"Yes, we have wealth under the soil," he replied, "and what we want is
capital to develop our resources. Herein Austria has stood in our way;
you know the old policy of Austria, as far back as Maria Theresa's time,
which was to make Hungary Catholic, to make her poor, and to turn her
people into Germans. This last they will never do; but they have
succeeded in their second project only too well. They have made us poor
enough, they have discouraged manufactures and industries of every kind.
We wish for free trade, but Austria is opposed to it. The manufactures
of Bohemia must be nursed, and accordingly we are made to suffer. We
want to be brought into contact with our customers in Western Europe; we
want, in fact, to get our trade out of the hands of the Jews."
"I wish to ask you your candid opinion about the Jews. Some people say
they are the curse of the country; others again, that Hungarian commerce
would be nowhere without them."
"I will tell you what happens," replied my friend, evading a direct
answer to my latter observation. "A wretched Jew comes into this
village, or some other place - it does not matter, it is always the same
story. He comes probably from Galicia as poor as a rat, he settles
himself in the village, and sells _slivovitz_ on credit to the foolish
peasant, who, besotted with drink and debt, gets into his meshes; in the
end, the Jew having sucked the blood of his victims, possesses himself
of their little property, finds himself the object of universal hatred,
and then he moves on. He makes a fresh start in some other place,
beginning on a higher rung of the ladder; and you will find him sitting
in the highest seats before he has done."
"If your people were less of spendthrifts and managed their affairs
themselves, then the Jews would cease to find a harvest amongst you."
"Yes, that is true," he answered; "but we are not practical; we do not
organise well. The Jew always manages to be the middle-man between
ourselves and the consumers."
"But without the Jew you would perhaps not even get so near to the
consumer," I observed quietly.
My host puffed out a volume of smoke, and after a pause observed, before
he placed his pipe again between his lips, "In this part of the country,
in the Szeklerland, the better class of merchants are nearly all
Apropos of the tax question, I have looked into the matter since, and I
am rather surprised to find the proportion not so heavy as I thought; on
the whole population it is about £1 a-head - certainly less than is borne
by many other states. In England, I believe, we are taxed at over £2
a-head. Then, again, it is true that since 1870 there has been an annual
deficit, and the equilibrium of income and expenditure can hardly be
counted upon just yet; still things are moving in the right direction.
The Hungarians have been reproached for managing their finances badly
since the compromise with Austria in 1867, when the revenue came
exclusively under their own control. But in answer they say, that having
so lately entered the community of states, they found themselves in the
position of a minor who comes into house and lands that have need of
every sort of radical repair and improvement. Hungary has had to spend
heavily upon road-making, bridges, railroads, sanatory and other
economic improvements, and very heavily for rectification of the course
of the Danube; in fact they have ambitiously set themselves too much to
do in the time. They have rendered Buda-Pest, with its magnificent river
embankments, one of the finest capitals in Europe. The Magyar does
everything with a degree of splendour that savours of the Oriental.
They know not the meaning of the homely adage which tells a man to "cut
his coat according to his cloth."
Added to the pressure of accumulated expenses, Hungary has had a
succession of bad harvests - she has been passing through the seven lean
years. The last season has shown, however, a decided improvement, so we
may hope the bad corner is turned. I am informed that this year the
schedule for unpaid - viz., arrears of - taxes is completely wiped off.
Then, again, the income-tax in the space of five years ending 1874
increased from 5,684,000 florins to 27,650,000 florins!
The financial account of the current year is reassuring. At the sitting
of the Hungarian Diet on the 30th October, the minister, in
presenting the estimates for 1878, said that in 1876 and 1877 the
expenditure had been reduced by £1,250,000. It was not possible to
continue at the same rate, and the net reduction next year would be
£360,000. It is true the deficit of 1877 is £1,600,000, a sufficiently
grave sum; but to judge the position fairly it is necessary to look at
the budgets of former years. In 1874, "in consequence of rather too
hasty investment of money in railways and other public works," the
deficit was £6,000,700; in 1876 it had fallen to £3,100,000. The present
year, therefore, shows a steady reduction of those ugly figures at the
wrong side of the national account.
