The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 39

The Hungarian 162

‘Then you are a countryman of Tekeli, and of the queen who made the celebrated water,’ said I, speaking to the Hungarian in German, which I was able to do tolerably well, owing to my having translated the Publisher’s philosophy into that language, always provided I did not attempt to say much at a time.

Hungarian. Ah! you have heard of Tekeli, and of L’eau de la Reine d’Hongrie. How is that?

Myself. I have seen a play acted, founded on the exploits of Tekeli, and have read Pigault Le Brun’s beautiful romance, entitled the ‘Barons of Felsheim,’ in which he is mentioned. As for the water, I have heard a lady, the wife of a master of mine, speak of it.

Hungarian. Was she handsome?

Myself. Very.

Hungarian. Did she possess the water?

Myself. I should say not; for I have heard her express a great curiosity about it.

Hungarian. Was she growing old?

Myself. Of course not; but why do you put all these questions?

Hungarian. Because the water is said to make people handsome, and, above all, to restore to the aged the beauty of their youth. Well! Tekeli was my countryman, and I have the honour of having some of the blood of the Tekelis in my veins, but with respect to the queen, pardon me if I tell you that she was not a Hungarian; she was a Pole — Ersebet by name, daughter of Vladislaus Locticus, King of Poland; she was the fourth spouse of Caroly the Second, King of the Magyar country, who married her in the year 1320. She was a great woman and celebrated politician, though at present chiefly known by her water.

Myself. How came she to invent it?

Hungarian. If her own account may be believed, she did not invent it. After her death, as I have read in Florentius of Buda, there was found a statement of the manner in which she came by it, written in her own hand, on a fly-leaf of her breviary, to the following effect: Being afflicted with a grievous disorder at the age of seventy-two, she received the medicine which was called her water, from an old hermit whom she never saw before or afterwards; it not only cured her, but restored to her all her former beauty, so that the King of Poland fell in love with her, and made her an offer of marriage, which she refused for the glory of God, from whose holy angel she believed she had received the water. The receipt for making it and directions for using it, were also found on the fly-leaf. The principal component parts were burnt wine and rosemary, passed through an alembic; a drachm of it was to be taken once a week, ‘etelbenn vagy italbann,’ in the food or the drink, early in the morning, and the cheeks were to be moistened with it every day. The effects, according to the statement, were wonderful — and perhaps they were upon the queen; but whether the water has been equally efficacious on other people, is a point which I cannot determine. I should wish to see some old woman who has been restored to youthful beauty by the use of L’eau de la Reine d’Hongrie.

Myself. Perhaps, if you did, the old gentlewoman would hardly be so ingenuous as the queen. But who are the Hungarians — descendants of Attila and his people?

The Hungarian shook his head, and gave me to understand that he did not believe that his nation were the descendants of Attila and his people, though he acknowledged that they were probably of the same race. Attila and his armies, he said, came and disappeared in a very mysterious manner, and that nothing could be said with positiveness about them; that the people now known as Magyars first made their appearance in Muscovy in the year 884, under the leadership of Almus, called so from Alom, which, in the Hungarian language, signifies a dream; his mother, before his birth, having dreamt that the child with which she was enceinte would be the father of a long succession of kings, which, in fact, was the case; that after beating the Russians he entered Hungary, and coming to a place called Ungvar, from which many people believed that modern Hungary derived its name, he captured it, and held in it a grand festival, which lasted four days, at the end of which time he resigned the leadership of the Magyars to his son Arpad. This Arpad and his Magyars utterly subdued Pannonia — that is, Hungary and Transylvania, wresting the government of it from the Sclavonian tribes who inhabited it, and settling down amongst them as conquerors! After giving me this information, the Hungarian exclaimed with much animation: ‘A goodly country that which they had entered on, consisting of a plain surrounded by mountains, some of which intersect it here and there, with noble rapid rivers, the grandest of which is the mighty Dunau; a country with tiny volcanoes, casting up puffs of smoke and steam, and from which hot springs arise, good for the sick; with many fountains, some of which are so pleasant to the taste as to be preferred to wine; with a generous soil which, warmed by a beautiful sun, is able to produce corn, grapes, and even the Indian weed; in fact, one of the finest countries in the world, which even a Spaniard would pronounce to be nearly equal to Spain. Here they rested — meditating, however, fresh conquests. Oh, the Magyars soon showed themselves a mighty people. Besides Hungary and Transylvania, they subdued Bulgaria and Bosnia, and the land of Tot, now called Sclavonia. The generals of Zoltan, the son of Arpad, led troops of horsemen to the banks of the Rhine. One of them, at the head of a host, besieged Constantinople. It was then that Botond engaged in combat with a Greek of gigantic stature, who came out of the city and challenged the two best men in the Magyar army. “I am the feeblest of the Magyars,” said Botond, “but I will kill thee;” and he performed his word, having previously given a proof of the feebleness of his arm by striking his battle-axe through the brazen gate, making a hole so big that a child of five years old could walk through it.’

