Eyes Like the Sea / translated by R. Nisbet Bain, by Mór Jókai

Chapter vii

Weltschmerz Conditions25—“Remain or Fly!”

25 Világ fájdalmas állapotok. There is no English equivalent of Világ fájdalmas.]

When I got back to Pest, I found two letters awaiting me on my writing-table, one from Tony Várady, inviting me to stand godfather to his new-born son, and the other from Petöfi, informing me that he had just been married to Julia Szendrey, and that they were having very happy days at Teleky’s Castle, Koltó. Both of these friends were poor fellows, like myself; and the ladies who had chosen to be their companions through life were girls belonging to wealthy, eminent families, accustomed to luxury and splendour, surrounded by obsequious wooers, and their mothers loved them as the apples of their eyes. Their families opposed the marriages, and the enamoured young ladies, handicapped as they were by the weight of their parents’ refusal, followed their beloveds notwithstanding.

Then true love is no dream after all, but pure gold. And yet when I seek this pure gold they call me a crazy alchemist!

And now Petöfi begged me by letter to seek out a convenient lodging for him, where they and I could live together. That a newly-married bridegroom should invite his faithful bachelor comrade to be a fellow-lodger with him is a fact which belongs to the realm of fairy tales.

I immediately hunted up in Tobacco Street a nice first-floor-apartment,26 consisting of three chambers and their domestic offices; the first room was for the Petöfis, the second for me, while the intermediate one was to be a common dining-room, and there were separate entrances for each of us.

26 Used here in the French sense of a suite of rooms.]

The young couple came in during the autumn; they kept one maid, and I had an old servant. We had both very primitive furniture. Mrs. Petöfi had left her father’s house without a dowry; she had not so much as a fashionable hat to bless herself with; she had sewed herself together a sort of head-dress of her own invention, which she never wore. Her hair was cut short, so that she looked like a little boy. They had nothing, and yet they were very happy! Julia’s sole amusement was to learn English from Petöfi, and afterwards, at dinner (which was sent in from “The Eagle”), we spoke English, and laughed at each other’s blunders. And I had to be a witness of their bliss every day!

It was just as if one were to season hell with piquant pepper.

Just about this time there appeared in Eletképek some very ordinary verses entitled “Word–Echoes,” by one “Aggteleki,”27 ostensibly addressed to a certain actress. I am now able to confess that I was the author of those verses. But for all that (though the verses were not so bad) I solemnly forbid any one at any time to include these verses among my works, for even now, forty years after the event, I am not such an old, decrepit, suicidally inclined fellow as Aggteleki was.

27 Aged Teleki.]

But, indeed, every one of the works that I wrote at that period breathe the same bitter tone. The paroxysms of a crushed spirit, the dreamy phantoms of a diseased imagination, self-contempt, a moon-sick view of the world in general, characterise all my tales belonging to that period. And yet they pleased people then. I even had imitators. I turned Petöfi himself away from the right path. He himself confessed that his novel entitled “Hóhér Kötele”28 was written under the influence of my “Nyomarék naplója,”29 a literary abortion.

28 “The Hangman’s Rope.” It certainly is a wretched performance. — TR.]

29 “The Cripple’s Diary.”]

Who knows whither I should have got to with my tower of Babel, had not a healthy earthquake brought it to the ground?

One day Petöfi caught me in the act of touching up Bessy’s portrait. He saw from my eyes that I had been weeping. I tried to hide it, for I was a bit ashamed.

It is well that it is so, my son,” said he on that occasion; “it is men who are unhappy that the world wants now.

A memorable saying!

It was in those days that he wrote “I dream, I dream of bloody days,” and “My Songs,” with this final strophe, all blood and fire:—

“Wherefore doth this race of thralls endure it?

Wherefore rise not? Rend your chains and cure it!

Do ye wait, forsooth! till God’s good pleasure

Rusts them off, and makes them drop at leisure?”

And then he would lead me into his room. On the walls there, in handsome frames, hung the portraits of the chiefs of the French Revolution — this was his only luxury — Danton, Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins, Saint–Juste, Madame Roland. There, too, the parts we were to play were distributed; Saint–Juste was designed for me, Madame Roland for Julia. And then we spoke of “the bloody days.” They were to be no mere dream, we were to see them with our eyes wide open. And we were to be among the first to feel them.

A healthy-minded man would have been ready after such words as these to have left the house by jumping out of the window; but they had a charm for me. It suited my peculiar frame of mind just then to set on fire the Dejanira robe that was about me, and then rush out among the people and set them on fire also.

“Man’s fate is woman!”

Had that young lady the last time I held her hand in mine said “Stay!” I should certainly have remained. I should have crept into my little nook of bliss and never have gazed after the moonshine of fame. In that case I should now perhaps have been one of the judicial assessors at the Royal Courts, and have joined heartily in the laugh when one or other of my colleagues at the end of a friendly banquet might take it into his head to quote some monstrous sentences out of my earliest romance, an imperfect copy of which turns up now and then as a literary curiosity among other antiquarian rubbish.

This is what would have happened if the young lady had said “Stay!”

But if that young lady had said “Fly!” then I should have flown like the rest after the falling stars. And, indeed, of those who stood with me on the 11th March30 before the mob on the balcony of the town-hall to announce “This is the day of national liberty!” of those my youthful-visaged, warm-hearted comrades, three have perished in defence of that word “Liberty” then pronounced: those three names are “Petöfi,”31 “Vasváry,” “Bozzai.” And certainly, in that case, the four ounces of lead, or the cossack’s lance, or the grenade splinter which killed them, might have sufficed for me also — that is, of course, if that young lady had said “Fly!” Fate, in fact, confronted me with this paradox —“Either live and be forgotten, or be remembered as one who died young!”

30 When the Hungarian revolution of 1848 began.]

31 Petöfi was most probably killed at the battle of Segesvár in July, 1849; at any rate he was never seen or heard of afterwards. He was only twenty-seven, and in him the world lost one of its great lyric poets.]

“Stay!” or “Fly!”

Then a voice said to me: “Go! but let us go together!”

But it was not the voice of the lady with the eyes like the sea.

* * * * *

One morning Petöfi rushed into my room roaring with laughter.

“Ha! ha! ha! Do you want to laugh? Just catch hold of that Honderü.” And into my hands he thrust the latest number of the opposition paper.

I immediately caught sight of what had made him laugh so much. There was a magnificent description from my native town of the wedding which had taken place between Mr. János Nepomuk Bagotay and the world-renowned beauty — I didn’t trouble to look at the name. “The happy pair will spend their honeymoon at Paris!”

“Ha! ha! ha! ha!”

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 17:11