[Footnote 20: 'Hungarian Finances,' the Times, October 31, 1877.]
Copper mine of Balanbanya - Miners in the wine-shop - Ride to St
Miklos - Visit to an Armenian family - Capture of a robber - Cold ride
to the baths of Borsék.
Having expressed a wish to see the copper mine at Balanbanya, which is
some five miles from Szent Domokos, my host proposed to drive me over
the next morning. When the morning came the weather looked most
unpromising; there was a steady downpour, without any perceptible break
in the clouds in any quarter. I had made up my mind to go, and as after
the noonday meal it cleared slightly, we started. The mud was nearly up
to the axletree of our cart. After driving some time we reached a wild
and rather picturesque valley, in which rises the Alt, or, as it is
called when it reaches Roumania, the Aluta. The course of this stream is
singularly tortuous, winding about through rocks and defiles, often
changing its direction, and finally making a way for itself through the
As we approached the copper mine it had all the appearance of a volcano,
for a heavy cloud of smoke hung over the spot like a canopy. This mine
has been worked for many years; formerly it paid well, but now it is in
the hands of a company, who are working at a loss, if I could believe
what I was told.
I have repeatedly noticed in Hungary that people commit themselves to
works of this kind without the technical knowledge necessary to carry
them on successfully. The necessary capital, too, is generally wanting
to bring these mining operations to a successful issue; added to this
the managers are often not conspicuous for their honesty.
I went over these works, and gave particular attention to the refinery.
Some of the processes for collecting the metal are ingeniously simple
and effective. The copper-ore is remarkably pure, being, it is said,
free from arsenic and antimony. The concern ought to pay, for the copper
is so well esteemed that it obtains the best price in the market.
After inspecting the place, we went into the inn to have some supper,
and while there, several miners came in. I had heard that they were
renowned for their mining songs down in these parts, so I made friends
with the men and begged them to sing. After a little persuasion and a
refilling of glasses they began.
The music of their songs was very mournful, and the words equally so,
descriptive of the dangers the poor miner had to encounter in searching
for ore in the gloomy depths of the earth. I believe my companion, the
postmaster, was very puzzled to understand what could interest me in
these rough miners. The scene was exceedingly picturesque; for some six
or eight of these stalwart fellows, with skin and clothes reddened by
the earth, sat by a long table, each with his flask of wine before him,
while the flicker of an oil-lamp threw its yellow light over the group.
One of the men spoke German, and with him I talked. He had elicited from
me the fact of my being an Englishman, whereupon he asked me a variety
of questions about our mines and our forests. Finally he inquired
whether our bears were as large as theirs. When I told him we had none
he could not credit it, saying, "But you must have bears on the
frontier?" When I explained that we lived upon an island he seemed much
surprised. I saw that his natural politeness prevented his saying what
was in his mind, but it was evident he thought that if the English lived
in an island they could not be such a great people after all.
Not wishing to put my host to expense, more especially as the expedition
was undertaken solely for my benefit and at my suggestion, I paid the
score at the Balanbanya Inn without saying anything. I was very vexed to
find, however, that by doing so I had offended my companion very much.
He reminded me that I was a stranger in Szeklerland and his guest, and
it was contrary to all his ideas of hospitality that I should be the
paymaster. Instead of starting homewards, as we were ready to do, he
ordered more wine and some sardines, being the greatest delicacy the
house afforded. I was obliged to make a show of partaking of something
more, though I had amply supped. For these extras of course my friend
paid, but he was only half appeased, and was never quite the same again.
The following morning I left the house of my too-hospitable
entertainers. My destination now was St Miklos. My road thither lay
through a pine-forest, as lonely a tract as could well be imagined, for
there were no signs whatever of human habitations. Certainly the weird
solitude of a pine-wood is more impressive than any other kind of forest
scenery. Under the impervious shade and the long grey vistas, one moves
forward with something of a superstitious feeling, as though one were
intruding into the sanctuary of unseen spirits. I cannot say that I was
a prey to such idle fancies, for the spirits I was likely to meet would
be very tangible enemies. This district had a bad reputation, owing to
several robberies having been committed in the neighbourhood; in fact
the whole country was just then under martial law. I was well armed, and
being alone I kept my weather-eye open; but I saw not even the ghost of
a brigand, and reached St Miklos in safety.