Myself. Of what religion were the old Hungarians?

Hungarian. They had some idea of a Supreme Being, whom they called Isten, which word is still used by the Magyars for God; but their chief devotion was directed to sorcerers and soothsayers, something like the Schamans of the Siberian steppes. They were converted to Christianity chiefly through the instrumentality of Istvan or Stephen, called after his death St. Istvan, who ascended the throne in the year one thousand. He was born in heathenesse, and his original name was Vojk: he was the first kiraly, or king of the Magyars. Their former leaders had been called fejedelmek, or dukes. The Magyar language has properly no term either for king or house. Kiraly is a word derived from the Sclaves; haz, or house, from the Germans, who first taught them to build houses, their original dwellings having been tilted waggons.

Myself. Many thanks for your account of the great men of your country.

Hungarian. The great men of my country! I have only told you of the —. Well, I acknowledge that Almus and Arpad were great men, but Hungary has produced many greater; I will not trouble you by recapitulating all, but there is one name I cannot forbear mentioning — but you have heard it — even at Horncastle, the name of Hunyadi must be familiar.

Myself. It may be so, though I rather doubt it; but, however that may be, I confess my ignorance. I have never, until this moment, heard of the name of Hunyadi.

Hungarian. Not of Hunyadi Janos, not of Hunyadi John — for the genius of our language compels us to put a man’s Christian name after his other; perhaps you have heard of the name of Corvinus?

Myself. Yes, I have heard of the name of Corvinus.

Hungarian. By my God, I am glad of it; I thought our hammer of destruction, our thunderbolt, whom the Greeks called Achilles, must be known to the people of Horncastle. Well, Hunyadi and Corvinus are the same.

Myself. Corvinus means the man of the crow, or raven. I suppose that your John, when a boy, climbed up to a crow or raven’s nest, and stole the young; a bold feat, well befitting a young hero.

Hungarian. By Isten, you are an acute guesser, a robbery there was, but it was not Hunyadi who robbed the raven, but the raven who robbed Hunyadi.

Myself. How was that?

Hungarian. In this manner: Hunyadi, according to tradition, was the son of King Sigmond, by a peasant’s daughter. The king saw and fell in love with her, whilst marching against the vaivode of Wallachia. He had some difficulty in persuading her to consent to his wishes, and she only yielded at last, on the king making her a solemn promise that, in the event of her becoming with child by him, he would handsomely provide for her and the infant. The king proceeded on his expedition; and on his returning in triumph from Wallachia, again saw the girl, who informed him that she was enceinte by him; the king was delighted with the intelligence, gave the girl money, and at the same time a ring, requesting her, if she brought forth a son, to bring the ring to Buda with the child, and present it to him. When her time was up, the peasant’s daughter brought forth a fair son, who was baptized by the name of John. After some time the young woman communicated the whole affair to her elder brother, whose name was Gaspar, and begged him to convey her and the child to the king at Buda. The brother consented, and both set out, taking the child with them. On their way, the woman, wanting to wash her clothes, laid the child down, giving it the king’s ring to play with. A raven, who saw the glittering ring, came flying, and plucking it out of the child’s hand, carried it up into a tree; the child suddenly began to cry, and the mother, hearing it, left her washing, and running to the child, forthwith missed the ring, but hearing the raven croak in the tree, she lifted up her eyes, and saw it with the ring in its beak. The woman, in great terror, called her brother, and told him what had happened, adding, that she durst not approach the king if the raven took away the ring. Gaspar, seizing his cross-bow and quiver, ran to the tree, where the raven was yet with the ring, and discharged an arrow at it, but, being in a great hurry, he missed it; with his second shot he was more lucky, for he hit the raven in the breast, which, together with the ring, fell to the ground. Taking up the ring, they went on their way, and shortly arrived at Buda. One day, as the king was walking after dinner in his outer hall, the woman appeared before him with the child, and, showing him the ring, said, ‘Mighty lord! behold this token! and take pity upon me and your own son.’ King Sigmond took the child and kissed it, and, after a pause, said to the mother, ‘You have done right in bringing me the boy; I will take care of you, and make him a nobleman.’ The king was as good as his word, he provided for the mother, caused the boy to be instructed in knightly exercises, and made him a present of the town of Hunyad, in Transylvania, on which account he was afterwards called Hunyadi, and gave him, as an armorial sign, a raven bearing a ring in his beak.

