Some way up the valley we came upon a little colony of gipsies, who were settled there. Their dwellings were more primitive than the Wallacks even. The huts are formed of plaited sticks, with mud plastered into the interstices; this earth in time becomes overgrown with grass, and as the erection is only some seven feet high, it has very much the appearance of an exaggerated mound or anthill, and would never suggest a human habitation.
A fire was burning in the open, with a tripod to support the iron pot—just as we see in England in a gipsy's camp; and the people had a remarkable resemblance in complexion and feature, only that here they were far less civilised than with us.
I entered one of the huts, in which by the way I could scarcely stand upright, and found there a man employed in making a variety of simple wooden articles for household use. The gipsies are remarkably clever with their hands; many of these wooden utensils are fashioned very dexterously, and even display some taste. The gipsy, moreover, is always the best blacksmith in all the country round; and as for their music, I have before spoken of the strange power these people possess of stirring the hearts of their hearers with their pathetic strains. It has often seemed to me that this marvellous gift of music is, as it were, a language brought with them in their exile from another and a higher state of existence.
That these poor outcasts are capable of noble self-sacrifice, the story I am about to relate will testify. Not far from this very gipsy settlement, in a wild romantic glen, is a steep overhanging rock, which is known throughout the country as the "Gipsy's Rock," and came to be so called from the following tragical occurrence. It seems that many years ago—about the middle of the last century, I believe—there was a famine in the land, and the poor gipsies, poorer than all the rest, were reduced to great straits. Some of them came to the neighbouring village and begged hard for food. The selfish people turned them away, or at least tried to do so; but one poor fellow would not cease his importunities, and said that his children were literally starving. "Then," said one of the villagers in a mocking tone, "I will give your family a side of bacon if you will jump that rock."
"You hear his promise?" cried the gipsy, appealing to the idle crowd. He said not another word, but rushing from their midst, clambered up the rock, and in another instant took the fatal leap!
I see no reason to discredit the story, generally believed as it is in the district; and, happily for the honour of human nature, it has many a parallel, in another way perhaps, but equal in self-sacrifice and devotion.
The gipsies in Hungary are supposed to number at least 150,000. The Czigany, as they are called, made their appearance early in the fifteenth century, having fled, it is believed, from the cruelty of the Mongol rulers. They were allowed by King Sigismund to settle in Hungary, and were called in law the "new peasants." Before the reforms of 1848 they were in a state of absolute serfdom, and could not legally take service away from the place where they were born. The case of the gipsy was the only instance in Hungary, even in the Hungary of the old regime, of absolute serfdom; for oppressive as were the obligations of the land-holding peasant to his lord, yet the relation between them was never that of master and slave. As a matter of fact, if the Hungarian peasant gave up his session—that is to say, the land he occupied in hereditary use—he was free to go wheresoever he pleased, and was not forced to serve any master. In practice the serf would not readily relinquish the means of subsistence for himself and family, and generally preferred the burden, odious though it was, of the robot, or forced labour. This personal liberty, which the Hungarian peasant in the worst of times has preserved, is deep-rooted in the growth of the nation, and accounts for their characteristic love of freedom in the present day. It was this that made the freedom-loving peasant detest the military conscription imposed by the Austrians in 1849, an innovation the more obnoxious because enforced with every species of official brutality.
The poor Czigany had not been so fortunate as to preserve even the Hungarian serf's modicum of liberty. Mr Paget mentions that forty years ago he saw gipsies exposed for sale in the neighbouring province of Wallachia.
There are a great many "settled gipsies" in Transylvania. Of course they are legally free, but they attach themselves peculiarly to the Magyars, from a profound respect they have for everything that is aristocratic; and in Transylvania the name Magyar holds almost as a distinctive term for class as well as race. The gipsies do not assimilate with the thrifty Saxon, but prefer to be hangers-on at the castle of the Hungarian noble: they call themselves by his name, and profess to hold the same faith, be it Catholic or Protestant. Notwithstanding that, the gipsy has an incurable habit of pilfering here as elsewhere; yet they can be trusted as messengers and carriers—indeed I do not know what people would do without them, for they are as good as a general "parcels-delivery company" any day; and certainly they are ubiquitous, for never is a door left unlocked but a gipsy will steal in, to your cost.
The gipsy is sometimes accused of having a hand in incendiary fires; but I believe the general testimony is in his favour, and against the Wallack, whose love of revenge is the ugliest feature in his character. These people seem to forget the saying that "curses, like chickens, come home to roost," for they will set fire to places under circumstances that not unfrequently involve themselves in ruin.
We were calmly sitting one day at dinner when we heard a great row all at once; looking out of the window, we saw dense clouds of smoke and flame not a hundred yards from the house. We rushed out immediately to render assistance, but without water or engines of any kind it was difficult to do much. However, Herr von B—— and myself got on the top of the outhouse that was in flames, and stripped off the wooden tiles, removing out of the way everything that was likely to feed the fire. There stood close by a crowd of Wallacks, utterly panic-stricken it seemed: they did nothing but scream and howl as if possessed. The building belonged to one of them, but he only screamed louder than the rest, and was not a bit of use, though he was repeatedly called on to help. If the wind had set the other way, it would have been just a chance if the whole village had not been burned down. In this instance the fire was caused by mere carelessness.
The number of excursions to be made in the Hatszeg Valley is endless. On one occasion I took my horse and rode off alone to inspect mines and mining works in the mountains. While looking over the ironworks at Kalan, I was told of the existence of some Roman remains in the neighbourhood, so taking a boy from the works with me to act as guide, I set off, walking, to examine the spot. He led me into the middle of a field, not far off the main road; and here I found the remains of a Roman bath of a very interesting character.
It was singularly constructed. I must observe first that there was a protruding mass of rock rising about fifteen feet above the surrounding ground, and of considerable circumference. In the middle of this there was a circular excavation ten feet in diameter and ten feet deep. At the bottom I discovered a spring of tepid mineral water, which flowed away through a small section cut perpendicularly out of the wall of the great bath; judging from other incisions in the stone, a wooden slide may have been used to bay back the water. On the face of the rock I noticed a Roman inscription, but too much mutilated for me to make anything of it. An attempt had been evidently made to utilise this mineral water, for in the field were some primitive wooden bathing-houses, and not far off there was actually a little inn, but I fear the public had not encouraged the revival of the Roman bath.
In poking about after game or minerals, one frequently comes upon evidence of the former occupation of the country. Speaking of game, the partridges are not preserved, and they are scarce; of course I was too early, but in autumn the woodcock-shooting, I understand, is first-rate. Quails and snipes are also common in the Hatszeg Valley.
Herr von Adam Buda, or, as one should say in Hungarian, Buda Adam (for the Christian name always comes last), has devoted much time to the avifauna of Transylvania. He has a fine collection of stuffed birds at his residence at Rea, near Hatszeg. These are birds which he has himself shot, and he is quite the local authority upon the subject.
I have alluded to the trout-fishing in the district. I went out frequently, and had generally very fair sport indeed. Mr Danford, in his paper in 'The Ibis,' in speaking of fishing, says: "Perhaps the best stream in the country is the Sebes, which joins the Strell near Hatszeg. The trout are not bad, one to two lbs. in weight; and the grayling-fishing is really good—almost any number may be taken in autumn, when weather and water are in good order. The Sil also, near Petroseny, is a fine-looking river, and used to be celebrated for its so-called 'salmon-trout;' but these had quite disappeared when we saw it, having been blown up with dynamite, a method of fishing very commonly practised in the country, but now forbidden by law. Indeed fly-fishing is gaining ground, and English tackle in great demand."
This practice of the wholesale destruction of fish by the use of dynamite has not been stopped a moment too soon; and some time must now elapse in certain waters before they can become properly stocked again.
It was now time for me to quit the happy valley, and I bade adieu to my kind friends near Hatszeg. I believe if I had remained to this day, I should not have outstayed my welcome. I had come to pay a morning visit, and I stopped on more than a fortnight.
The Hungarian has a particularly pleasant way of greeting a stranger under his own roof. He gives you the idea that he has been expecting you, though in reality your existence and name were unknown to him till he read the letter or the visiting-card with which you have just presented him.
I now sent my portmanteau, &c., on to Herrmannstadt, packed my saddle-bags to take with me, and once more rode off into the wilds. My destination this time was Petroseny.
[Footnote 13: Vol. v., The Birds of Transylvania.]
