One of the most interesting figures of Hungary’s 19th century, Ferenc Pulszky was born in Eperjes on 17 September 1814 and died on 9 September 1897 in Budapest. He was a politician, a writer and a scholar: a man of multiple talents and of encyclopaedic knowledge.
Eperjes in the 19th century (and from the 10th to 20th century) was a Northern Hungarian town of note; today it is called Prešov, and is part of Slovakia. The Pulszkys – originally of Polish descent – were untitled Hungarian noblemen of good means, a multilingual family of great culture. Ferenc in his adulthood spoke six languages: Hungarian, English, German, French, Italian and Slovak, had a law degree, played an important role during and after Hungary’s war of independence in 1848–1849, lived in three countries, and eventually came to chair various important institutions. He was a first-rate connoisseur of beaux-arts, a member of parliament and a renowned writer. Pulszky was one of the most cosmopolitan nationalists in 19th century Hungary. In 1837 he published a semi-political travel book: The Diary of a Hungarian Travelling in Britain (Pert), whose Magyar edition brought him the membership of the Hungarian Academy, and whose English edition resulted in the friendship of Irish politicians. O’Connell being oneof his heroes, he also visited Ireland, then a part of Britain. In the 1840s Pulszky was a reformer, partaking in the Hungarian independence movement, and he full-heartedly supported Kossuth1, joining him in his opposing the conservative Vienna government. After the revolution of March 1848 he became the deputy of Duke Pál Esterházy, member of the first Hungarian government deputed to the court of Vienna (in fact the first Hungarian foreign minister). Suspected of teaming up with the Austrian revolutionaries and facing therefore the risk of being arrested, Pulszky escaped to Budapest, where he became a member of the Committee of National Defence.
At that time, Ferenc Aurél Pulszky de Cselfalva et Lubócz was already a prosperous man, having married Theresa Walter, the daughter of a rich Viennese banker with a large dowry given to him. He obtained the possession of the estate of Szécsény. Theresa learnt good Hungarian for her husband’s sake, and later their children grew up in England as Magyar persons possessing British and Hungarian passports. Although the well-endowed Pulszky counted as a nobleman of bene possessionati, his estate was confiscated by the Austrian authorities after he had settled in London.
In February 1849 Pulszky fled to England in order to obtain support for the Hungarian cause. His main activity was the press campaign, led by the popular Daily News, supporter of the Hungarian freedom fight, especially at the time of the series of military victories against Austria in the spring of 1849. Although he managed to contact and meet Palmerston, the British foreign minister would not “recognise” anyone except a Habsburg envoy. It is another matter that Pulszky managed to convince the English public to support his downtrodden country after its final defeat in August 1849. He found influential British friends like professor Newman, the Cardinal’s brother, and Lord Dudley Stuart, an influential “liberal” MP and a distant relative of Lord Palmerston. When Kossuth arrived in England in 1851, Pulszky became his public relations officer of sorts, and was instrumental in the wide support which the Hungarian leader enjoyed on British soil. In the meantime the Austrians condemned him by default and executed him in effigy. He absorbed the attacks of old enemies, such as Kollar and Leo Thun, who published anti-Pulszky articles. Pulszky was and remained a Hungarian patriot to the end of his life. He was not worried much about the Austrian police, their spy network or stooges who were after him. One Habsburg bill offered blood money for the person helping to arrest Kossuth’s representative. “He is 35, with a high brow, a long nose and soft hair. He is usually well dressed; he can speak Hungarian, English, German and French; one of his habits is to keep his right hand in the left pocket of his jacket. The correct informer will be given 1000 forints.”
Apart from daily politics, Pulszky and his wife published seminal works about Hungarian history. The White, Red, Black book met with great success; Memoirs of a Hungarian Lady was a bombshell; while Hungarian Jacobins was a gap-filling historical work. His Életeméskorom(“My life and my times”), written after the end of his exile, is one of the best Hungarian memoirs ever published. However, his fame in England was not altogether unblemished. The young Dickens disapproved of some of Pulszky’s activities, Joseph Andrew Blackwell never really trusted him, and his success in America – when he accompanied Kossuth on the Regent-President’s remarkable and financially profitable tour – was limited.