It is usual when incendiary fires or robberies have been rife in any
district to place that part of the country under the _Statorium_, so
that if any person or persons are caught in _flagrante delicto_, they
are summarily tried and hung before a week is over. When I was in
Transylvania in the autumn of '75, the whole of the north-eastern corner
was under the _Statorium_.
At St Miklos I put up at the house of an Armenian, who received me with
a most frank and kindly welcome, conducting me to the guest-chamber
himself after giving orders to the servants to attend to my horse. St
Miklos is charmingly situated in the valley of Gyergyó, at an elevation
of nearly 3000 feet above the sea-level. Here one is right in amongst
the mountains, the higher summits rising grandly around. The scenery is
very fine. There are interminable forests on every side, broken by
ravines and valleys, with strips of green pasture-land. In former times
these primeval woods were tenanted by the wild aurochs, but now one sees
only the long-horned white cattle and the wiry little horses belonging
to the villages that nestle about in unexpected places. St Miklos is
almost entirely inhabited by Armenians. There is a market here, and it
is considered the central place of the district. The year before my
visit the town was nearly destroyed by fire. Upwards of three hundred
houses were burned down in less than three hours. The loss of property
was considerable, including stores of hay and _kukoricz_ (Indian corn).
Since this conflagration, which caused such widespread distress in the
place, they have established a volunteer fire brigade. This ought to
exist in every village. Prompt action would often arrest the serious
proportions of a fire. It would be a good thing if some substitute could
be found for the wooden tiles used for roofing; in course of time they
become like tinder, and a spark will fire the roof. The houses in
Hungary are not, as a rule, constructed of wood, as in Upper Austria and
Styria, nor are they nearly so picturesque as in that part of the world.
In some Hungarian villages the cottages are painted partly blue and
partly yellow, which has a very odd effect; and throughout the country
they are built with the gable-end to the road.
When I was at St Miklos there was great excitement over the recent
capture of a famous robber chief, whose band had kept the country-side
in a state of alarm for some months past. I was asked if I would like to
go and see him, and of course I was glad to get a sight at last of one
of the robbers of whom I had heard so much in my travels. I was never
more surprised than, on arriving in front of a very shaky wooden
building, to be told that this was the prison. A few resolute fellows
might have easily broken in and effected the rescue of their chief.
There was no romance about the appearance of the miserable wretch that
we found within, stretched on a rough bed with wrists and feet heavily
ironed. These manacles were hardly needed, for he was severely wounded,
and seemed incapable of rising from his pallet. I never saw so repulsive
a countenance; and the flatness of the head was quite remarkable. His
eyes were very prominent, and had the restless look of a hunted animal,
which was painful in the extreme; but there was absolutely no redeeming
expression of human feeling in the dark coarse face. Well, there was
something human about him though. I was told he had been photographed
that morning, and that he had expressed considerable satisfaction at the
idea of his portrait being preserved. He was under sentence of death!
There were various stories told of his capture, but I think the
following is the true account. It appears that he and his gang made
their appearance from time to time in the forest round the well-known
watering-place of Borsék. When visitors were on their way to the baths,
they were frequently stopped by the robbers in a mountain pass, in the
immediate neighbourhood of a dense forest that stretches far away for
miles and miles over the frontier. It was the custom of the robbers to
demand all the money, and they would relieve the travellers of their fur
cloaks and overcoats, and other useful articles; but if they did not
offer any resistance, they were permitted to go on uninjured, to take
their cure at the baths. I should doubt, however, that anybody would be
welcome there without a well-filled purse; at least I judge so from what
I heard of the eminently commercial character of the place.