On horseback to Petroseny—A new town—Valuable coal-fields—Killing fish with dynamite and poison—Singular manner of repairing roads—Hungarian patriotism—Story of Hunyadi Janos—Intrusion of the Moslems into Europe.
The history of the town of Petroseny is as short as that of some of the western cities of America. It began life in 1868, and is now the terminus of a branch railway.
Before the wicked days of dynamite, and as long ago as the year 1834, a fisherman was leisurely catching salmon-trout up the Sil; he had time to look about him, and he noticed that in many places the rocks had a black appearance. He broke off some pieces and carried them home, when he found that they burned like coal; in fact he had discovered a coal mine! Those were simple-minded days, for instead of running off with these valuable cinders under his arm, fixing on an influential chairman and a board of directors for his new company, this good man did nothing but talk occasionally of the black rock that he had seen when fishing. Many years elapsed before any advantage was taken of this valuable discovery. At length a more careful search was made, and it proved that coal existed there in abundance! In 1867 mining was commenced on a large scale by the Kronstaeder Company. The next year a town was already growing up in the neighbourhood of the mines, and increased in a most surprising manner. In 1870 the railway was opened from Petroseny to Piski, on the main line from Arad. The growth of the place, however, received a check in the financial crisis of 1873.
The town itself is in no way remarkable, being a mere collection of dwellings for the accommodation of the miners and the employes; but the scenery in the neighbourhood is simply magnificent. In approaching Petroseny the railway rises one foot in forty, no inconsiderable gradient.
The coal-fields are partly in the hands of Government, and partly owned by the before-named Kronstaeder Company. Between these separate interests there is not much accord. The Kronstaeders say that Government has not behaved fairly or openly, but has secured to itself so many "claims" as to damage considerably the prospects of the private speculators.
While at Petroseny, I heard great complaints against the Government for selling coal at such a low price that they must actually work at a loss. The Kronstaeder Verein say they are prevented in this way from making their fair profits, as they are obliged to sell down to the others. It would appear to be a suicidal policy for the pockets of the tax-payers to be mulcted for the sake of securing a prospective monopoly and the ruin of a private enterprise. As it stands it is a pretty quarrel.
Writing in 1862, Professor Ansted says: "The coal of Hungary is of almost all geological ages, and though none is first-rate in point of quality, a large proportion is excellent fuel. The coals most valued at the present moment in Hungary are those of the Secondary and not of the Palaeozoic period. But the great body of coal is very much newer; it is Tertiary, and till lately was regarded as of comparatively modern date. In the Ysil Valley there is a splendid deposit of true coal." Since the time when the above was written the resources of the Ysil or Sil Valley—viz., Petroseny—have been abundantly developed, as we see, and it has been pronounced to be "one of the finest coal mines in Europe." One of the seams of coal is ninety feet in thickness; but up to the present time it has been found impossible to make it into coke.
The miners at Petroseny are great offenders in regard to the abominable practice of killing fish by means of dynamite. It is very well to say that the law forbids it; but the administrators of the law are not always a terror to evil-doers, and perhaps the timely present of a dish of fine trout does not sharpen the energies of the officials. Another mode of destroying fish is practised by the Wallacks. There grows in this locality a poisonous plant, of which they make a decoction and throw it into the river, thereby killing great numbers of fish at a time.
While driving round Petroseny I had an opportunity of seeing the Hungarian manner of making roads. The peasants have to work on the roads a certain number of days in the year, and if they possess a pair of oxen, these must also be brought for a specified time. An inspector is supposed to watch over them. One afternoon we came upon a score of peasants, men and women, who were engaged in mending a bridge. Their proceedings were just an instance of how "not to do a thing." They were placing trees across the gap, and the interstices they were filling up with leafy branches, over which was thrown a quantity of loose earth and stones well patted down to give the appearance of a substantial and even surface. Of course the first rain would wash away the earth and leave as nice a hole as you could wish your enemy to put his foot into. For all purposes of traffic the bridge was safer with the honest gap yawning in the traveller's face.
It is said that the magistrates make matters easy and convenient for the peasants, if the latter, by being let off public work, attend gratuitously to the more pressing wants of the individual magistrate.
"You see, nobody suffers but the Government," says the man of easy conscience, not seeing that, after all, the good condition of the roads concerns themselves more than the officials in the capital.
In many things the Hungarians are like children, and they have not yet grown out of the idea that it is patriotic to be unruly. The fact is, the Central Government was so long in the hands of the Vienna Cabinet, who were obnoxious in the highest degree to the Hungarians, that the latter cannot get the habit of antagonism out of their minds, though the reconciliation carried through by Deak in 1867 entirely restored self-government to Hungary. "What do we want with money?" said a gentleman of the old school. "Money is only useful for paying taxes, and if we have not got it for that purpose, never mind!"
On leaving Petroseny the route I proposed to myself was to take the bridle-path over the mountains to Herrmannstadt. But in following this out, I omitted to visit the Castle of Hunyad—a great mistake, for castles are rare in this part of Europe, and the romantic and singular position of Schloss Hunyad renders it quite unique in a way. It is situated, I am told, on a lofty spur of rock, washed on three sides by two rivers which unite at its base, a draw-bridge connecting the building with a fortified eminence high above the stream.
The place is associated with the name of Hungary's greatest hero, John Hunyadi, who was born near by, and who subsequently built the castle. The story of his birth, which took place somewhere about 1400, is romantic enough. His mother was said to be a beautiful Wallack girl called Elizabeth Marsinai, who was beloved by King Sigismund. When he left her he gave her his signet ring, which she was to bring to him in Buda if she gave birth to a son.
Showing all proper respect to the wishes of its parents, a child of the "male persuasion" made its appearance in due course of time; and the joyful mother, accompanied by her brother, set off walking to Buda, with the small boy and the ring for credentials. When resting by the way in a forest the child began playing with the ring, and a jackdaw, who in all ancient story has a weakness for this sort of ornament, pounced upon the shining jewel and carried it off to a tree. The brother with commendable quickness took up his bow and shot the bird; thus the ring was recovered, and the story duly related to the king, who evolved out of the incident a prophetic omen of the boy's future greatness. His majesty had the child brought up at the Court, and bestowed upon him the town of Hunyad and sixty surrounding villages.
It was in the reign of Sigismund that the Turks first regularly invaded Hungary; and the young Hunyadi soon distinguished himself by a series of victories over the Moslems. To him Europe is indebted for the check he gave the Turks. He forced them to relinquish Servia and Bosnia, and in his time both provinces were placed under the vassalage of Hungary. We may go further and say that had Hunyadi's plans for hurling back the Moslem invaders been seconded by the other Christian powers, we should not have the Eastern Question upon our hands in this our day. But, alas! all the solicitations of this great patriot were met with short-sighted indifference by the Courts of Europe. It is true that the Diet of Ratisbon, summoned by the Emperor Frederick, voted 10,000 men-at-arms and 30,000 infantry to assist in repelling the Turks; and it is true that the Pope in those days was anti-Turkish, and vowed on the Gospels to use every effort, even to the shedding of his blood, to recover Constantinople from the infidels. The old chronicles give a curious account of the monk Capestrano, who, bearing the cross that the Pope had blessed, traversed Hungary, Transylvania, and Wallachia, to rouse the people to the danger that threatened them from the intrusion of the Moslem into Europe. Special church services were instituted; and at noon the "Turks' bell" was daily sounded in every parish throughout these border-lands, when prayers were offered up to arrest the progress of the common enemy of Christendom.
Hunyadi's son, Matthias Corvinus, rivalled his father as a champion against the Turks. He was elected King of Hungary, and after reigning forty-two years, passed away; and the people still say, "King Matthias is dead, and justice with him."
[Footnote 14: A Short Trip in Hungary and Transylvania, p. 242.]
Hunting for a guide—School statistics—Old times—Over the mountains to Herrmannstadt—Night in the open—Nearly setting the forest on fire—Orlat.
I found some difficulty while at Petroseny in getting a guide to convoy me over the mountains to Orlat, near Herrmannstadt. My Hungarian friend proposed that, choosing a saint's day, we should ride over to the neighbouring village of Petrilla, where I would certainly find some peasant able and willing amongst the numbers who crowd into the village on these occasions.
Accordingly we went over, and I was very pleased I had gone, for the rural gathering was a very pretty and characteristic sight. The people from all the country round were collected together in the churchyard, dressed of course in their bravery, and a very goodly show they made. They were the finest Wallacks I had seen anywhere; they were superior looking in physique, and many of them must really have been well off, if one may judge a man's wealth by the richness of the wife's dress.