Such, O young man of Horncastle! is the popular account of the birth of the great captain of Hungary, as related by Florentius of Buda. There are other accounts of his birth, which is, indeed, involved in much mystery, and of the reason of his being called Corvinus, but as this is the most pleasing, and is, upon the whole, founded on quite as good evidence as the others, I have selected it for recitation.

Myself. I heartily thank you, but you must tell me something more of Hunyadi. You call him your great captain; what did he do?

Hungarian. Do! what no other man of his day could have done. He broke the power of the Turk when he was coming to overwhelm Europe. From the blows inflicted by Hunyadi, the Turk never thoroughly recovered; he has been frequently worsted in latter times, but none but Hunyadi could have routed the armies of Amurath and Mahomed the Second.

Myself. How was it that he had an opportunity of displaying his military genius?

Hungarian. I can hardly tell you, but his valour soon made him famous; King Albert made him Ban of Szorenyi. He became eventually waivode of Transylvania, and Governor of Hungary. His first grand action was the defeat of the Bashaw Isack; and though himself surprised and routed at St. Imre, he speedily regained his prestige by defeating the Turks, with enormous slaughter, killing their leader, Mezerbeg: and subsequently, at the Battle of the Iron Gates, he destroyed ninety thousand Turks, sent by Amurath to avenge the late disgrace. It was then that the Greeks called him Achilles.

Myself. He was not always successful.

Hungarian. Who could be always successful against the early Turk? He was defeated in the battle in which King Vladislaus lost his life, but his victories outnumbered his defeats threefold. His grandest victory — perhaps the grandest ever achieved by man — was over the terrible Mahomed the Second, who, after the taking of Constantinople in 1453, said, ‘One God in Heaven — one king on earth;’ and marched to besiege Belgrade at the head of one hundred and fifty thousand men; swearing, by the beard of the prophet, ‘That he would sup within it ere two months were elapsed.’ He brought with him dogs to eat the bodies of the Christians whom he should take or slay — so says Florentius. Hear what he also says: The Turk sat down before the town towards the end of June, 1454, covering the Dunau and Szava with ships; and on the 4th of July he began to cannonade Belgrade with canons twenty-five feet long, whose roar could be heard at Szeged, a distance of twenty-four leagues, at which place Hunyadi had assembled his forces. Hunyadi had been able to raise only fifteen thousand of well-armed and disciplined men, though he had with him vast bands of people, who called themselves Soldiers of the Cross, but who consisted of inexperienced lads from school, peasants, and hermits, armed with swords, slings, and clubs. Hunyadi, undismayed by the great disparity between his forces and those of the Turk, advanced to relieve Belgrade, and encamped at Szalankemen with his army. There he saw at once, that his first step must be to attack the flotilla; he therefore privately informed Szilagy, his wife’s brother, who at that time defended Belgrade, that it was his intention to attack the ships of the Turks on the 14th day of July in front, and requested his co-operation in the rear. On the 14th came on the commencement of the great battle of Belgrade, between Hunyadi and the Turk. Many days it lasted.

Myself. Describe it.

Hungarian. I cannot. One has described it well — Florentius, of Buda. I can only repeat a few of his words: ‘On the appointed day, Hunyadi, with two hundred vessels, attacked the Turkish flotilla in front, whilst Szilagy, with forty vessels, filled with the men of Belgrade, assailed it in the rear; striving for the same object, they sunk many of the Turkish vessels, captured seventy-four, burnt many, and utterly annihilated the whole fleet. After this victory, Hunyadi, with his army, entered Belgrade, to the great joy of the Magyars. But though the force of Mahomed upon the water was destroyed, that upon the land remained entire; and with this, during six days and nights, he attacked the city without intermission, destroying its walls in many parts. His last and most desperate assault was made on the 21st day of July. Twice did the Turks gain possession of the outer town, and twice was it retaken with indescribable slaughter. The next day the combat raged without ceasing till mid-day, when the Turks were again beaten out of the town, and pursued by the Magyars to their camp. There the combat was renewed, both sides displaying the greatest obstinacy, until Mahomed received a great wound over his left eye. The Turks then, turning their faces, fled, leaving behind them three hundred cannon in the hands of the Christians, and more than twenty-four thousand slain on the field of battle.’

