to scrutiny. He had often highlighted the importance of a beautiful view of topographically varied, grand scenery offering broad horizons in the course of his previously mentioned garden visits. Széphalom was perhaps directly comparable to the Neuhaus garden near Salzburg, which has already been described in detail, as being “surrounded on three sides by the romantic, stony Tyrolean mountains, while the fine Bavarian plain opens up before it on another, affording views of the setting sun sinking in a golden sky”.11

It was certainly a deliberate choice by Kazinczy to follow the scenic principle from his theory of the aesthetics of the English garden, even if he achieved this by appropriating the surrounding landscape. And naturalness, or as he calls it, the principle of simplicity of “natural gardens in the English sense”, was another principle that he adhered to in practice. Although we do not know how well he managed to aesthetically distinguish the cultivated areas from the natural surroundings, his intent to do so is obvious from the plan drawing of his garden.

Károly Cserna: Ferenc Kazinczy Memorial Hall, Széphalom, before 1900, reproduction by Attila Király. © Hungarian National Museum, Historical Gallery

The most important vehicle for such intervention was planting, in a region that was neither special nor varied in terms of its plant cover. The area of Széphalom had been covered with oak trees and hawthorn bushes. Once these had been cleared, from the very beginning, Kazinczy enriched the environment with varied trees and shrubs. What is more, these were species that few people had attempted to grow in this region with its bleak weather and bad soil.12

Kazinczy’s garden in Széphalom was a garden of the landscape, and not a landscape garden. His house is long gone; and after his death, posterity no longer appreciated the importance of the enchanting landscape. Today, nothing of this can be sensed in the somewhat overgrown garden, beyond the now fully-grown trees. But Kazinczy was so proud of his estate that he even set in verse, in an oft-quoted poem, the things that made Széphalom his Arcadia, the essence of every English garden:

You will see my house from afar

On the brow of a hill,


And if a picture, a book, a fine setting, a secluded space,

Fields stretching away, acres of sheaves,

Not far from the house a sacred oak copse,

And above it those wine-producing slopes,

The playful trickle of a little brook,

And a dozen settlements in view,

Among them Újhely and Borsi;

If the rumblings of our mills, in the night’s

Fairy silence, and just from the east

The risen chain of our own blueing mountains,

Have the power to enchant him too:


Then say thee, come see. Here’s Arcadia!


To Floralbus Phocidensis Roman Arcadian, 1811 (excerpt)

Translation by Daniel Nashaat




1 Ferenc Kazinczy to his mother, 28 August 1803, KazLev. III, letter 611, p. 90.

2 Orbán, László: Kazinczy széphalmi birtoka [Kazinczy’s Széphalom Estate], Irodalomismeret, 2017, No. 4.

3 Ibid.

4 “Als ich die Zeile, in welcher Sie dem Fürsten Batthyáni für seine Liebe zu Ihrem Gessner dankten, vorlas, u. es bedauerte nicht sagen zu können, dass auch in meinem schon das Monument, das ich lange schon meditirte, steht, gab Frau von Sz…s, Ungarns Emilie, mir den Gedanken, dieses Monument nicht Ihm, dem meine Ubersetzung Monument genug ist, sondern seiner vortrefflichen, Ihm ganz würdigen Gattin, seiner Muse, seiner Lebens-versüsserinn setzen zu lassen. Und dies gelobte ich Ihr in einem eiligen Handkuss.” Ferenc Kazinczy to Mrs Gessner, 19 August 1793, KazLev. II, letter 428, p. 310.

5 Cf. Fehér, József: Tájak, kertek Kazinczy Ferenc műveiben, [Landscapes and Gardens in the Works of Ferenc Kazinczy], Széphalom: A Kazinczy Ferenc Társaság évkönyve, 15 (2005), p. 55.

6 Ferenc Kazinczy to Mózes Pataki, 6 December 1814, KazLev. XII, letter 2792, p. 232. This is a reference to the Italian architect Ottone Calderari (1730–1830).

7 Kazinczy: Pályám emlékezete, p. 157.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ferenc Kazinczy to Farkas Cserey, 16 June 1806, KazLev. IV, letter 941, p. 199.

11 Ferenc Kazinczy to Gergely Kozma, 25 May 1803, KazLev. III, letter 598, p 62.

12 Kazinczy: Pályám emlékezete, p. 557.

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