Some of the young girls were very pretty, and wore their silver-coin decorations with quite a fashionable coquettish air. The Wallack women, whether walking or standing, never have the spindle out of their hands: the attitude is very graceful, added to which the thread must be held daintily in the fingers. They are very industrious, making nearly all the articles of clothing for the family.
After a great deal of palavering—I think we must have spoken to every able-bodied man in the churchyard—I at last induced a young Wallachian to say he would accompany me. He spoke a little German, which was a great advantage. I told him to procure himself a good horse, and to take care that all his arrangements were completed before night, as I wished to start very early the following morning.
To this he replied that it would be quite necessary to start early, and begged to know if five o'clock would be too soon; adding that as I must pass through Petrilla, would I meet him at the corner of the churchyard?
To this I agreed, repeating that we were to meet not a moment later than five o'clock. My friend and I returned to Petroseny, and the afternoon was occupied in making preparations for two days on the mountains. I supplied myself with a good amount of slivovitz, as a medium of exchange for milk and cheese with the shepherds, who understand this kind of barter much better than any money transactions.
The next day, when it came, brought a continuance of good weather, and I was up betimes, looking forward with pleasure to the mountain ride. I reached Petrilla a few minutes after five o'clock; but my man was not at the churchyard corner, whereupon I rode all round the churchyard, thinking he might by mistake have pitched on some odd corner, and be out of sight under the trees. However, I looked in vain—a man on horseback is not hidden like a lizard between two stones! Verily he was not there.
I waited half an hour all to no purpose. I now resolved to try and find out where he lived. I had understood that he belonged to the village. After a great deal of trouble and bother, and poking of my nose into various interiors where the families were still en deshabille, I unearthed my guide. He coolly said that he was waiting for the horse, which was to be brought to him by some other lazy fellow not yet up.
I could not speak Wallachian, and he pretended not to understand a word of my wrathful tirade in German, which was all nonsense, because I found later that he spoke that language fairly well. I insisted that he should come with me to find the horse, and so he did at last, in a dilatory sort of way, and then it turned out that the animal was waiting at the other end of the village for his rider.
Well, thought I, we shall start now; but no, there were two to that bargain. The Wallack calmly informed me that he must return to his hut, for he had not breakfasted. Not to lose sight of him, I returned too. He then with Oriental deliberation set about making a fire, and proceeded to cook his polenta of maize. I had got hungry again by this time, though I had breakfasted at Petroseny before starting, so I partook of some of his mess, which was exceedingly good, much better than oatmeal porridge.
In consequence of all these delays it was after eight o'clock before we really started. The horse which my guide had procured for himself was a wretched animal—a tantalising object for vultures and carrion-crows—instead of being a good strong horse, as I had stipulated he should be; but there was no help for it now, so on we went.
My companion soon gave me to understand in good German that he was a superior sort of fellow. He had been to school at Hatszeg, and knew a thing or two. I have heard it stated that the Wallacks are so quick that they make great and rapid progress at first, distancing the German children; but that they seem to stop after a while, and even fall back into ignorance and their old slovenly ways of life.
On referring to the statistics of Messrs Keleti and Beoethy, I see that only eleven per cent of Roumains (Wallacks) attend the primary schools, and this percentage had not increased between the years 1867 and 1874. The percentage of the Magyars attending the primary schools is forty-nine per cent, while the Slavs, again, are twenty-one.
"The world is only saved by the breath of the school-children," says the Talmud. A conviction of this truth makes every inquiry into educational progress extremely interesting. According to M. Keleti's tables, fifty-three per cent of the males and sixty-two per cent of the females in Hungary generally are still illiterates. This excludes from the calculation children under six years of age. On comparing notes, other countries do not come out so very much better. It is calculated that 30 per cent of French conscripts are unable to read; moreover, in our "returns" of marriages in England in 1845, a percentage of forty-one signed the register with marks. In 1874 the number of illiterates was reduced to twenty-one per cent.
I elicited a good many interesting facts from my Wallack guide, several that were confirmatory of the terrible ignorance existing amongst the priesthood of the Greek Church. The popes do not commend themselves to the good opinion of the male part of the community, whatever hold they may have on the superstition of the women. I cannot see myself how things are to be mended till the position and education of the priesthood are improved. It is said that, in the old days before '48, when the peasants had to render forced labour to the lord of the land, the Transylvanian nobles would have the village pope up to the castle, and keep him there for a fortnight in a state of intoxication, thus preventing his giving out the saints' days at the altar on Sunday. This was done that their own harvest-work should proceed without the inconvenience of suspending operations at a critical time on fete days, the people themselves being too ignorant to consult the calendar!
The Magyar nobles are improved, and do not play these pranks now; but very little progress, I imagine, has been made on the side of the priests. Chatting with my Wallack guide helped to beguile the tedious nature of the ride, an ascent over roughish ground all the way. Arriving at the summit, we made a noonday halt.
A fire was soon burning, whereat our dinner of robber-steak was roasted; but the halt was shorter than usual, for I was anxious to push on, remembering how much time had been lost at starting.
We now gained the other side of the mountain-chain, passing the remains of an old Turkish camp, the outlines of which were quite visible. From this point there is a magnificent view, interminable forests to the eastward clothing the deep ravines that score the hillsides. The accidents of light and shade were particularly happy on this occasion, bringing out various details in the picture in a very striking manner. As a general rule, there is no time so unpropitious for scenic effect as noonday.
We passed from the grassy Alpen down into the thick of the forest, losing very soon any glimpse of the distant view, or any help from conspicuous landmarks. It was a labyrinth of trees, with tracks crossing each other in a most perplexing manner. I could not have got on without a guide.
When the evening approached I thought it was time to look out for quarters for the night. Our first necessity was water, but we went on and on without coming upon a stream. It was provoking, for we had passed so many springs and rivulets earlier in the day, and now darkness threatened to wrap us round with the mantle of night before we had arranged our bivouac. When the sun sets in the East, it is like turning off the gas; you are left in darkness suddenly, without any intervening twilight. As a fact one knows this perfectly well; but habit is stronger than reason, and day after day I went on being perplexed, and often unready for the "early-closing" system.
"Water we must have," said I to the Wallack. "Let us strike off from the direct route and follow the lead of this valley, we shall find water in the bottom for a certainty."
We hurried forward, leading our horses through the thick undercover, always diving deeper into the ravine. At length I discovered a trickling amongst the stones, and a little farther on we came upon a grassy spot beneath some enormous pine-trees. It was an ideal place for a bivouac!
When the horses had been carefully picketed, we proceeded to make a fire and cook our supper, which consisted of gipsy-meat and tea.
The meal finished to my perfect satisfaction, (how good everything tastes under such circumstances!) I then stretched myself on a sloping bank overspread by a thick covering of dry needle-wood, as the Germans call the leaves of the fir-tree. How soft and clean it felt, and how sweet the aromatic perfume that pervaded the whole place! Lighting my pipe, I gave myself up to the perfect enjoyment of repose amidst this romantic scene. The Wallack, covered by his fur bunda, was already asleep, and save the bubbling of the water in the little stream, and the crackling of the fire, there was absolutely not a sound or a breath. Through the tasselled pine branches, festooned with streamers of grey moss, I could see the stars shining in the blue depths of ether. One can realise in these regions the intense depth of the heavens when seen at night; we never get the same effect in our "weeping skies."
Before wrapping my plaid round me for the night, I threw some fresh wood on the fire, which, crushing down upon the hot embers, sent up a scintillating shower of sparks that ran a mad race in and out of the greenery. I saw that the horses were all right, I put my gun handy, and then I gave myself up to sleep.
I do not know how long I had slept, but I was conscious of being bothered, and could not rouse myself at once. I dreamed that a bear was sniffing at me, but instead of being the least surprised or frightened, I said to myself in my dream, as if it was quite a common occurrence, "That's the bear again, he always comes when I am asleep." The next moment, however, I was very effectually awakened by a tug that half lifted me off the ground. I must mention that I had tied my horse's halter to my waist-belt in case of any alarm in the night, for I sleep so soundly always that no ordinary noise or movement ever wakes me. I sprang up of course, calling the Wallack at the same time. Something had frightened the horses, and they had attempted to bolt. We found them trembling from head to foot, but we could not discover the cause of their fright. I fired off my revolver twice; the Wallack in the meantime had lighted a bundle of resinous fir branches as a torch. He had carefully arranged it before he slept; it is a capital thing, as it gives a good light on an emergency.
