Thursday, April 8, 2021 08:50
Count István Széchenyi is the initiator and most significant figure of the national liberal reform movement launched in the first half of the 19th century, the founder and member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, writer, polyhistor, economist, Minister of Transport of the Batthyány government, “the greatest Hungarian”.
In young Széchenyi, interest in the economic and cultural life of Hungary soon arose. Between 1815 and 1825, he visited Western Europe several times, where what he saw and experienced in the developed civil states encouraged him to change the backwardness of his homeland, and he believed that in order to achieve this he should win over members of the large-scale class.
His person had a great influence on cultural life, as in 1822 he introduced horse racing in Pest, following the example of England, and in 1825 he established the First Horse Breeding Association. At the session of the lower table of the National Assembly, which opened in 1825, he laid the foundations of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences by offering interest on his income, and in 1827 he founded the first National Casino in Pest.
Széchenyi’s first book, entitled Lovakrúl, was published in 1828, and then, in 1830, his work entitled Hitel was published, the outlined program of which grew out of the economic and social crisis of feudalism in Hungary. In the book, he explored the lack of capital necessary for the more modern management of the strata interested in increasing the production of goods, and the reasons for this, and demanded the improvement of credit relations in Hungary. The leading force of bourgeois transformation was above all, as he was also expected to liberate the serfs.
The Credit, shortly after its publication, became the program of the reform movement that unfolded in the 1830s.
Most of the aristocracy opposed the book, and their resolution was summarized by Count József Dessewffy, Member of Parliament.
In his books The World (1831), The Stage (1833) —and the two aforementioned books, Horsehair and Credit — he urged the dismantling of the feudal economic and financial system. Before the outbreak of the War of Independence, in addition to politicking, he also discussed the issue of the national language, silkworm breeding, steam boating and acting.
However, Széchenyi not only talked about his development and plans, but also acted: he took part in the launch of the Danube steamer, the Pest Rolling Mill and the Commercial Bank, established one of Pest’s first large-scale industrial plants, the Óbuda shipyard and the winter port. The approval of the law on the construction of the Tisza canal and also dealt with the issues of the Hungarian theater.
Széchenyi’s name is also associated with the construction of the Chain Bridge, on which the nobles were first obliged to pay bridge money.
In the 1840s, the regulation of the Tisza and the commencement of flood relief works, as well as the revitalization of the steamship on Lake Balaton, stood out from its practical activities.
The debate between Széchenyi and Kossuth
Despite Széchényi’s successful politics, the louder, more radical Lajos Kossuth took his place in politics, with whom he became involved in increasingly serious political debates after 1841.
Although their goal was common, the path to the modernization of Hungary was both imagined differently, and it was also the source of their conflict.
Széchenyi believed that reforms should be carried out in agreement with the Habsburg dynasty, in contrast to which would only lead to war and national annihilation.
Opposing Kossuth was already demanding a much more radical and powerful action against Vienna. Kossuth would have been able to go even to break up with the Habsburgs for reforms.
The nobility of the debate between the two politicians of the reform era, although they had the same goal but no longer achieved it, is reflected in the fact that Széchenyi was called “the greatest Hungarian” by Lajos Kossuth.
Then, in the spring of 1848, Széchenyi’s predictions began to come true, as the revolution broke out in Vienna and Pest in the wake of Paris. At first, Széchenyi was optimistic about the revolution, and although he accepted the invitation to the Batthyány government as transport minister, his optimism quickly waned. He then became increasingly afraid that war would break out, followed by a possible accountability from Vienna.
Due to his remorse, the Count’s mental health was almost completely ruined, and on September 4, 1848, he resigned his ministerial seat. After his resignation, he also attempted suicide: the day after his resignation, he threw himself from the Esztergom bridge into the Danube, but was rescued from the water. He was then transported by his doctor, Pál Balogh, to the Georgen mental hospital in Döbling.
During the bloody events of the War of Independence, Széchenyi spent his days in an institution close to Vienna. Thanks to the calm atmosphere there, his condition improved and he began to write again in the early 1850s. It was then that his pamphlet Ein Blick was born, which was allegedly smuggled out of the sanatorium by emerging young intellectuals visiting him.
The pamphlet appeared in Germany in 1859 and caused a huge scandal.
According to Rubicon’s article, “the abuses and internal contradictions of the system have been so masterfully put to rest by Ein Blick that the work published under a pseudonym soon provoked harassment by the authorities.”
After that, the imperial gendarmes visited Széchenyi’s Döbling suite more and more, which was thoroughly upset almost every time. The count, who had already aged, was repeatedly threatened with trial and imprisonment. Presumably, this continuous spiritual terror also played a role in his death, as István Széchenyi ended his life on April 8, 1860 with his own pistol.
His death shook the whole country, many could not accept his death. Maybe that’s why he started guessing about suicide, which in vain has been proven, and many still doubt it.
The original article can be read by clicking HERE!