in one barrel and with a bullet in the other. In Hungary the forests are
usually so thick that one scarcely ever fires at a long range, and heavy
shot at a short distance in a thicket is better than a bullet. After
driving in a break-neck fashion for about two hours we arrived at the
river Bodrog, a tributary of the Theiss. Nearly every winter the country
hereabouts is under water; I remember once seeing it when there was all
the appearance of an extensive inland sea. Sometimes the inundations are
disastrous, but the ordinary flood is an accepted event, and no damage
accrues beyond the prevalence of marsh fever in April and May, when the
water recedes. This part of the country offers first-rate
wildfowl-shooting in the season.
Everywhere in Hungary the different races are strangely mixed up
together: the Tokay Hegyalia, it is true, is chiefly peopled by Magyars,
and the language is said to be the purest Magyar spoken anywhere; but
there are Slavs and Jews amongst them, and our drive of twenty miles
brought us into an area where the Slavs predominate. The difference of
these races is very marked: the one, fair complexioned and blue eyed;
the Magyar, dark, almost swarthy amongst the lower classes. At
Olasz-Liszka, a small town within the Tokay district, there is an
Italian colony, as the name Olasz (Italian) would imply. As long ago as
the days of Bela II. this place was peopled by Italian immigrants from
the neighbourhood of Venice, invited hither by the king, who greatly
encouraged the cultivation of the vine.
Go where you will in this country, there is a Babel of tongues. In this
instance our special coachman was a Bohemian, speaking his own
language - a very different dialect from the Slovacks who were the
"beaters" for our hunt. The gamekeepers, or rather the foresters (for
the game is of secondary consideration), were all Magyars. Their
language, as we know, bears no affinity to any of the rest. The marvel
is that the world gets on at all down here. The gentlemen of our party
spoke together indifferently German, French, and English.
It is curious to hear the peasant come out with, "Why the Tartar are you
doing this?" for an angry expletive. It is a relic of the old troubled
times when the country suffered from the frequent depredations of Turks
and Tartars. The Tokay district, say the chronicles, was fearfully
harassed by the Turks as late as 1678.
It is worth while recalling a contemporaneous fact. In 1529 the crescent
had been substituted for the cross on the Cathedral of Vienna to
propitiate the Turks, and it was not till 1683 that the symbol of the
dreaded Moslem was removed. When the Hungarians ceased to fear the Turk,
they ceased to hate him; and since 1848 they remember only the generous
hospitality of the Porte, and the cruel aggressions and treachery of the
Russians. The Slav has a longer memory, for to this day he repeats the
saying, "Where the Turk comes, there no grass grows."
When we arrived at our destination our appetites were far too keenly set
to think about the Eastern Question, and right glad were we to see
active preparations for supper. The national dishes, the _gulyas hus_
and the _paprika handl_, were produced amongst a number of other good
things, such as roast hare. You get to like the _paprika_, or red
pepper, very much. I wonder it is not introduced into English cookery,
it makes such a pretty-coloured gravy. If the traveller finds himself
attacked by marsh fever, and should chance to be without quinine (a
great mistake, by the way), let him substitute a spoonful of _paprika_
mixed with a little red wine, repeating the dose every four hours if
necessary. While smoking our peace-pipes after supper, one of the
keepers came in to announce the welcome fact that it was snowing hard;
fresh-lain snow would materially increase our chances of tracking the
Next morning when we started the weather had somewhat cleared, which was
just as well, seeing we had to walk two or three miles to our first
battue. Arrived at the rendezvous, we found the "beaters" waiting for
us. They were a wild-looking crew were those Slovacks, with shaggy coats
of black sheepskin, and in their hands the usual long staff with the axe
at one end. Notwithstanding their uncouth appearance, later experience
has shown me that the Slovacks, as a rule, are patient, hard-working
The forest where we were consisted entirely of beech and oak. The acorns
attract the wild-boar, which have increased in a very remarkable manner
in this locality. I was told that twenty years ago there were no
wild-boar in these forests, while now there are hundreds. This seems
odd, for the oak-trees are pretty well as old as the hills, and offered
the same temptation in the way of food formerly as now. In fact the
increase of the wild-boar is a serious nuisance to the vine-grower, for
they tramp across to the southern hill-slopes, and occasionally make
raids on the vineyards, devouring the grapes with unparalleled
greediness, and what is still worse, they will sometimes plough up and
destroy a whole plot of carefully-tended vineyard.