After making an examination of the place all round, and finding nothing, we made up a bright fire, and again laid ourselves down to rest. I had my saddle for a pillow, and it was not half bad. Before giving myself over to sleep I listened and listened again, but I heard nothing except the hooting of the owls answering each other in the distance. The night had grown very cold, and a heavy dew was falling, but notwithstanding these discomforts I had another good nap.
Next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we were off early. Instead of going uphill again to recover our former route, we followed the stream, which gradually increased in size, and we came at last to a place where a dam had been thrown across the valley with the object of floating the wood cut in the forest. This small lake was very pretty; the water was as clear as crystal. Farther on we came upon another dam of larger dimensions; but though it had evidently been quite recently constructed, there was no one about, and no signs of wood-cutting. Here we began to ascend again, and about mid-day got to a place called La Durs, a customhouse for cattle coming from Roumania; it is not absolutely on the frontier, but very near it. I heard later that this district has a bad reputation for smugglers and robbers, the latter being on the increase, it is said; always the same story of unrepressed lawlessness on the frontier.
We made no stay at the customhouse, but rode on a couple of miles farther, where, coming upon a nice spring, we dined. Not a single shepherd had we met, so there had been no chance of bartering for milk; it was not surprising, because our track had been almost entirely in the forests, and of course the shepherds are higher up on the Alpen. At this last halting-place we nearly set the forest on fire. The grass was very dry all round, and before I was aware of it, the fire ran along the ground and caught the trees. It blazed up in an inconceivably short time. I rushed up directly, to cut off what branches I could with my bowie-knife; but though calling loudly to the Wallack to assist me, he never concerned himself in the least. This exasperated me beyond measure, seeing what mischief was likely to accrue from the misadventure. Luckily a man came up, riding on one horse and leading another, and he readily gave me a helping hand, and between us we put out the fire. The Wallack never raised a finger!
Getting into conversation with the new-comer, I found that he was going to Orlat, whereupon I arranged to go on with him. Accordingly I paid my guide, and was not sorry to have done with him, he had so disgusted me about the fire, and I was especially glad to get quit of his wretched horse, which had greatly retarded our progress. I transferred my saddle-bags to the spare horse, and we got on much faster, reaching Orlat by sunset.
Before descending into the plain we had a magnificent view. Herrmannstadt seemed almost at our feet, though in reality it was still a long way off; the Fogaraser Mountains stretching away towards Kronstadt, appeared in all their picturesque irregularity, and along the plain at their base were scattered the villages of the Saxonland, each with its fortress-church, a relic of the old time, when the brave burghers had to hold their own against Turk and Tartar.
At Orlat I found a small inn, but they had no travellers' room in it; however some of the family were good enough to turn out, and I was very glad to turn in, and that rather early.
Herrmannstadt—Saxon immigrants—Museum—Places of interest in the neighbourhood—The fortress-churches—Heltau—The Rothen Thurm Pass—Turkish incursions.
The following morning a ride of ten miles brought me to Herrmannstadt. Here I put up at the Hotel Neurikrer, a comfortable house; it was a new sensation getting into the land of inns. The fact is, the Saxons are not indifferent to the existence of inns; it relieves them of the necessity of hospitality. The Hungarian will take the wheels off his guest's carriage and hide them to prevent his departure, whereas the Saxon would be more inclined to speed the parting guest with amiable alacrity. There is an old-world look about Herrmannstadt that gives one the sensation of being landed in another age; it is a case of Rip Van Winkle, only "t'other way round," as the saying is: one has awakened from the sleep in the hills to walk down into a mediaeval town, finding the speech and fashions of old Germany—Luther's Germany!
The Saxon immigrants in Hungary number nearly two millions. The greater proportion of these is found in Transylvania; the rest, some forty thousand, have a compact colony under the shadow of the Tatra Mountains, in the north of Hungary, called from time immemorable the "Free District." But it was to the slopes of the Southern Carpathians, to the "land beyond the forest," where the first Saxons came and settled. It is still called "Altland," being the oldest of their possessions in Hungary. In fact this appellation of the "Oldland" belongs, strictly speaking, to the Herrmannstadt district. Formerly no Hungarian was allowed to settle in the town, so jealous were the burghers of their privileges. I believe the earliest date of the Saxon immigration is 1143. The country had been wasted by the incursions of the Tartars, and in consequence the Servian Princess Helena, widow of the blind King Bela of Hungary, invited them hither during the minority of her son, Geysa II. They appear to have come from Flanders, and from the neighbourhood of Cologne. They were tempted to this strange land by certain privileges and special rights secured to them by the rulers of Hungary, and faithfully preserved through many difficulties; as a fact the Saxons of Transylvania retained their self-government down to the middle of this century.
These people have played no unimportant part in European history; for Herrmannstadt and Kronstadt, the sister towns of Saxon Transylvania, were called the bulwarks of Christianity all through the evil days of Moslem invasion. Herrmannstadt was called by the Turks the "Red Town" on account of the colour of its brick walls. It was besieged in 1438 with a force of 70,000 men headed by the Sultan Amurad himself, and great were the rejoicings amongst the brave burghers when it became known that an arrow directed from one of the towers had rid them of their foe! Trade and commerce must have prospered, by all accounts, in those days; and the burghers made themselves of importance, for King Andrew II., a man far in advance of his time, summoned them to assist in consultation at the Imperial Parliament. The wealth of Herrmannstadt is a thing of the past; the place has now the appearance of a dead level of competence, where riches and poverty are equally absent. There were no new houses building to supply an increasing population, nor, I should say, had any been built for many years.
The town is prettily situated on a slight elevation above the surrounding plain; it has the fine range of the Fogaraser Mountains as a background. The old moat, where Amurad fell pierced by the well-directed arrow, has been turned into a promenade; parts of the fortifications remain in a state of picturesque ruin. Herrmannstadt is the seat of the Protestant Bishop of Transylvania, and there is a fine old church, which, however, has suffered severely in the process of restoration.
The interior of the church is in that unhappy condition which bespeaks the churchwarden's period—whitewash plastered over everything, obliterating lights and shades and rare carvings beneath a glare of uncouth cleanliness. In their desire to remove every object that could harbour dust or obstruct the besom of reform, they have bodily removed from the church many rich monuments and interesting effigies, and these are to be seen huddled away in an obscure corner of the churchyard. The church has a large collection of richly-embroidered vestments belonging to the pre-Reformation days.
Herrmannstadt is decidedly rich in collections. The Bruckenthal Library contains an illuminated missal of great beauty; the execution is singularly fine, and the designs very artistic. The curious thing is that the history of this rare volume is unknown; by some it is believed to have come from Bohemia during the time of the troubles in that country, however nothing is positively known. The book is of the finest vellum, containing 630 pages in small quarto. The pictures of architecture and scenery are extremely interesting; the first represent buildings familiar to us in old German towns, and the rural scenes depict a variety of agricultural instruments, together with many details of home life in the olden time. The colours of the birds and flowers are as bright as if only finished yesterday. The ingenuity of the design is very striking; no two objects are alike. It would have taken hours to have looked over the volume thoroughly.
In the palace, of which the museum forms a part, there is a gallery of pictures, collected by the Baron Bruckenthal, formerly governor of Transylvania. The history of these pictures is very curious, they were mostly purchased from French refugees at the time of the first revolution. It appears that both at that period, and at the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, many French families had sought an asylum in Hungary and Transylvania. In the Banat I am told there are two or three villages inhabited entirely by people who came originally from France; they retain only their Gallic names, having adopted the Magyar tongue and utterly lost their own. This little colony of the Banat belonged of course to the Huguenot exodus. I had now an opportunity of examining a collection of the Roman antiquities obtained from the Hatszeg Valley.
I remained several days at Herrmannstadt, principally for the sake of resting my horse, which unfortunately had been rubbed by the saddle-bags on my ride from Petroseny. I spent the time agreeably enough, exploring the neighbourhood and making chance acquaintances. I bought here Bishop Teusch's 'History of Transylvanian Saxons,' a handy-book in two volumes. It interested me very much, especially reading it in the country itself where so many stirring scenes had been enacted.
