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Work(s) of Maurus Jokai


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[Biography of Maurus Jokai]
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Biography of Maurus Jokai [Top]

DR. MAURUS JOKAI (02/19/1825 - 05/05/2022)

A Sketch

To a man who has earned such titles as "The Shakespeare of Hungary" and "The Glory of Hungarian Literature"; who published in fifty years three hundred and fifty novels, dramas, and miscellaneous works, not to mention innumerable articles for the press that owes its freedom chiefly to him, it seems incredible that there was ever a time of indecision as to what career he was best fitted to follow. The idle life of the nobility into which Maurus Jokay was born in 1825 had no attractions for a strongly intellectual boy, fired with zeal and energy that carried him easily to the head of each class in school and college; nor did he feel any attraction for the prosaic practice of law, his father's profession, to which Austria's despotism drove many a nobleman in those wretched days for Hungary. It was Petofi, the poet, who was his dearest friend during the student-life at Papa; idealism ever attracted him, and, by natural gravitation toward the finest minds, he chose the friendship of young men who quickly rose into eminence during the days of revolution and invasion that tried men's souls.

For a time Jokay, as he then wrote his name, was undecided whether to choose literature or art as an outlet for the idealism, imagination, and devotion that overflowed in two directions from this boy of seventeen. With some of the inherited artistic talent, which in his relative Munkacsy amounted to genius, he felt most inclined toward painting and sculpture, and finally consecrated himself to them. In his library at Budapest there now stands a small, well-executed bust of his wife in ivory; and on the walls hang several landscapes and still-life paintings, which he showed with a smile to an American visitor, who stood silent before them last winter, hoping for some inspiration of speech that would reconcile politeness with veracity and her own ideals of good art. If a "deep love for art and an ardent desire to excel" will "more than compensate for the want of method," to quote Sir Joshua Reynolds, then Jokay would have been a great painter indeed. While he never was that, his chisel and brushes have remained a recreation and delight to him always.

Apparently he was diverted from art to literature by a trifle; but in the light of later developments it is simple enough to see which was really the greater force working within. The Academy of Arts and Sciences, founded by Szecheni, offered a prize for the best drama, and Jokay won it. He was then seventeen, for careers began early in olden times. When twenty-one his first novel, "Work Days," met with great applause; other romances quickly followed, and, as they dealt with the social and political tendencies that fanned the revolution into flame two years later, their success was instantaneous. His true representations of Hungarian life and character, his passionate love of liberty, his lofty idealism for his crushed and lethargic country, aroused a great wave of patriotism like a call to arms, and consecrated him to work with his pen for the freedom of the common people. Henceforth paint-brushes were cast aside.

Petofi and Jokay, teeming with great ideas, quickly attracted other writers and young men of the university about them, and, each helping the other, brought about a bloodless revolution that secured, among other inestimable boons, the freedom of a censored, degraded press. And yet the only act of violence these young revolutionists committed was in entering a printing establishment and setting up with their own hands the type for Petofi's poem, that afterward became the war-song of the national movement. At that very establishment was soon to be printed a proclamation granting twelve of their dearest wishes to the people. From this time Jokay changed the spelling of his name to Jokai, _y_ being a badge of nobility hateful to disciples of the doctrine of liberty, fraternity, equality.

About this time Jokai married the Rachel of the Hungarian stage, Rosa Laborfalvy. The portrait of her that hangs in her husband's famous library shows a beautiful woman of intense sensitiveness, into whose face some of the sadness of her roles seems to have crept. It was to her powers of impersonation and disguise that Jokai owed his life many years later, when, imprisoned and suffering in a dungeon, he was enabled to escape in her clothes to join Kossuth in the desperate fight against the allied armies of Austria and Russia. Since her death he has lived in retirement.

The bloodless revolution of 1848, which suddenly transformed Hungary into a modern state, possessing civil and religious liberty for which the young idealists led by Kossuth had labored with such passionate zeal, was not effected without antagonizing the old aristocracy, all of whose cherished institutions were suddenly swept away; or the semi-barbaric people of the peasant class, who could little appreciate the beneficent reforms. Into the awful civil war that followed, when the horrors of an Austrian-Russian invasion were added to the already desperate situation, Jokai plunged with magnificent heroism. Side by side with Kossuth, he fought with sword and pen. Those who heard him deliver an address at the Peace Congress at Brussels two years ago felt through his impassioned eloquence that the man had himself drained the bitterest dregs of war.

