With the eyes of a British traveller

quotes from:

John Paget, Hungary and Transylvania
, Vol. I & II, Arno Press & The New York Times, New York, 1971
Based on the John Murray, Albemarle Street, London, 1850 edition

Vol. II, BANAT [in 1836]

Triebswetter, photo by Jürgen Ludwig

It was by Szegedin that we entered this El Dorado

Our route from thence to Temesvár, lay through a flat, and often swampy country; but at the same time so overladen with the riches of production that

I do not recollect ever to have seen so luxuriant a prospect in any other part of the world

t was the month of July, and the harvest was already begun. Every field was waving with the bright yellow corn, often so full in the head as to have sunk under its own weight, and the whole field seemed alive with labourers…

It is not one hundred years since the Turks were in possession of this province; and it was not till the close of the last century, that it was entirely free from Moslem incursion. Those who have visited any of the countries under the Ottoman rule, will easily understand the wild and savage state in which this beautiful land then was. The philanthropic Joseph II. determined to render it equally populous and civilized with the rest of Hungary. From the flatness of a large portion of the surface, and from the quantity of rivers by which it is watered, immense morasses were formed, which tainted the air, and made it really then what some French writer now undeservedly calls it “le tombeau des étrangers.

The soil, a rich black loam, hitherto untouched by the plough, yielded the most extraordinary produce. Fortunes were rapidly made; and, at present day, some of the wealthiest of the Hungarian gentry were, half a century ago, poor adventurers in the Banat.

Except the olive and orange, there is scarcely a product of Europe which does not thrive in the Banat. I do not know that I can enumerate all the kinds of crop raised; but, among others, are wheat, barley, oats, rye, rice, maize, flax, hemp, rape, sun-flower (for oil), tobacco of different kinds, wine, and silk, - nay, even cotton, tried as an experiment, is said to have succeeded.

But one of the most curious features of the Banat is the motley appearance of its inhabitants, who, as the different races are generally in distinct villages, have preserved their national characteristics quite pure. In one village which, from the superiority of its buildings, and from the large and handsome school-house, you at once recognize to be German, you still see the old-fashioned costume of the Bavarian broom-girl, and the light blue eyes and sandy hair of their colder fatherland. […] The languages are preserved as pure as other nationalisms…

It is scarcely possible, in passing through some of the German villages of the Banat, such for instance like Hatzfeld, not to exclaim as a Scotch friend of mine did, “Would to God our own people could enjoy the prosperity in which these peasants live.

It is, in fact, impossible to imagine those who live by the labour of their hands, enjoying more of the material good things of the world than they do

In addition to the richest land in the country, the Banat peasant has many privileges peculiar to himself, conferred when it was an object to attract settlers from other districts, and these he still preserves.

Christening party in Triebswetter


Some of John Paget's general observations about the environment of our ancestors in those times in:

Chapter 1

(of the same book)

p. 1 – It was about the middle of June, 1835, that we shook the dust of Vienna from our feet, and bent our steps towards the confines of Hungary.

p.2 – The reader would certainly laugh, as I have often done since, did I tell him one half the foolish tales the good Viennese told us of the country we were about to visit. No road! no inns! no police! we must sleep on the ground, eat where we could, and be ready to defend our purses and our lives at every moment! In full credence of these reports, we provided ourselves most plentifully with arms […]. It may, however, ease the readers mind to know that no occasion to shoot anything more formidable than a partridge or hare ever presented itself; and that we finished our journey with the full conviction, that travelling in Hungary was just as safe as travelling in England. [...] Why or wherefore, I know not, but nothing can exceed the horror with which a true Austrian regards both Hungary and its inhabitants. […] the inbred and absurd fear which they entertain for such near neighbours. It is true, the Hungarians do sometimes talk about liberty, constitutional rights, and other such terrible things, to which no well disposed ears should ever be open, and to which the ears of the Viennese are religiously closed.