The robbers had the game in their own hands for a long while, but they
made a mistake one fine day. They stopped a handsome equipage, which
seemed to promise a good haul; but lo, behold, it was the
_Obergespannirz_, the lord-lieutenant of the county! He had four good
horses, and so saved himself by flight. But the authorities now really
bestirred themselves, and the soldiers were called out to exterminate
this troublesome brood. They were accompanied by a renowned bear-slayer
who knew the forest well. It was with great difficulty that they
succeeded at last in tracking the robbers, or rather robber, for it was
only the chief who was trapped after all. It appears that the soldiers
and their guide came upon a small hut surrounded by almost impenetrable
thickets. The hunter crept on in advance of the rest, and looking into
the interior through the chinks of timbers, he saw a man drying his
clothes by a small fire. He quietly said, "Good-day." The robber started
up, and seizing his gun, flung open the door and fired his fowling-piece
at once at his visitor. Fortunately the powder proved to be damp, or he
must have received the full charge. The bear-slayer was now in close
quarters, and fired off his revolver within a short distance of the
other's head. The shot took effect, and he fell in a heap stunned and
senseless. At first they thought he was dead, and it is marvellous that
the well-aimed discharge did not kill him. His skull must have been
uncommonly thick. This fellow was known to be the leader. The rest of
the gang had probably escaped into Moldavia, from whence they came.
My friends at St Miklos were kind enough to promise to get up a
bear-hunt for me, and it was arranged that I should go and see the
baths of Borsék, and return on Saturday night, so as to be ready for the
bear-hunt on Sunday. The "better observance of the Sabbath" is always
associated with bear-hunting in these parts.
I left St Miklos in a snowstorm, though it was only the 16th of
September - very early for such signs of winter. I was not prepared for
wintry weather. It frustrated my plans and expectations a good deal. I
was disappointed, too, in the climate, for I had always heard that the
late autumn is about the finest time for Transylvania.
I have invariably remarked that whenever I go to a new country it is the
signal for "abnormal meteorological disturbances," as they call bad
weather in the newspapers. My own notion is that weather is a very mixed
For three mortal hours I rode on through a blinding snowstorm. At length
I espied the ruin of an unfinished cottage by the wayside, and here I
bethought me I would take shelter and see after my dinner; for whatever
happens, I can be hungry directly afterwards - I think an earthquake
would give me an appetite.
My unfurnished lodgings were in as wild a spot as imagination could
picture. No wonder that the builder had abandoned the construction of
this solitary dwelling; why it had ever been commenced passes my
comprehension. It was just at the entrance of a mountain valley,
treeless, stony, and rugged, through which there were at intervals the
semblance of a track - a desolate, God-forgotten-looking place. On
consulting the map I found that the "road" led to Moldavia. I resolved
it should not lead me there. Here then, in this dreary spot, with its
gable-end to the road, and turning away from the prospect - and no
wonder - stood the carcass of a cottage. My horse and I scrambled over
the breach in the wall, where a garden never had smiled, and got into
the roofless house. It was with considerable difficulty that I found
sticks enough for my kitchen fire. I had to try back on the route I had
passed, for I remembered not far in the rear a group of firs standing
sentinels in the pass. I always took care to have an end of rope in my
pocket; with this I tied up my fagot, shouldered it, and returned to the
house of entertainment. The result of my trouble was a blazing fire,
whereat I cooked an excellent robber-steak. I made myself some tea, and
afterwards enjoyed - yes, actually enjoyed - my pipe. There is a pleasure
in battling with circumstances, even in such a small affair as getting
one's dinner under difficulties.
After washing-up (by good-luck there was a stream near by), I packed up
my belongings, and giving a last look around to see that I had left
nothing, I departed without as much as a _pourboire_ for "service," one
of the advantages of self-help.