While Kossuth lived in exile in England and the United States, and many other compatriots escaped to Turkey and beyond, Jokai, in concealment at home, writing under an assumed name and with a price on his head, continued his work for social reform, until a universal pardon was granted by Austria and the saddened idealists once more dared show their faces in devastated Hungary.

Ripe with experience and full of splendid intellectual power, Jokai now turned his whole attention to literature. The pages of his novels glow with the warmth of the man's intensity of feeling: his pen had been touched by a living coal. He knew his country as no other man has known it; and transferred its types, its manners, its life in high degree and low, to the pages of his romances and dramas with a brilliancy and mastery of style that captivated the people, whose idol he still remains. Scenes from Turkish life--in which, next to Hungarian, he is particularly interested; historical novels, romances of pure imagination, short tales, dramatic works, essays on literature and social questions, came pouring from his surcharged brain and heart. The very virtues of his work, its intensity, and the boundless scope of its imagination, sometimes produce a lack of unity and an improbability to which the hypercritical in the West draw attention with a sense of superior wisdom; but the Hungarians themselves, who know whereof he writes, can see no faults whatever in his work. It is essentially idealistic; the true and the beautiful shine through it with radiant lustre, in sharp distinction from the scenes of famine and carnage that abound. His Turkish stories have been described as "full of blood and roses."

Of his more mature productions, the best known are: "A Magyar Nabob"; "The Fools of Love"; "The New Landlord"; "Black Diamonds"; "A Romance of the Coming Century"; "Handsome Michael"; "God is One," in which the Unitarians play an important part; "The Nameless Castle," that gives an account of the Hungarian army employed against Napoleon in 1809; "Captive Raby," a romance of the times of Joseph II.; and "As We Grow Old," the latter being the author's own favorite and, strangely enough, the people's also. Dr. Jokai greatly deplores that what the critics call his best work should not have been given to the English-speaking people.

In 1896 Hungary celebrated the completion of his fifty years of literary labor by issuing a beautiful jubilee edition of his works, for which the people of all grades of society subscribed $100,000. Every county in the country sent him memorials in the form of albums wrought in gold and precious stones, two hundred of these souvenirs filling one side of the author's large library and reception-room. Low bookcases running around the walls are filled only with his own publications, the various editions of his three hundred and fifty books making a large library in themselves. The cabinets hold sketches and paintings sent by the artists of Hungary as a jubilee gift; there are cases containing carvings, embroidery, lace, and natural-history specimens sent him by the peasants, and orders in gold and silver, studded with jewels, with autograph letters from the kings and queens of Europe. In the midst of all this inspiring display of loving appreciation, Dr. Jokai has his desk; a pile of neatly written, even manuscript ever before him, for in his seventy-fourth year he still feels the old-time passion for work calling him to it early in the morning and holding him in its spell all the day long. A small room adjoining his library contains the books of reference he consults, a narrow bed like a soldier's, and a few window plants. It might be the room of a monk, so bare is it of what the world calls comforts. One devoted man-servant attends to Dr. Jokai's simple wants with abundant leisure to spare.

While in Budapest Dr. Jokai is seldom seen away from home, except in Parliament, where he has a seat in the Upper House, or at the theatre where his plays are regularly performed, or at the table of a few dear relatives and old-time friends. His life is exceedingly simple and well ordered.

Just a little way back on the hills that rise beyond Buda, across the Danube and overlooking wide stretches of beautiful, fertile country, stands Dr. Jokai's summer-home. His garden is a paradise. Quantities of roses climb over the unpretentious house, the paths are lined with them; gay beds of poppies and other familiar favorites in our Western gardens, but many new to American eyes, crowd the fruit that grows in delightful abundance everywhere, for Dr. Jokai tends his garden with his own hands, and his horticultural wisdom is only second to his knowledge of the Turkish wars. His apples, pears, and roses win prizes at all the shows, and his little book, "Hints on Gardening," propagates a large crop of like-minded enthusiasts year after year. Now, as ever, any knowledge he has he shares with the people. After a long life of bitter stress and labor, abundant peace has come in the latter days.

Hungary boasts four great men: Liszt, Munkacsy, Kossuth, and Jokai, who was the intimate friend of the other three.



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