In 1860 Pulszky, as Kossuth’s envoy, left for Turin in order to nurture the relations of the anti-Habsburg opposition. He contacted Cavour and corresponded with Napoleon III, but all he could obtain was some declarations of sympathy for the Hungarian cause. He also tried his luck with Garibaldi, who sent him a message: “I’ll come to help Hungary with arms when the Hungarians greet me with their arms.” Ultimately he settled down for a while in Florence, where he began to work there as an art historian.
On his first English journey he had travelled with Gábor Fehéváry, his maternal uncle and amateur collector of remarkable ivories. During his stay in Britain, he sold Fehérváry’s collection of ivories to the Liverpool art gallery. Granted an amnesty in 1866, he returned to Hungary, where he was given back his confiscated estate by the King. He partook in the buying of the Esterházy collection of paintings, became the director of the Hungarian National Museum, encouraged archaeological research in the country, and became the president of the Art, History and Archaeological Society of Hungary. In 1881 he published the two volumes of his Archaeology of Hungary, which became an indispensable work of reference for generations of scholars.
Meanwhile, and simultaneously, he resumed his political career. His correspondence with Deák(2) in the 1860s convinced him that Hungary had potential for a “new economic, social and cultural renaissance”, and he decided to re-enter the Hungarian political scene. He became a deputy for Szentes and then for Szécsény – as a supporter of the Deák party.
In a letter dated January 1860, addressed to Griffith and Co. publishers – now in the archives of the British National Library (MS 28511 ff 317-8) – he spoke of having been a founding member of the Hungarian Liberal Society. Here he wrote, “Every nation can hold as much freedom as its country could gather and hold. There is no greater block to progress than to expect our freedom to come from another nation.”
In 1866 his wife Theresa and three of his seven children died in a pestilence. Ferenc was deeply affected by this loss but did not sink in sorrow. With his supremely energetic nature he buried himself in multifarious undertakings, coveting and receiving his friends’ active support. Later, as an old man, he married again. His memory is kept in written records, in the large Pulszky collection of the Hungarian National Museum and in the not yet entirely researched collection of letters of Garibaldi, Napoleon III and Cavour abroad.
In critical hours of his life Ferenc Pulszky was able to rely on his Masonic contacts. He was initiated in 1860 at the Lodge Dante Alighieri in Turin, and was soon raised to the 33rd grade of the Scottish Rite. After his return to Hungary he contributed to the re-organisation of Hungarian freemasonry. First he became Master of the Lodge “Einigkeit in Vaterland/Egység a hazában” (“Unity in the Homeland”), then first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of St John. After the creation of the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary (by the union of the Grand Lodge of St John and the Grand Orient in 1886) he became the first Grand Master of the united Grand Lodge. In 1875 he supported Countess Helene Hadik Barkóczy’s initiation into a Masonic lodge.
The writer of this paper is the author of DiplomatinExile(1979), distributed by Columbia University Press, who, during his research, successfully contacted Romola Nijinski, Pulszky’s granddaughter and obtained a grant from the brothers Szatmáry for the publication of his book.
1 Lajos Kossuth (1802–1894). Lawyer and journalist, champion of civil liberties, leader of the political opposition against Austrian rule, he played a key role in the Revolution of March 1848. Minister of Finance in the first responsible Hungarian government and president of the Committee of National Defence, he was elected Regent-President of the Kingdom of Hungary in April 1849. He emigrated to Turkey after the final defeat of the Hungarian army in the War of Independence against the Austrian–Russian coalition, then settled in Italy.
2 Ferenc Deák (1803–1876). Minister of Justice of the first responsible Hungarian government, he
resigned his post when his efforts of reconciliation with the court of Vienna failed. He re-entered the political scene in 1860 as a moderate politician, searching for a constitutional arrangement with Vienna. He played a seminal role in shaping the historic Austro-Hungarian Compromise, which gave internal independence to Hungary, and created the conditions for the economic, social and cultural progress of the next half century.
Other publications on Ferenc Pulszky by the same author:
“A legkozmopolitább nacionalista” [The most cosmopolitan nationalist]. Irodalmi Újság, Vol. 15, No. 107 (15 September 1964), p. 10.
“The rocket-affair and its background: Kossuth and Pulszky in the spring of 1853”. East European Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 4, 1971, pp. 419–429.
Diplomat in Exile: Francis Pulszky’s Political Activities in England, 1848–1860. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979, 208, p. (East European Monographs; 56).