The prospect for the rest of my ride was not lively, a good ten miles
yet to be done on a bad road. It had ceased to snow, but the clouds kept
driving down into the valley as if the very heavens themselves were in a
state of mobilisation. It is curious to notice sometimes in the higher
Carpathians how the clouds march continuously through the winding
valleys; always moving and driving on, these compact masses of vapour
are impelled by the currents of air in the defiles which seam the
My way was now through an interminable pine-forest, the road stretching
in a perfectly straight line and at a perceptible rise. Indeed it was
uphill work altogether. The ceaseless dripping of the rain made the
whole scene as cheerless as it well could be. The snow had turned to
cold dull rain, which was far more depressing. I wished the mineral
springs at Borsék had never been discovered. It was too late to turn
back to St Miklos, where I devoutly wished myself, so I had nothing to
do but plod on with my waterproof tight round me. It was impossible to
go fast, for in places the mud was very deep and the road was beset
with big stones.
It was dark when I reached Borsék, and again I wished I had never come.
The inn was very uncomfortable; there was no fireplace in any of the
rooms. The baths are only used in the height of summer, and if it turns
cold, as it does sometimes at this elevation, people I suppose must
freeze till it gets warm again. I had come a fortnight too late; the
world of fashion departs from Borsék at the end of August. Ten or twelve
springs rise within a short area, and vary curiously in quality and
temperature. The source which is principally used for exportation is
remarkable for the quantity of carbonic acid it contains. About 12,000
bottles are filled every day; some 1500 on an average break soon after
corking, owing partly to the bad quality of the bottles. There is a
glass manufactory in the place, and though they have good material they
turn out the work badly.
The export trade in the mineral waters is very large. They are much
valued for long sea voyages, as the water keeps for years without losing
its gaseous qualities.
The baths of Borsék belong to two different parishes, and they are by no
means agreed as to the management. Some years ago the principal spring
was struck by lightning and entirely lost for a time, but after much
digging it was found again. The situation of Borsék is extremely
romantic, and in the height of summer it must be very delightful; but in
summer only - let no one follow my example and go there out of season. Of
course the place is surrounded by magnificent forests, but it is a
crying shame to see how they have been treated. In every direction there
is evidence of the ravages of fire. You may see in a morning's walk the
blackened stems of thousands of trees, the results of Wallack
incendiarism. If the Wallacks go on destroying the forests in this way,
they will end in injuring the value of the place as a health resort; for
the efficacy of the perfumed air of the pine-woods is well known,
especially for all nervous diseases.
The houses are badly built at Borsék, and the arrangements for comfort
are very incomplete. Most of the habitations appear to have been run up
with green wood; the result may be pleasant and airy in summer, when the
balmy breeze comes in from cracks in the doors and window-frames, but
except in great heat, a perforated house is a mistake. People have to
bring their own servants and other effects. I should say a portable
stove would not be a bad item amongst the luggage.
The Borsék waters are very much drunk throughout Hungary, especially
mixed with wine. Everywhere I noticed that eight people out of ten would
take water with their wine at meals. In the district round there is
splendid pasturage for cattle. Large numbers of cattle fed in these
parts are now sent to Buda-Pest and Vienna. The serious drawback to
Borsék is its great distance from a railway. The nearest station is
Maros Vásárhely, which is nearly ninety miles away. The drive between
the two places is very fine - that is, the scenery is fine, but the road
itself is execrable. A telegraph wire connects Borsék with the outside
world, but the post only comes twice a-week.
[Footnote 21: The waters of Borsék are much taken as an "after-cure."]
Moldavian frontier - Tölgyes - Excitement about robbers - Attempt at
extortion - A ride over the mountains - Return to St Miklos.
Instead of going back to St Miklos by the same route, I resolved to
diverge a little if the weather permitted. I wanted to visit Tölgyes, a
village on the frontier of Moldavia, which is said to be very pretty.
The weather decidedly improved, so I rode off in that direction. The
road, owing to the late rains, was in a dreadful state. All the mountain
summits were covered with fresh snow; it was a lovely sight. The
dazzling whiteness of these peaks rising above the zone of dark
fir-trees was singularly striking and beautiful. The effect of sunshine
was exhilarating in the highest degree, and the contrast with my recent
experience gave it a keener relish.
At Tölgyes there is a considerable trade with Moldavia in wood. Quite a
fresh human interest was imparted to the scene by this industry. By the