Myself. After that battle, I suppose Hunyadi enjoyed his triumphs in peace?

Hungarian. In the deepest, for he shortly died. His great soul quitted his body, which was exhausted by almost superhuman exertions, on the 11th of August, 1456. Shortly before he died, according to Florentius, a comet appeared, sent, as it would seem, to announce his coming end. The whole Christian world mourned his loss. The Pope ordered the cardinals to perform a funeral ceremony at Rome in his honour. His great enemy himself grieved for him, and pronounced his finest eulogium. When Mahomed the Second heard of his death, he struck his head for some time against the ground without speaking. Suddenly he broke silence with these words, ‘Notwithstanding he was my enemy, yet do I bewail his loss; since the sun has shone in heaven, no Prince had ever yet such a man.’

Myself. What was the name of his Prince?

Hungarian. Laszlo the Fifth; who, though under infinite obligations to Hunyadi, was anything but grateful to him; for he once consented to a plan which was laid to assassinate him, contrived by his mortal enemy Ulrik, Count of Cilejia; and after Hunyadi’s death, caused his eldest son, Hunyadi Laszlo, to be executed on a false accusation, and imprisoned his younger son, Matyas, who, on the death of Laszlo, was elected by the Magyars to be their king, on the 24th of January, 1458.

Myself. Was this Matyas a good king?

Hungarian. Was Matyas Corvinus a good king? O young man of Horncastle! he was the best and greatest that Hungary ever possessed, and, after his father, the most renowned warrior — some of our best laws were framed by him. It was he who organized the Hussar force, and it was he who took Vienna. Why does your Government always send fools to represent it at Vienna?

Myself. I really cannot say; but with respect to the Hussar force, is it of Hungarian origin?

Hungarian. Its name shows its origin. Huz, in Hungarian, is twenty, and the Hussar force is so called because it is formed of twentieths. A law was issued, by which it was ordered that every Hungarian nobleman, out of every twenty dependants, should produce a well-equipped horseman, and with him proceed to the field of battle.

Myself. Why did Matyas capture Vienna?

Hungarian. Because the Emperor Frederick took part against him with the King of Poland, who claimed the kingdom of Hungary for his son, and had also assisted the Turk. He captured it in the year 1487, but did not survive his triumph long, expiring there in the year 1490. He was so veracious a man, that it was said of him, after his death, ‘Truth died with Matyas.’ It might be added, that the glory of Hungary departed with him. I wish to say nothing more connected with Hungarian history.

Myself. Another word. Did Matyas leave a son?

Hungarian. A natural son, Hunyadi John, called so after the great man. He would have been universally acknowledged as King of Hungary but for the illegitimacy of his birth. As it was, Ulaszlo, the son of the King of Poland, afterwards called Ulaszlo the Second, who claimed Hungary as being descended from Albert, was nominated king by a great majority of the Magyar electors. Hunyadi John for some time disputed the throne with him; there was some bloodshed, but Hunyadi John eventually submitted, and became the faithful captain of Ulaszlo, notwithstanding that the Turk offered to assist him with an army of two hundred thousand men.

Myself. Go on.

Hungarian. To what? Tche Drak, to the Mohacs Veszedelem. Ulaszlo left a son, Lajos the Second, born without skin, as it is said, certainly without a head. He, contrary to the advice of all his wise counsellors — and amongst them was Batory Stephen, who became eventually King of Poland — engaged, with twenty-five thousand men, at Mohacs, Soliman the Turk, who had an army of two hundred thousand. Drak! the Magyars were annihilated, King Lajos disappeared with his heavy horse and armour in a bog. We call that battle, which was fought on the 29th of August, 1526, the destruction of Mohacs, but it was the destruction of Hungary.

Myself. You have twice used the word drak, what is the meaning of it? Is it Hungarian?