Formerly there were many deer in these forests, but now there are only a
few roedeer. We saw no traces of wolves on this occasion, but there are
plenty in this part of the country.
We were only ten guns, and were soon posted each man in his proper
position waiting for the _schwarzwild_, as the Germans say; but, alas!
nothing appeared till the beaters themselves came in sight. So we had to
organise battue number two. The beaters walk quietly forward, tapping
the trees now and then. This is quite noise enough for the purpose of
rousing the game; if they shouted or made too much row, the game would
get wild and scared.
In the next battue I had hardly been five minutes at my post when I
heard from behind the breaking of dead branches, as of some animal
advancing slowly. It was a fine buck which made his appearance, but he
scented me and made off. Again about a hundred yards off I got a glimpse
of him between the trees. I fired with effect. We found him afterwards
about two hundred yards farther on, where he had fallen. It was very
provoking; up to lunch-time we sighted no wild-boar, though we saw by
the snow that they must have been about the hillside during the night.
We had soon a good fire blazing, at which robber-steak was nicely
cooked. I never enjoyed anything more. We washed down our repast with
After luncheon we commenced work again. By this time we had advanced
into the very heart of the forest. The smooth boles of the tall
beech-trees looked grand in their winter nakedness, rising like columns
from the white frost-bespangled ground. I took up my stand, gun in
readiness, waiting for the tramp, the snort, or the grizzly dark form of
the wild-boar, but nothing came to disturb the utter solitude of the
But hark! I hear shots fired repeatedly in the lower valley. I, too,
begin to look out with quickened pulse, peering into the misty depths of
the forest, and with ear alert for every sound, but all to no purpose.
Nothing comes my way, though again I hear two more shots echo sharply in
the narrow valley nearer to me than before. After the lapse of a few
minutes the beaters came up, breaking through the dead branches of
undercover. I knew now that my own chance was gone, but I was curious to
know what had happened, and joining two of my friends whose "stand" had
been near mine, we hurried down the valley to see what sport had turned
up for the other guns. On inquiry it appeared that at least seventy
wild-boars had passed close to one of our party, but the sight of so
many at once had made his aim unsteady, and he only succeeded in
wounding one of the number. The animal had dashed into the half-frozen
stream at the bottom of the valley, and our friend had to reload and
give him his final shot there.
We formed one more battue, but nothing came of it, and it was already
high time to return to our quarters, for the whole scene was growing dim
in the wintry twilight. Some of the party, myself included, went by
arrangement to the house of one of the foresters. The good people, in
their desire to be hospitable, gave us a warm reception. They had heated
the rooms to such an extent that we were almost baked alive.
The next morning we resumed our sport. During the first battue eight
wild-boars were sighted. One was shot instantly; the others broke
through the line of beaters, but in doing so a very unusual thing
happened, for one of the foresters succeeded in killing a boar by a
tremendous blow from his axe. We were very much surprised that the
animal had come near enough, for as a rule they will not approach human
beings except when wounded, and then they are most formidable
assailants. I regret to say that one of our dogs was ripped up by one of
this herd of eight.
This was the beginning and end of our sport for the day. Our indifferent
luck was to be accounted for from the fact of there being, comparatively
speaking, not much snow.
Tokay vineyards - The vine-grower's difficulties - Geology of the
Hegyalia - The Pope's compliment to the wine of TÃ¡llya - Towns of the
Hegyalia - Farming - System of wages at harvest - The different sorts
of Tokay wine.
The vintage is the season of all others for Tokay; in former days it was
a very gay affair, for then every noble family in Hungary, especially
the bishops, had vineyards in the Hegyalia, and the magnates came to the
vintage with large retinues of servants and horses; and feasting and
hospitality were the order of the day. In the good old times every
important event in the family was celebrated by much drinking of Tokay,
but in those degenerate days other fashions prevail. Before their
kingdom was dismembered the Poles were the best customers for Tokay
wine, but they are too poor now to have such luxuries; added to this,
Russia has for nearly a century past laid an almost prohibitive duty on
Hungarian wine. The fiscal impositions of Austria have also weighed
heavily on Hungary's productions. At present North Germany and
Scandinavia are amongst the most ready purchasers of Tokay; and England
is beginning to appreciate the "Szamarodni" or "dry Tokay," remarkable
for the absence of all deleterious sweetness.