p.3 – [Emperor Franz (der gute Franzl)]: „I don’t want learned subjects – I want good subjects.” […] no man had more reason to be content than the late Emperor of Austria; for a more unintellectual, eating and drinking, dancing and music-loving people do not exist, than the good people of Vienna. […] nothing will ever induce them to desire a change.

p.7 – The reader must not imagine that he is about to visit one people on entering Hungary, but rather a collection of many races, united by geographical position and other circumstances into one nation, but which still preserve all their original peculiarities of language, dress, religion, and manners.

p. 10 - … and in marched a hussar in a very gay uniform, and making such martial music in the gingling of his sabre and spurs, that we could scarcely comprehend that he was merely a servant sent to announce the visit of his master, who was waiting below, to know if we were at home. In a few minutes, however, appeared the master himself; and if his servant has astonished us I leave the reader to guess what was the impression produced upon our minds by a tall very handsome man, dressed in the most becoming uniform of green and gold, with a mantle richly lined with fur hanging over his shoulders, and which he bore with a grace and an elegance of manner rarely to be seen. It was the Baron V---, to whom we had a letter of introduction […]. This was the first time we had ever seen the modern Hungarian costume, and it was impossible not to be struck with its beauty and elegance.

p.13 – Hungarian cookery is generally savoury, but too greasy to be good. Some of the national dishes, however, are excellent; but the stranger rarely finds them except in the peasant’s cottage.

p.14 – Unfortunately, Hungarian wines are not only good but cheap, and that is enough to prove they cannot be fashionable.

p.15 – Not that I saw anything of that revolutionary spirit at which Austria seems so terribly alarmed, and which German strangers often attribute to the Hungarians, because they talk loudly and openly of matters which their neighbours dare not even whisper; on the contrary, I believe there is among them a stronger feeling of loyalty to their king, and love for their institutions as they are, than is to be found in almost any other part of Euope.

p. 16 – [speaking about the educated youth]; – There is a friendly warmth in their manner, an air of sincerity and frankness in all they say and do, and a total absence of affectation, which rendered their society truly agreeable for us. As for their fear of speaking out their minds, which the Englishman so often sees and regrets among other nations of the continent, the Hungarians are quite as free from it as ourselves. They may be surrounded by spies and police, but they certainly take very little heed of them.

p. 27 – [about the dancing parties of the ordinary folk]: … no mincing hard quadrilles, but honest hard waltzing and gallopading.

p. 29 – [about the politician Deák Ferenc]: He spoke in Hungarian and I was much struck with the sonorous, emphatic, and singularly clear character of the language. From the number of words ending in consonants, particularly in k, every word is distinctly marked even to the ear of one totally unacquainted with the language. I cannot charcterize the Hungarian as either soft or musical, but it is strong, energetic, manly. The intonation with which it is uttered, gives it in ordinary conversation a melancholy air, but when impassioned nothing can exceed it in boldness.

p. 50 – [about the Magyars): ... that mixture of Asiatic and Gothic […], the remains of which even yet distinguish them from the rest of Europe.

- [about the Eszterházy jewels]: ... they can never be sold except to ransom their possessor from captivity among the Turks.

p. 51 – [about Hungary]: … exerting all her energies to preserve her liberties and nationality…

p. 52 – Owing to the wooden tiles which the houses are commonly roofed in Hungary, the danger of fire is very great; and in almost every town a watchman is consequently employed to give the alarm, and as a sign of his vigilance he is obliged to blow a shrill whistle every quarter of an hour, day and night.

p. 53 – …better acquainted with the face and form of this noble land.

p. 56 – …the grooms, I know, always sleep in the stable, for an Hungarian does not believe that his horses would live through the night if the groom were not there to take care of them.

– …the high rooms and folding doors of the Hungarians...

p. 66 – Every little cottage in Pistjan is distinguished by a sign over the door. […] “That is because Hungary is a free country”, said he, “and won’t allow the Emperor to number the houses… instead of saying “I live at No. 10” say “I live at the Blue Hussar or the Golden Duck.”