Hungarian. No! it belongs to the Mad Wallacks. They are a nation of madmen on the other side of Transylvania. Their country was formerly a fief of Hungary, like Moldavia, which is inhabited by the same race, who speak the same language, and are equally mad.

Myself. What language do they speak?

Hungarian. A strange mixture of Latin and Sclavonian — they themselves being a mixed race of Romans and Sclavonians. Trajan sent certain legions to form military colonies in Dacia; and the present Wallacks and Moldavians are, to a certain extent, the descendants of the Roman soldiers, who married the women of the country, I say to a certain extent, for the Sclavonian element both in blood and language, seems to prevail.

Myself. And what is drak?

Hungarian. Dragon; which the Wallacks use for devil. The term is curious, as it shows that the old Romans looked upon the dragon as an infernal being.

Myself. You have been in Wallachia?

Hungarian. I have, and glad I was to get out of it. I hate the mad Wallacks.

Myself. Why do you call them mad?

Hungarian. They are always drinking or talking. I never saw a Wallachian eating or silent. They talk like madmen, and drink like madmen. In drinking they use small phials, the contents of which they pour down their throats. When I first went amongst them I thought the whole nation was under a course of physic, but the terrible jabber of their tongues soon undeceived me. Drak was the first word I heard on entering Dacia, and the last when I left it. The Moldaves, if possible, drink more, and talk more than the Wallachians.

Myself. It is singular enough that the only Moldavian I have known could not speak. I suppose he was born dumb.

Hungarian. A Moldavian born dumb! Excuse me, the thing is impossible; all Moldavians are born talking! I have known a Moldavian who could not speak, but he was not born dumb. His master, an Armenian, snipped off part of his tongue at Adrianople. He drove him mad with his jabber. He is now in London, where his master has a house. I have letters of credit on the house: the clerk paid me money in London, the master was absent; the money which you received for the horse belonged to that house.

Myself. Another word with respect to Hungarian history.

Hungarian. Drak! I wish to say nothing more about Hungarian history.

Myself. The Turk, I suppose, after Mohacs, got possession of Hungary?

Hungarian. Not exactly. The Turk, upon the whole, showed great moderation; not so the Austrian. Ferdinand the First claimed the crown of Hungary as being the cousin of Maria, widow of Lajos; he found too many disposed to support him. His claim, however, was resisted by Zapolya John, a Hungarian magnate, who caused himself to be elected King. Hungary was for a long time devastated by the wars between the partisans of Zapolya and Ferdinand. At last Zapolya called in the Turk. Soliman behaved generously to him, and after his death befriended his young son, and Isabella his Queen. Eventually the Turks became masters of Transylvania and the greater part of Hungary. They were not bad masters, and had many friends in Hungary, especially amongst those of the reformed faith, to which I have myself the honour of belonging; those of the reformed faith found the Mufti more tolerant than the Pope. Many Hungarians went with the Turks to the siege of Vienna, whilst Tekeli and his horsemen guarded Hungary for them. A gallant enterprise, that siege of Vienna — the last great effort of the Turk. It failed, and he speedily lost Hungary, but he did not sneak from Hungary like a frightened hound. His defence of Buda will not be soon forgotten, where Apty Basha, the governor, died fighting like a lion in the breach. There’s many a Hungarian would prefer Stamboul to Vienna. Why does your Government always send fools to represent it at Vienna?

Myself. I have already told you that I cannot say. What became of Tekeli?

Hungarian. When Hungary was lost he retired with the Turks into Turkey. Count Renoncourt, in his Memoirs, mentions having seen him at Adrianople. The Sultan, in consideration of the services which he had rendered to the Moslem in Hungary, made over the revenues of certain towns and districts for his subsistence. The count says that he always went armed to the teeth, and was always attended by a young female dressed in male attire, who had followed him in his wars, and had more than once saved his life. His end is wrapped in mystery, I— whose greatest boast, next to being a Hungarian, is to be of his blood — know nothing of his end.

Myself. Allow me to ask who you are.

Hungarian. Egy szegeny Magyar Nemes ember, a poor Hungarian nobleman, son of one yet poorer. I was born in Transylvania, not far to the west of good Coloscvar. I served some time in the Austrian army as a noble Hussar, but am now equerry to a great nobleman, to whom I am distantly related. In his service I have travelled far and wide, buying horses. I have been in Russia and Turkey, and am now at Horncastle, where I have had the satisfaction to meet with you, and to buy your horse, which is, in truth, a noble brute.