Wishing to see some of the neighbouring villages, I set off one fine day on a walking expedition. I chose Sunday, because on that day one can see to best advantage the costume of the peasants. Hammersdorf is a pretty enough village, "fair with orchard lawns," but not so charming as Heltau, which, standing on high ground, commands an extensive view of the whole plain, with the old "Red Town" in the foreground of the picture. The church in this village is a very fine specimen of the fortified churches, which are a unique feature of the Transylvanian border-land. The origin of this form of architecture is very obvious; it was necessary to have a defence against the incursions of the Tartars and Turks, who for centuries troubled the peace of this fair land. In every village of the Saxons in the south and east of Transylvania the church is also a fortified place, fitted to maintain a siege if necessary. The construction of these buildings varies according to circumstances: the general character is that the sacred edifice is surrounded, or forms part of a strong wall with its watch-towers; not unfrequently a second and even a third wall surround the place. In every case a considerable space of ground is enclosed around the church, sufficient to provide accommodation for the villagers; in fact every family with a house outside had a corresponding hut within the fortified walls. Here, too, was a granary, and some of the larger places had also their school-tower attached to the church. It happened not unfrequently that the villagers were obliged to remain for some weeks in their sanctuary.
Heltau is an industrious little place. Here is manufactured the peculiar white frieze so much worn by the Wallacks. Nearly every house has its loom, but I was told the trade is less flourishing than formerly. The woollen-cloth manufacturers of Transylvania have suffered very much from the introduction of foreign goods; but, on the other hand, if they would bestir themselves they might enormously increase their exports. Heltau is a market-place, and reserves many old privileges very jealously. Its inhabitants were often in dispute with the burghers of Herrmannstadt, and on one occasion they had the audacity, in rebuilding their church-tower, to place four turrets upon it. Their neighbours regarded this with great indignation, for are not four turrets the sign and symbol of civic authority? The burghers of Herrmannstadt hereupon obliged the men of Heltau to sign a bond, saying that "they were but humble villagers," and promising to treat their haughty neighbours with all due "honour, fear, and friendship."
From Heltau I went on to Michaelsburg, an extremely curious place. In the centre of a lovely valley rises a conical rock of gneiss, protruding to the height of 200 feet or more. This is crowned by the ruins of a Romanesque church. There are, I believe, only two other specimens of this kind of architecture in the country. The time of the building of Michaelsburg is stated to be between 1173 and 1223. Before the use of artillery this fortified church on the rock must have been really impregnable. Inside the walls I found a quantity of large round stones—the shot and shell of those days; these stones were capable of making considerable havoc amongst a besieging party I should say. The custom was in the old time that no young man should be allowed to take unto himself a wife till he had carried one such stone from the bed of the river where they are found, to the summit of the rock within the church walls. As these stones weigh between two and three hundredweight, and the ascent is very steep, it was a test of strength. The villagers were anxious to prevent the weaklings from marrying lest they should spoil the hardy race.
The view from the village itself is very pretty, home-like, and with a more familiar look about the vegetation than I had seen elsewhere. There were orchards of cherry-trees, and hedges, as in our west country, festooned with wild hops and dog-roses. Every girl I met was busily engaged plaiting straw as she walked. This straw is for hats of a particular kind for which the place is famed. Besides this industry, the people are great bee-keepers, and make a good trade by selling the honey. The produce of the hives in the Southern Carpathians is the very poetry of honey; it is perfectly delicious, not surpassed by that of Hymettus or Hybla, so famed in ancient story. This "mountain honey" sometimes reaches the London market, but, unfortunately, not with any regularity. It is most difficult to make these people practical in their trade dealings; and as for time, they must have come into the world before it was talked about.
I made a short excursion into the Rothen Thurm Pass, the principal road across the Southern Carpathians, if we except the Tomoescher Pass from Kronstadt, which, owing to local circumstances, has become more important. The Rothen Thurm or Red Tower Pass is extremely picturesque. It is traversed by the Aluta, which though rising in the Szeklerland in the north-east, finds its way through the Carpathian range, flowing at length into the Lower Danube. The red tower stands at the narrowest part of the defile, an important position of defence; and not far from this spot signal victory was gained by the Christians over the infidels. In the year 1493 the Turks made one of their frequent raids into Transylvania. They had succeeded in collecting a vast amount of booty, including many fair young maidens and tender youths, and were returning in long cavalcade through the Red Tower Pass. Here, however, they fell into an ambuscade arranged by the men of Herrmannstadt, headed by their burgomaster, the brave George Hecht. At a concerted signal the Saxons rushed upon the despoilers with such a fierce and sudden onslaught, that though the Turks far exceeded them in number, they were completely overpowered. Many a turbaned corpse lay that day on the green margin of the classical Aluta, and few, very few, of the hated Turks, it is said, escaped over the frontier to tell the tale of their disaster. How many a home must have been gladdened by the sight of the rescued children after that happy victory!
These abductions are not altogether a thing of the past. In the autumn of 1875, the very date of my tour, a paragraph appeared in a Pest newspaper stating that a young girl of great beauty in the neighbourhood of Temesvar, in the Banat of Hungary, had been secretly carried off into Turkey without the knowledge or consent of her parents. It was further stated that these scandalous proceedings were of very frequent occurrence in the border provinces. For some years past the supply of beautiful Circassians has been deficient, it is said, so doubtless the harems of Constantinople are supplied with Christian maidens to make up the numbers. The late Sultan—I mean the one who committed suicide—was considered a moderate man, and he had eight hundred women in his harem, at least so a relative of mine was credibly informed at Constantinople.
Magyar intolerance of the German—Patriotic revival of the Magyar language—Ride from Herrmannstadt to Kronstadt—The village of Zeiden—Curious scene in church—Reformation in Transylvania—Political bitterness between Saxons and Magyars in 1848.
My horse being all right again, I thought it high time to push on to Kronstadt, which is nearly ninety miles from Herrmannstadt by road. There is railway communication, but not direct; you have to get on the main line at the junction of Klein Koepisch—in Hungarian, Kis Kapus—and hence to Kronstadt, called Brasso by the non-Germans. This confusion of names is very difficult for a foreigner when consulting the railway tables. I have often seen the names of stations put up in three languages. Herrmannstadt is Nagy Szeben. The confusion of tongues in Hungary is one of the greatest stumbling-blocks to progress; and unfortunately it is considered patriotic by the Magyar to speak his own language and ignore that of his neighbour.
It happened to me once that I entered an inn in a Hungarian town, and addressing the waiter, I gave my orders in German, whereupon an elderly gentleman turned sharply upon me, saying—also in German, observe—"It is the custom to speak Hungarian here."
"I am not acquainted with the language, sir," I replied. "German is not to be spoken here—Hungarian or nothing," he retorted. I simply turned on my heel with a gesture of impatience. It was rather too much for any old fellow, however venerable and patriotic, to condemn me to silence and starvation because I could not speak the national lingo, so in the irritation of the moment I rapped out an English expletive, meant as an aside. Enough! No sooner did the testy old gentleman hear the familiar sound, invariably associated with the travelling Britisher in old days, than he turned to me with the utmost urbanity, saying in French, "Pardon a thousand times, I thought you were a German from the fluency of your speech; I had no idea you were an Englishman. Why did you not tell me at once? What orders shall I give for you? How can I help you?" It ended in our dining together and becoming the best friends; in fact he invited me to spend a week with him at his chateau in the neighbourhood. In the course of conversation I could not help asking him why, as he spoke German himself and the people in the inn also understood it—in fact I am not sure but what it was their mother-tongue—why he would not allow the language to be spoken?
"We are Hungarians here," he replied, going off into testiness again, "and we do not want that cursed German spoken on all sides. I, for one, will move heaven and earth to get my own language used in my own country. Ha, ha! the Austrians wanted us to have their officials everywhere on the railway. We have put a stop to that; now every man-jack of them must speak Hungarian. It gave an immensity of trouble, and they did not like it at all, I can tell you."
I did not attempt to argue with the old gentleman, for his views were inextricably mixed up with feelings and patriotism.
As a matter of fact, in the early part of this century the Magyar language was hardly spoken by the upper classes except in communicating with their inferiors; but when the patriotic Count Stephen Szechenyi first roused his fellow-countrymen to nobler impulses and more enlightened views, he held forth the restoration of the national language as the first necessity of their position. In his time it meant breaking down the barrier which separated classes. He was the first in the Chamber of Magnates who spoke in the tongue understood by the people; hitherto Latin had been the language of the Chambers. With the exception of a group of poets—Varosmazty, Petoefy, Kolcsey, and the brothers Kisfaludy—there were hardly any writers who employed their native language in literature or science. Count Szechenyi set the fashion, he wrote his political works in Hungarian, and what was more, assisted in establishing a national theatre.
There is perhaps no place where Shakespeare is so often given as at the Hungarian theatre at Buda-Pest, and it is said by competent judges that their translation of our great poet is unequalled in any language, German not excepted.