In good years the vintage of Tokay may be estimated at something like
150,000 _eimers_, an _eimer_ being about two and a half gallons; but a
really good year is the exception, not the rule. For three years (since
1874) the vintages have all been below the average. The season of 1876
was a complete failure; a disastrous frost on the 19th of May in that
year completely destroyed the hopes and prospects of the vine-grower.
Indeed he has a trying life of it, for his hopes go up and down with the
barometer. If his vines escape the much-dreaded May frosts, there is a
risk that the summer may be too wet for the grapes, which love sunshine.
Then, again, in the hottest summers there are violent hail-storms, and
in half an hour he may see his promising crop beaten to the ground. It
has been well remarked that "the weather seems to have no control over
itself in Hungary."
The vine-grower's troubles do not end when the vintage is successfully
over. Tokay is a troublesome wine in respect to fermentation; it
requires three years before it can travel, and even when these critical
years are over, the wine will sometimes get "sick" in the spring - at
the identical time when the sap rises in the living plant.
The unique quality of the Tokay is due to the soil, and perhaps to some
other conditions; but not to the peculiarity of the grape, for, as a
matter of fact, they grow a variety of sorts. The cultivation of the
vine appears to be of great antiquity in this part of the world. The
introduction of the plant is attributed to the inevitable PhÅ“nician;
but, treading on more assured historic ground, we find that King Bela
IV., in the thirteenth century, caused new kinds of grapes to be
imported from Italy, and brought about an improvement generally in the
culture of the vine.
But to return to the question of the soil. The Tokay Eperies group of
hills is one of several well-defined groups of volcanic rocks that exist
in Hungary and Transylvania. In the Tokay district the formations are
partly eruptive, partly sedimentary, but nowhere older than the Tertiary
period, say the geologists. The Hegyalia (which means "mountain-slopes"
in the Magyar tongue) forms the southern spur of the extended volcanic
region, composed of trachyte and rhyolithe, beginning at Eperies and
terminating in the conical hill of Tokay, which protrudes itself so
singularly into the AlfÃ¶ld, or plain.
But the vine-growing district does not end at Tokay; it continues on
the eastern slopes of the mountain range as far as Uihely, forming two
sides of an irregular triangle, and the total length, say from Szanto in
the west to Tokay, and from Tokay to Uihely, being about thirty-eight
As a matter of fact, Tokay, which gives its name to the wine, does not
produce the best vintage; other localities are more esteemed. TÃ¡llya,
for example, situated a few miles east of Szanto, has long been
renowned. As early as the sixteenth century the excellence of the wine
from this district was acknowledged by infallible authority. It appears
that during the sitting of the Council of Trent, wines were produced
from all parts for the delectation of the holy fathers. George
Draskovics, the Bishop of FÃ¼nfkirchen, brought some of his celebrated
vintage, and presenting a glass of it to the Pope, observed that it was
_TÃ¡llya_ wine. Whereupon his Holiness pronounced it to be nectar,
surpassing all other wines, exclaiming with ready wit, "Summum
Pontificum _talia_ vina decent." This place, so happily distinguished by
Papal wit, is pleasantly situated on the side of the hill; it possesses
about 2100 acres of vineyards.
The places in the Hegyalia are all called towns, though in reality they
are not much more than large villages. Tokay has 4000 inhabitants; it
is at the foot of the hill, close to the junction of the Theiss and the
Bodrog; a ruined castle forms a picturesque object in the foreground,
and beyond is the far-stretching plain. Professor Judd says that at
one period of their history "the volcanic islands of Hungary must have
been very similar in appearance to those of the Grecian Archipelago."
Looking at the conical-shaped hill of Tokay, and the other
configurations of the range, it is quite easy to take in the idea, and
under certain atmospheric conditions the great plain very closely
resembles an inland sea.