Myself. For a soldier and equerry you seem to know a great deal of the history of your country.

Hungarian. All I know is derived from Florentius of Buda, whom we call Budai Ferentz. He was professor of Greek and Latin at the Reformed College of Debreczen, where I was educated; he wrote a work entitled ‘Magyar Polgari Lexicon,’ Lives of Great Hungarian Citizens. He was dead before I was born, but I found his book, when I was a child, in the solitary home of my father, which stood on the confines of a puszta, or wilderness, and that book I used to devour in winter nights when the winds were whistling around the house. Oh! how my blood used to glow at the descriptions of Magyar valour, and likewise of Turkish; for Florentius has always done justice to the Turk. Many a passage similar to this have I got by heart; it is connected with the battle on the plain of Rigo, which Hunyadi lost: ‘The next day, which was Friday, as the two armies were drawn up in battle array, a Magyar hero, riding forth, galloped up and down, challenging the Turks to single combat. Then came out to meet him the son of a renowned bashaw of Asia. Rushing upon each other, both broke their lances, but the Magyar hero and his horse rolled over upon the ground, for the Turks had always the best horses.’ O young man of Horncastle! if ever you learn Hungarian — and learn it assuredly you will after what I have told you — read the book of Florentius of Buda, even if you go to Hungary to get it, for you will scarcely find it elsewhere, and even there with difficulty, for the book has been long out of print. It describes the actions of the great men of Hungary down to the middle of the sixteenth century, and besides being written in the purest Hungarian, has the merit of having for its author a professor of the Reformed College at Debreczen.

Myself. I will go to Hungary rather than not read it. I am glad that the Turk beat the Magyar. When I used to read the ballads of Spain I always sided with the Moor against the Christian.

Hungarian. It was a drawn fight after all, for the terrible horse of the Turk presently flung his own master, whereupon the two champions returned to their respective armies; but in the grand conflict which ensued the Turks beat the Magyars, pursuing them till night, and striking them on the necks with their scymetars. The Turk is a noble fellow; I should wish to be a Turk, were I not a Magyar.

Myself. The Turk always keeps his word, I am told.

Hungarian. Which the Christian very seldom does, and even the Hungarian does not always. In 1444 Ulaszlo made, at Szeged, peace with Amurath for ten years, which he swore with an oath to keep, but at the instigation of the Pope Julian he broke it, and induced his great captain, Hunyadi John, to share in the perjury. The consequence was the Battle of Varna, of the 10th of November, in which Hunyadi was routed, and Ulaszlo slain. Did you ever hear his epitaph? It is both solemn and edifying:

‘Romulidae Cannas ego Varnam clade notavi;

Discite mortales non temerare fidem:

Me nisi Pontifices jussissent rumpere foedus

Non ferret Scythicum Pannonis ora jugum.’

‘Halloo!’ said the jockey, starting up from a doze in which he had been indulging for the last hour, his head leaning upon his breast; ‘what is that? That’s not high Dutch; I bargained for high Dutch, and I left you speaking what I believed to be high Dutch, as it sounded very much like the language of horses, as I have been told high Dutch does; but as for what you are speaking now, whatever you may call it, it sounds more like the language of another kind of animal. I suppose you want to insult me because I was once a dicky-boy.’

‘Nothing of the kind,’ said I. ‘The gentleman was making a quotation in Latin.’

‘Latin, was it?’ said the jockey; ‘that alters the case. Latin is genteel, and I have sent my eldest boy to an academy to learn it. Come, let us hear you fire away in Latin,’ he continued, proceeding to re-light his pipe, which before going to sleep he had laid on the table.

‘If you wish to follow the discourse in Latin,’ said the Hungarian, in very bad English, ‘I can oblige you; I learned to speak very good Latin in the College of Debreczen.’

‘That’s more,’ said I, ‘than I have done in the colleges where I have been; in any little conversation which we may yet have I wish you would use German.’

‘Well,’ said the jockey, taking a whiff, ‘make your conversation as short as possible, whether in Latin or Dutch, for, to tell you the truth, I am rather tired of merely playing listener.’

‘You were saying you had been in Russia,’ said I; ‘I believe the Russians are part of the Sclavonian race.’