To a foreigner the Hungarian tongue appears very difficult, because of its isolated character and its striking difference from any other European language. In Cox's 'Travels in Sweden,' published in the last century, he mentions that Sainovits, a learned Jesuit, a native of Hungary, who had gone to Lapland to observe the transit of Venus in 1775, remarked that the Hungarian and Lapland idioms were the same; and he further stated that many words were identical. As a Turanian language, Hungarian has also an alliance with the Turkish as well as the Finnish; but there are only six and a half millions of Magyars who speak the language, and by no possibility can it be adopted by any other peoples.
For their men of letters it is an undeniable misfortune to have so restricted a public; a translated work is never quite the same. The question of language must also limit the choice of professors in the higher schools and at the university. But political grievances are mixed up with the language question, and of those I will not speak now, while I am still in Saxonland, where they do not love the Magyar or anything belonging to him.
Returning to the itinerary of my route, I left Herrmannstadt very early one morning, getting to Fogaras by four o'clock; it was about forty-seven miles of good road. This little town is celebrated for the cultivation of tobacco. There is a large inn here, which looked promising from the outside, but that was all; it had no inside to speak of—no food, no stable-boy, nothing. After foraging about I got something to eat with great difficulty, and feeling much disgusted with my quarters, I sallied forth to find the clergyman of the place, to whom I introduced myself.
I spent the evening at his house, and found him a very jolly old fellow; he entertained me with a variety of good stories, some of them relating to the tobacco-smuggling. The peasants are allowed to grow the precious weed on condition that they sell it all to the State at a fixed rate. Naturally, if they otherwise disposed of it, they would be able to make a much larger profit, as it is a monopoly of the State. They have a peculiar way of mystifying the exciseman as to the number of leaves on a string, for this is the regulation way of reckoning; besides which, wholesale smuggling goes on at times, and waggon-loads are got away. Occasionally there is a fight between the officials and the peasants.
I had intended getting on to Kronstadt the next day, but I stopped at the Saxon village of Zeiden. The clergyman, on hearing that there was a stranger in the place, hastened to the inn, where he found me calmly discussing my mid-day meal. He would not hear of my going on to Kronstadt, but kindly invited me to be his guest. I heard a great deal later of his unvarying hospitality to strangers.
The next day being Sunday, of course I went to church with my host. The congregation, including their pastor, wore the costume of the middle ages; it was a most curious and interesting sight. I am never a good hand at describing the details of dress, but I know my impression was that the pastor—wearing a ruff, I think, or something like it—might just have walked out of a picture, such as one knows so well of the old Puritans in Cromwell's time. The dress of the peasants, though unlike the English fashion of any period, had an old-world look. The married women wore white kerchiefs twisted round the head, sleeveless jackets, with a mystery of lace adornments. The marriageable girls sat together in one part of the church, which I thought very funny; they wore drum-shaped hats poised on the head in a droll sort of way. Some of them had a kind of white leather pelisse beautifully wrought with embroidery. Each girl carried a large bouquet of flowers. These blue-eyed German maidens were many of them very pretty, and all were fresh looking and exquisitely neat. It was an impressive moment when the whole congregation joined in singing—
"Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott;"
"the Marseillaise of the Reformation," as Heine calls Luther's hymn, "that defiant strain that up to our time has preserved its inspiring power."
The Reformation spread with wonderful rapidity throughout the length and breadth of Hungary, more especially in Transylvania. It appears that the merchants of Herrmannstadt, who were in the habit of attending the great fair at Leipsic, brought back Luther's writings, which had the effect of setting fire to men's minds. At one time more than half Hungary had declared for the new doctrines, but terrible persecutions thinned their ranks. According to the latest statistics there are 1,109,154 Lutherans and 2,024,332 Calvinists in Hungary. The Saxons of Transylvania belong almost exclusively to the Reformed faith; they had always preserved in a remarkable degree their love for civil and political freedom, hence their minds were prepared to receive Protestantism. Three monks from Silesia, converts to Luther's views, came into these parts to preach, passing from one village to another, and in the towns they "held catechisings and preachings in the public squares and market-places," where crowds came from all the country round to hear them. The peasants went back to their mountain homes with Bibles in their hands; and since that time the simple folk, through wars and persecutions, have held steadfast to their faith.
Herrmannstadt became a second Wittenberg: the new doctrine was not more powerful in the town where Luther lived. Several bishops joined the party of the seceders, and already the towns throughout Hungary had generally declared for the Reformation; in many the "Catholic priests were left, as shepherds without flocks." When Popish ceremonies aroused the ridicule of the people, and when even in country districts the priests who came to demand their tithes were dismissed without their "fat ducks and geese," there was a general outcry against the new heresy. The Romish party knew their strength at the Court of Vienna. At the instigation of the Papal legate Cajetan, Louis II. issued the terrible edict of 1523, which ran as follows: "All Lutherans, and those who favour them, as well as all adherents to their sect, shall have their property confiscated and themselves be punished with death as heretics and foes of the most holy Virgin Mary."
While the monks were stirring up their partisans to have the Lutherans put to death, a national misfortune happened which saved Protestantism, at least in Transylvania. Soliman the Magnificent set out from Constantinople in the spring of 1526 with a mighty host, which came nearer and nearer to Hungary like the "wasting levin." King Louis lost his army and his life at the battle of Mohacks, leaving the Turks to pursue their way into the heart of the country, slaughtering upwards of 200,000 of its inhabitants. To this calamity, as we all know, succeeded an internal civil war, resulting from the rival claims of John Zapolya and the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria for the crown of Hungary. Transylvania took advantage of this critical time to achieve her independence under Zapolya, consenting to pay tribute to the Porte on condition of receiving assistance against the tyranny of Austria. Thus it came about that the infidel Turks helped to preserve the Reformation in this part of Europe: they became the defenders of Protestant Transylvania against the tyranny of Roman Catholic Austria. "Sell what thou hast and depart into Transylvania, where thou wilt have liberty to profess the truth," were the words spoken by King Ferdinand himself to Stephen Szantai, a zealous preacher of the gospel in Upper Hungary, whom he desired to defend.
It is said that the first printing-press set up in Hungary was the gift of Count Nadasdy to Matthias Devay, who was devoted to the education of youth; and the first work that was issued from the press was a book for children, teaching the rudiments of the gospel in the language of the country. The same Protestant nobleman aided the publication in 1541 of an edition of the New Testament in the Magyar tongue. "It is a remarkable fact," says Mr Patterson, "connected with the history of Protestantism, that all its converts were made within the pale of Latin Christianity. In the nationalities of Hungary there belonged to Latin Christianity the Magyars, the Slovacks, and the Germans."
In Transylvania the progress of Protestantism was secured. In 1553 the Diet declared in favour of the Reformation by a majority of votes, and while the province was governed by Petrovich, during the minority of Zapolya's infant son, he freed the whole of Transylvania from the jurisdiction of the Roman hierarchy.
When the Turks were finally expelled from Hungary by the second battle of Mohacks in 1686, Protestantism had grown strong enough in Transylvania to extract from the house of Hapsburg the celebrated Diploma Leopoldium (their Magna Charta), which secured to them religious liberty once and for ever.
[Footnote 15: See The History of Protestantism, by Rev. J.A. Wylie, Part 29.]
[Footnote 16: The Magyars; their Country and Institutions.]
Political difficulties—Impatient criticism of foreigners—Hungary has everything to do—Tenant-farmers wanted—Wages.
It is remarkable that the Saxons in Transylvania, who had suffered so much tribulation from the religious persecutions of the house of Hapsburg, preferring even to shelter themselves under the protection of the Turk, should be the first to support the tyranny of Austria against the Magyars in 1848.
I visited at the house of a village pastor, who told me he had himself led four hundred Saxons against the Hungarians at that time. The remembrance of that era is not yet effaced; so many people not much beyond middle age had taken part in the war that the bitterness has not passed out of the personal stage. Pacification and reconciliation, and all the Christian virtues, have been evoked; but underlying the calm surface, all the old hatreds of race still exist. Nothing assimilates socially or politically in Hungary. The troubled history of the past reappears in the political difficulty of the present. And what can be done when the Magyar will not hold with the Saxon, and the Saxon cannot away with the Szekler? Are not the ever-increasing Wallacks getting numerically ahead of the rest, while the Southern Slavs threaten the integrity of the empire?
