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József Eötvös

József baron Eötvös de Vásárosnamény (3 September 1813 – 2 February 1871) was a Hungarian writer and statesman, the son of Ignacz baron Eötvös de Vásárosnamény and Anna von Lilien, who stemmed from an Erbsälzer family of Werl in Germany.


He received an excellent education and also spent many years in western Europe, assimilating the new ideas both literary and political, and making the acquaintance of the leaders of the Romantic school. On his return to Hungary he wrote his first political work, Prison Reform; and at the diet of 1839–1840 he made a great impression by his eloquence and learning. One of his first speeches (published, with additional matter, in 1841) warmly advocated Jewish emancipation. In 1842 he married Ágnes Rosty, daughter of Adalbert Rosty.[1]

Eötvös disseminated his progressive ideas in the columns of the Pesti Hírlap, as well as in his novels The Village Notary (1844–1846) - one of the classics of Hungarian literature - Hungary in 1514, and the comedy Long live Equality! The February Hungarian Revolution of 1848 was the complete triumph of Eötvös's ideas, and he held the portfolio of public worship and instruction in the first Hungarian ministry. Eötvös, Ferenc Deák and István Széchenyi represented the pacific, moderating influence in the council of ministers, but when the premier, Lajos Batthyány, resigned, Eötvös retired for a time to Munich during the War of Independence. Yet he continued to serve the cause in his influential writings, for example Influence of the Ruling Ideas of the 19th century on the State (Pest, 1851–1854, German editions at Vienna and Leipzig the same year).[1]

Portrait of József Eötvös
by Miklós Barabás

On his return home, in 1851, he abstained from all political movements. In 1859 he published The Guarantees of the Power and Unity of Austria (the German edition was published in Leipzig the same year), in which he tried to arrive at a compromise between personal union and ministerial responsibility on the one hand and centralization on the other. After the Italian war, however, such a position was regarded as inadequate by the majority of the nation. In the diets of 1861, 1865, and 1867 Eötvös was one of the most loyal followers of Deák, with whose policy he now completely associated himself. On the formation of the Andrássy cabinet in February 1867 he once more accepted the portfolio of public worship and education, being the only one of the ministers of 1848 who thus returned to office. He had now, at last, the opportunity of realizing the ideals of a lifetime. That very year the diet passed his bill for the emancipation of the Jews; though his further efforts in the direction of religious liberty were less successful, owing to the opposition of the Catholics. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the National Schools Act, the most complete system of education provided for Hungary since the days of Maria Theresa. In 1866, he was elected president of the Hungarian academy. He died at Pest on 2 February 1871. On 3 May 1879 a statue was erected to him at Pest in the square which bears his name.[2]

Eötvös occupies a prominent place in Hungarian literature. The best of his verses are to be found in his ballads, but he is better known for his novels. When he published The Carthusians, written on the occasion of the floods at Pest in 1838, the Hungarian novel was still in its infancy, being chiefly represented by the historico-epics of Jsikh. Eötvös first modernized it, giving prominence in his pages to current social problems and political aspirations. The famous Village Notary came still nearer to actual life, while Hungary in 1514 is especially interesting because it attributes the great national catastrophe of the Battle of Mohács to the blind selfishness of the Hungarian nobility and the intense sufferings of the people under them. The best edition of Eötvös collected works is that of 1891, in 17 volumes. Comparatively few of his writings have been translated, but there is a good English version (London, 1850) and numerous German versions of The Village Notary, while The Emancipation of the Jews has been translated

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