Hungarian. Yes, part of the great Sclavonian family; one of the most numerous races in the world. The Russians themselves are very numerous — would that the Magyars could boast of the fifth part of their number!

Myself. What is the number of the Magyars?

Hungarian. Barely four millions. We came a tribe of Tartars into Europe and settled down amongst Sclavonians, whom we conquered, but who never coalesced with us. The Austrian at present plays in Pannonia the Sclavonian against us and us against the Sclavonian; but the downfall of the Austrian is at hand; they, like us, are not a numerous people.

Myself. Who will bring about his downfall?

Hungarian. The Russian. The Rysckie Tsar will lead his people forth, all the Sclavonians will join him, he will conquer all before him.

Myself. Are the Russians good soldiers?

Hungarian. They are stubborn and unflinching to an astonishing degree, and their fidelity to their Tsar is quite admirable. See how the Russians behaved at Plescova, in Livonia, in the old time, against our great Batory Stephen; they defended the place till it was a heap of rubbish, and mark how they behaved after they had been made prisoners. Stephen offered them two alternatives: to enter into his service, in which they would have good pay, clothing, and fair treatment; or to be allowed to return to Russia. Without the slightest hesitation they, to a man, chose the latter, though well aware that their beloved Tsar, the cruel Ivan Basilowitt, would put them all to death, amidst tortures the most horrible, for not doing what was impossible — preserving the town.

Myself. You speak Russian?

Hungarian. A little. I was born in the vicinity of a Sclavonian tribe; the servants of our house were Sclavonians, and I early acquired something of their language, which differs not much from that of Russia. When in that country I quickly understood what was said.

Myself. Have the Russians any literature?

Hungarian. Doubtless; but I am not acquainted with it, as I do not read their language; but I know something of their popular tales, to which I used to listen in their izbushkas; a principal personage in these is a creation quite original — called Baba Yaga.

Myself. Who is Baba Yaga? 163

Hungarian. A female phantom, who is described as hurrying along the puszta, or steppe, in a mortar, pounding with a pestle at a tremendous rate, and leaving a long trace on the ground behind her with her tongue, which is three yards long, and with which she seizes any men and horses coming in her way, swallowing them down into her capacious belly. She has several daughters, very handsome, and with plenty of money. Happy the young Mujik who catches and marries one of them, for they make excellent wives.

‘Many thanks,’ said I, ‘for the information you have afforded me. This is rather poor wine,’ I observed as I poured out a glass. ‘I suppose you have better wine in Hungary?’

‘Yes we have better wine in Hungary. First of all there is Tokay, the most celebrated in the world, though I confess I prefer the wine of Eger — Tokay is too sweet.’

‘Have you ever been at Tokay?’

‘I have,’ said the Hungarian.

‘What kind of place is Tokay?’

‘A small town situated on the Tyzza, a rapid river descending from the north; the Tokay Mountain is just behind the town, which stands on the right bank. The top of the mountain is called Kopacs Teto, or the bald tip; the hill is so steep that during thunder-storms pieces of it frequently fall down upon the roofs of the houses. It was planted with vines by King Lajos, who ascended the throne in the year 1342. The best wine called Tokay is, however, not made at Tokay, but at Kassau, two leagues farther into the Carpathians, of which Tokay is a spur. If you wish to drink the best Tokay, you must go to Vienna, to which place all the prime is sent. For the third time I ask you, O young man of Horncastle! why does your Government always send fools to represent it at Vienna?’

‘And for the third time I tell you, O son of Almus! that I cannot say; perhaps, however, to drink the Tokay wine. Fools, you know, always like sweet things.’

‘Good,’ said the Hungarian; ‘it must be so, and when I return to Hungary I will state to my countrymen your explanation of a circumstance which has frequently caused them great perplexity. Oh! the English are a clever people, and have a deep meaning in all they do. What a vision of deep policy opens itself to my view: they do not send their fool to Vienna in order to gape at processions, and to bow and scrape at a base Papist court, but to drink at the great dinners the celebrated Tokay of Hungary, which the Hungarians, though they do not drink it, are very proud of, and by doing so to intimate the sympathy which the English entertain for their fellow religionists of Hungary. Oh! the English are a deep people.’

162 See Introduction.

163 A witch hag. See Ralston’s ‘Russian Folk tales,’ pp. 137, 399.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51