Prosperity is the best solvent for disaffection. When the resources of Hungary are properly developed, and wealth results to the many, bringing education and general enlightenment in its train, there will be a common ground of interest, even amongst those who differ in race, religion, and language. It was a saying of the patriotic Count Szechenyi, and the saying has passed into a proverb, "Make money, and enrich the country; an empty sack will topple over, but if you fill it, it will stand by its own weight."
"You call yourselves 'the English of the East,'" I said one day to a Hungarian friend of mine; "but how is it you are not more practical, since you pay us the compliment of following our lead in many things?"
"You do not see that in many respects we are children, the Hungarians are children," replied my friend. "'We are not, but we shall be,' said one of our patriots. You Britishers are rash in your impatient criticism of a state which has not come to its full growth. It is hardly thirty years since we emerged from the middle ages, so to speak; and you expect our civilisation to have the well-worn polish of Western States. Think how recently we have emancipated our serfs, and reformed our constitution and our laws. Take into account, too, that just as we were setting our house in order, the enemy was at the gate—progress was arrested, and our national life paralysed; but let that pass, we don't want to look back, we want to look forward. We have still to build up the structure that with you is finished; we are deficient in everything that a state wants in these days, and in our haste to make railways, roads, and bridges, to erect public buildings, and to promote industrial enterprises, we make certain financial blunders. You must not forget that we in Hungary are much in the same state that you were in England in the thirteenth century, before tenant-holdings had become general. We shall gradually learn to see the advantages to be derived from letting land on your farm system. There is nothing we desire so much as the creation of the tenant-farmer class, which hardly exists yet. Large estates would be far better divided and let as farms on your system. We are in a transition state as regards many things in agricultural matters. English or Scotch farmers would be welcomed over here by the great landowners. Your countryman, Professor Wrightson, convinced himself of this when he was here in 1873. If they could command some capital, the produce of the land in many instances could be doubled."
I asked my friend about labourers' wages, but he said it was difficult to give any fixed rate. A mere agricultural day-labourer would get from 1s. 3d. to 1s. 6d.; sometimes the evil practice of paying wages in kind obtained—viz., a man receives so much Indian corn (kukoricz). And not unfrequently a peasant undertakes to plough the fields twice, to hoe them three times, and to see the crop housed, for which he receives the half of the yield provided he has furnished the seed. The peasants' own lands, as a rule, are very badly managed; their ploughing is shallow, and they do nothing or next to nothing in the way of drainage.
Want of progress amongst the Saxons—The Burzenland—Kronstadt—Mixed character of its inhabitants—Szeklers—General Bem's campaign.
It was a glorious morning when I left the comfortable village of Zeiden. Before me were the rich pastures of the Burzenland, a tract which tradition says was once filled up by the waters of a great lake, till some Saxon hero hewed a passage through the mountains in the Geisterwald for the river Aluta, thus draining this fertile region.
The mountainous wall to the rear of Zeiden is clothed by magnificent hanging woods, which at the time I describe were just tinged with the first rich touches of autumn. It was a lovely ride through this fertile vale. On every side I saw myself surrounded by the lofty Carpathians, or the lesser spurs of that grand range of mountains; the higher peaks to the south and south-east were already capped with snow. The village in which I had so agreeably sojourned for a couple of days almost rises to the dignity of a little town, for it has nearly 4000 inhabitants. Considering its situation, on the verge of this rich plain, and many other local circumstances, it is, I suppose, a very favourable example of a German settlement in Transylvania. I had been struck by the extreme neatness of the dwellings and the generally well-to-do air of the people, but there is nothing progressive about these Saxons. I saw plainly that what their fathers did before them they do themselves, and expect their sons to follow in the same groove. There is amongst them generally a dead level of content incomprehensible to a restless Englishman.
When I asked why they did not try to turn this or that natural advantage to account, I was met with the reply, "Our fathers have done very well without it, why should not we?" I could never discover any inclination amongst the Saxons to initiate any fresh commercial enterprise either at home or abroad, nor would they respond with any interest to the most tempting suggestions as to ways and means of increasing their possessions. It is all very well to draw the moral picture of a contented people. Contentment under some circumstances is the first stage of rottenness. The inevitable law of change works the deterioration of a race which does not progress. This fact admits of practical proof here. For instance, the cloth manufactures of Transylvania are falling into decay, and there is nothing else of an industrial kind substituted. The result is a decrease of the general prosperity, and a marked diminution in the population of the towns. Nor is this the case in populous places only. The Saxon villager desires to transmit the small estate he derived from his father intact to his only son. He does not desire a large family; it would tax his energies too much to provide for that. It is deeply to be lamented that a superior race like the educated Saxons of Transylvania, who held their own so bravely against Turk and Tartar, and, what was more difficult still, preserved their religious liberty in spite of Austrian Jesuits, should now be losing their political ascendancy, owing mainly to their displacement by the Wallacks. According to the last census, the German immigrants in Hungary are estimated at 1,820,922. I have no means of making an accurate comparison, but I hear on all hands that the numbers are diminished. There are, besides, proofs of it in the case of villages which were exclusively Saxon having now become partly, even wholly, Wallachian.
There are wonderfully few chateaux in this picturesque land. In my frequent rides over the Burzenland I rarely saw any dwellings above what we should attribute to a yeoman farmer. As a matter of fact there are fewer aristocrats in this part of Hungary, or perhaps I should say this part of Transylvania, than in any other.
After my pleasant morning's ride I found myself at Kronstadt, and put up at Hotel "No. 1"—an odd name for a fairly good inn. There is another farther in town—the Hotel Bucharest—also a place of some pretension. The charges for rooms generally in the country are out of all proportion to the accommodation given. Travellers are rare, at least they used to be before the present war; but Kronstadt is the terminus of the direct railway from Buda-Pest, which, communicating with the Tomoescher Pass over the Carpathians, is the shortest route to Bucharest.
As far as the buildings are concerned, Kronstadt has much the air of an old-fashioned German town. As you pass along the streets you get a peep now and then of picturesque interior courtyards, seen through the wide-arched doorways. These courts are mostly surrounded by an open arcade. Generally in the centre of each is set a large green tub holding an oleander-tree. This gives rather an Oriental appearance to these interiors. The East and West are here mixed up together most curiously. Amongst the fair-haired, blue-eyed Saxons are dusky Armenians and black-ringleted Jews, wearing strange garments. By the way, the merchants of these two races have ousted the Saxon trader from the field; commerce is almost completely in their hands.
The market-day at Kronstadt is a most curious and interesting sight. The country-people come in, sitting in their long waggons, drawn by four horses abreast, they themselves dressed in cloaks of snow-white sheepskins, or richly-embroidered white leather coats lined with black fur. The head-gear too is very comely, and very dissimilar; for there are flat fur caps—like an exaggerated Glengarry—and peaked hats, and drum-shaped hats for the girls, while the close-twisted white kerchief denotes the matron. The Wallack maiden is adorned by her dowry of coins hanging over head and shoulders, and with braids of plaited black hair—mingled, I am afraid, with tow, if the truth must be spoken.
Kronstadt is rather a considerable place; the population is stated to be 27,766, composed of Saxons, Szeklers, and Wallacks, who have each their separate quarter. It is most beautifully situated, quite amongst the mountains; in fact it is 2000 feet above the sea-level. The Saxon part of the town is built in the opening of a richly-wooded valley. The approach from the vale beyond—the Burzenland, of which I have spoken before—is guarded by a singular isolated rock, a spur of the mountain-chain. This natural defence is crowned by a fortress, which forms a very picturesque feature in the landscape. Formerly the town was completely surrounded by walls, curtained on the hillside, reminding one of Lucern's "coronal of towers." In the "brave days of old" the trade-guilds were severally allotted their forts for the defence of the town—no holiday task for volunteers, as in our "right little, tight little island."
Though the dangers of the frontier are by no means a thing of the past, the town walls and the towers are mainly in ruins, overgrown with wild vines and other luxuriant vegetation. As no guidebook exists to tell one what one ought to see, and where one ought to go, I had all the pleasure of poking about and coming upon surprises. I was not aware that the church at Kronstadt is about the finest specimen of fourteenth-century Gothic in Transylvania, ranking second only to the Cathedral of Kashau in Upper Hungary.
My first walk was to the Kapellenburg, a hill which rises abruptly from the very walls of the town. An hour's climb through a shady zigzag brought me to the summit. From thence I could see the "seven villages" which, according to some persons, gave the German name to the province, Siebenbuergen, "seven towns." The level Burzenland looked almost like a green lake; beyond it the chain of the Carpathian takes a bend, forming the frontier of Roumania. The highest point seen from thence is the Schuelerberg, upwards of 8000 feet, and a little farther off the Koenigstein, and the Butschrtsch, the latter reaching 9526 feet. Hardly less picturesque is the view from the Castle Hill. Quite separated from the rest of the town is the quarter inhabited by the Szeklers. This people constitute one of four principal races inhabiting Transylvania. They are of Turanian origin, like the Magyars, but apparently an older branch of the family. When the Magyars overran Pannonia in the tenth century, under the headship of the great Arpad, they appear to have found the Szeklers already in possession of part of the vast Carpathian horseshoe—that part known to us as the Transylvanian frontier of Moldavia. They claim to have come hither as early as the fourth century. It is known that an earlier wave of the Turanians had swept over Europe before the incoming of the Magyars, and the so-called Szeklers were probably a tribe or remnant of this invasion, the date of which, however, is wrapped in no little obscurity.
This is certain, that they have preserved their independence throughout all these ages in a very remarkable manner. "They are all 'noble,'" says Mr Boner, "and proudly and steadfastly adhere to and uphold their old rights and privileges, such as right of limiting and of pasture. They had their own judges, and acknowledged the authority of none beside. Like their ancestors the Huns, they loved fighting, and were the best soldiers that Bem had in his army. They guarded the frontier, and guarded it well, of their own free-will; but they would not be compelled to do so, and the very circumstance that Austria, when the border system was established, obliged them to furnish a contingent of one infantry and two hussar regiments sufficed to alienate their regard." In another place Mr Boner says, "The Szekler soldier, I was told, was 'excessive,' which means extreme, in all he did."
In the view of recent events, it may be worth while to recall to mind a few particulars of General Bem's campaign in Transylvania. In no part of Hungary was the war of independence waged with so much bitterness as down here on these border-lands. The Saxons and the Wallacks were bitterly opposed to the Magyars; and on the 12th of May, in the eventful '48, a popular meeting was held at Kronstadt, where they protested vehemently against union with Hungary, and swore allegiance to the Emperor of Austria. Upon this the Szeklers flew to arms—on the side of the Magyars, of course; throughout their history they have always made common cause with them. In the autumn of the same year, Joseph Bem, a native of Galicia, who had fought under Marshal Davoust, later with Macdonald at the siege of Hamburg, arid had also taken part in the Polish insurrection of 1830, attached himself to the Hungarian cause. He had formed a body of troops from the wrecks and remnants of other corps, and soon by his admirable tactics succeeded on two occasions in beating the Austrians at the very outset of his campaign; the latter of these victories was near Dees, to the north of Klausenburg, where he defeated General Wardener. The winter of that terrible year wore on. In Transylvania it was not merely keeping back the common enemy, the invader of the soil, but it was a case where the foes were of the same township, and the nearest neighbours confronted each other on opposite ranks.
The Austrians meanwhile had called in the Russians to aid them in crushing the Hungarians; and at the time it was believed that the Saxons of Transylvania had instigated this measure. It is easy to understand how the Russians would be hated along with their allies; it was a desperate struggle, and well fought out by Magyars and Szeklers, ably handled by General Bem. Herrmannstadt and Kronstadt both fell into his hands, after a vigorous defence by the Austro-Russian garrisons; in fact, by the middle of March '49, the whole of Transylvania, with the exception of Karlsburg and Deva, was held by the troops of this fortunate general. But, as we all know, the Hungarian arms were not so successful elsewhere, and the end of that struggle was approaching, which was to find its saddest hour at Villagos on the 13th of August, when the Hungarians were cajoled into laying down their arms before the Russians!
The rest of the miserable story had better not be dwelt upon. Much has changed in these few years. Now a Hapsburg recognises the privilege of mercy amongst his kingly attributes. The last words of Maximilian, the ill-fated Emperor of Mexico, were, "Let my blood be the last shed as an offering for my country." Since then capital punishment has become of rare occurrence in Austria; and remembering his brother's death, the Emperor, it is said, can hardly be induced to sign a death-warrant!
[Footnote 17: Boner's Transylvania, p. 624.]
The Tomoescher Pass—Projected railway from Kronstadt to Bucharest—Visit to the cavalry barracks at Rosenau—Terzburg Pass—Dr Daubeny on the extinct volcanoes of Hungary—Professor Judd on mineral deposits.
Kronstadt is a capital place as headquarters for any one who desires to explore the neighbouring country. One of my first expeditions was to Sinia, a small bath-place in the Tomoescher Pass, just over the borders—in fact in Roumania. Here Prince Charles has a charming chateau, and there are besides several ambitious Swiss cottages belonging to the wealthy grandees of Roumania. My object was not so much to see the little place, as it was to explore this pass of the Carpathians, now so familiar to newspaper correspondents and others since the Russo-Turkish war began.
As I mentioned before, a railway is projected from Kronstadt through this pass, which will meet the Lemberg and Bucharest line at Ployesti, that station being less than two hours from the Roumanian capital. Up to the present hour not a sod of this railway has been turned; but curiously enough, with only two or three exceptions, all the "war maps" have made the capital mistake of marking it down as a completed line. In the autumn of 1875, when I was there, the levels had been taken and the course marked down; if it is ever really carried out, it will be one of the most beautiful railway drives in Europe. It is a most important link in the railway system of Eastern Europe. The Danube route is frequently, indeed periodically, closed by the winter's ice, and sometimes by the drought of summer, in which case the traveller who wants to get to Roumania must take the train from Buda-Pest to Kronstadt, and thence by road through the Tomoescher Pass to Ployesti.
There is a diligence service twice daily, occupying fourteen hours or thereabouts, dependent, of course, on the state of the roads, which can be very bad—inconceivably bad. For the sake of the excursion I took a place in the postwagen one day as far as Sinia, where there is a modern hotel and very tolerable quarters. The scenery of the pass is very romantic. In places the road winds round the face of the precipice, and far below is a deep sunless glen, through which the mountain torrent rushes noisily over its rocky bed; at other times you skirt the stream with its green margin of meadow—a pastoral oasis amidst the wild grandeur of bare limestone peaks and snowy summits. The autumnal colouring on the hanging woods of oak and beech was something more brilliant than I ever remember to have seen; the effect of being oneself in shadow and seeing the glory of the sunlight on the foliage of the other side of the defile, was most striking. Above this ruby mountain rose other heights with a girdle of dark fir, and higher still were visible yet loftier peaks, clothed in the dazzling whiteness of fresh-fallen snow. In the Southern Carpathians there is no region of perpetual snow, but the higher summits are generally snow-clad late in the spring and very early in the autumn. I was told there is good bear-hunting in this district.
While at Kronstadt I made the acquaintance of some Austrian officers quartered in the neighbourhood. They kindly invited me to the cavalry barracks at Rosenau, and accordingly I went over for a few days. The barracks were built by the people of the village, or rather small town, of Rosenau; for they were obliged by law to quarter the military, and to avoid the inconvenience of having soldiers billeted upon them they constructed a suitable building. The cavalry horses were nearly all in a bad plight when I was there, for they had an epidemic of influenza amongst them; but we found a couple of nags to scramble about with, and made some pleasant excursions. One of our rides was to a place called "The Desolate Path," a singularly wild bit of scenery, and curiously in contrast to the rich fertility of Rosenau and its immediate neighbourhood. This pretty little market town lies at the foot of a hill, which is crowned with a romantic ruin, one of the seven burgher fortresses built by the Saxon immigrants. There is a remarkably pretty walk from the village to the "Odenweg," a romantic ravine, with beautiful hanging woods and castellated rocks disposed about in every sort of fantastic form. It reminded me somewhat of some parts of the Odenwald near Heidelberg. Very likely the wild and mysterious character of the spot led the German settlers to associate with it the name of Oden.
We also rode over the Terzburg Pass. The picturesque castle which gives its name to this pass is situated on an isolated rock, admirably calculated for defence in the old days. It belonged once upon a time to the Teutonic Knights, who held it on condition of defending the frontier; but they became so intolerable to the burghers of Kronstadt, that these informed their sovereign that they preferred being their own defenders, and thus the castle and nine villages were given over to the town. The Germans who had left their own Rhine country for the sake of getting away from the robber knights were not anxious for that special mediaeval institution to accompany them in their flitting, we may be sure. The democratic character of the laws and customs of the Germans of Transylvania is a very curious and interesting study; in not a few instances these people have anticipated by some centuries the liberal ideas of Western Europe in our own day.