At Tokay the Theiss becomes navigable for steamers, but the circuitous
course of the river prevents much traffic, more especially since the
extension of railways. The next place is Tarczal, and here the Emperor
of Austria has some fine vineyards. Some people have an idea that all
the wine grown in the whole district is Imperial Tokay, and that the
vineyards themselves, one and all, are imperial property. This is very
far from being the case; in fact, since 1848, the peasant proprietors
hold more largely than any other class. The easy transfer of land
facilitates the purchase of small lots, and the result is that every
peasant in the Hegyalia tries to possess himself of an acre or two, or
even half an acre of vineyard. The cultivation seems to pay them well;
but a succession of bad seasons must be very trying, for the vineyards
cannot be neglected be the year good or bad.
At Zombar, a village in this locality, there is a good instance of what
can be got out of reclaimed land; it was formerly under water for the
greater portion of the year. The soil is so rich in decayed vegetable
matter as to be almost black, and now grows excellent crops of tobacco
and Indian corn. The country north-east of Tokay is certainly the most
picturesque side, there is more foliage, and there is also water.
The first time I drove through Bodrog-Keresztur, which is on this side,
I thought that, notwithstanding the pretty country, I had never seen so
desolate a place. The town was once famed for its markets, but the
railways have changed all this; almost every other house is a ruin, and
large trees may be seen growing between the walls.
In the last century a company of Russian soldiers were stationed here
for the purpose of buying Tokay wine for the Russian Court.
One of the prettiest little places in the Hegyalia is ErdÃ¶-Benye; it is
off the main road, right in amongst the hills. It boasts the largest
wine-cellar in the whole district; it has twenty-two ramifications at
two different levels, the whole being cut out of the solid rock; it is
more like a subterranean labyrinth than a cellar. This place was
formerly the property of the renowned family of RÃ¡koczy, who played no
mean part in Hungarian history. Not far from ErdÃ¶-Benye are
mineral-water baths, romantically situated in the oak-forest.
SÃ¡ros Patak and Uihely are the two most noteworthy towns in the
north-eastern side of the Tokay triangle. The first named has a
Calvinist college of some considerable reputation, a library of 24,000
volumes, a printing-press, and a botanical garden. Uihely is the county
town of Zemplin. An agricultural show was held here last spring (1877),
which I attended. Our English-made agricultural implements were very
much to the fore on this occasion. Some people complain of these
machines on the score of their getting out of order rather easily, and
of the immense difficulty of having them repaired in the country. This
objection, I have heard, does not apply alike to all the English makers.
At this show there were some new kinds of wine-presses which attracted a
good deal of attention; before long no doubt not a few changes will be
effected in the process of wine-making in Tokay. Considering that
Hungary holds the third rank in Europe as a wine-producing country, the
whole question of the manipulation of wine is a very important one for
Amongst the live stock at this show I noticed some very fine merino
sheep. In Hungary the wool-producing quality is everything in sheep, as
mutton has hardly any value. This was only a country show, and the
horses, from an Englishman's point of view, were not worth looking at;
but there are plenty of fine horses in Hungary. The Government has been
at immense pains to improve the breed by introducing English and Arabian
sires. For practical purposes the native breed must not be decried; the
Hungarian horse, though small, has many excellent qualities. For
ordinary animals the prices are very low, which fact does not encourage
the peasants to take much care of the foals. On this occasion I bought a
couple of horses for farming purposes; the two only cost me about Â£11.
With regard to farming, our English notions of "high farming" will not
do in Hungary; what is called the "extensive system" pays best. For
instance, if I were already farming, and had some disposable capital at
hand, I should find it pay me better to invest in buying more land than
in trying to increase the produce of what I had already in hand. After
some practical experience in the country, I have no hesitation in saying
that Hungary offers a good field for the employment of English capital.
Vineyards, on the other hand, can only be worked "intensively." Nothing
requires more care and attention. To begin with, the aspect of the vine
garden influences the quality of the wine immensely. Then there is the
soil. The best is the plastic clay (_nyirok_), which appears to be the
product of the direct chemical decomposition of volcanic rock. This clay
absorbs water but very slowly, and is, in short, the most favourable to
the growth of the vine. As the vines are mostly on the steep hillsides,
low walls are built to prevent the earth from being washed away. In the
early spring one of the first things to be done is to repair the
inevitable damage done by the winter rain or snow to these walls, and to
clear the ditches, which are carefully constructed to carry off the
excess of water. I should observe that in the autumn, soon after the
vintage, the earth is heaped up round the vines to protect them from the
intense cold which prevails here, and directly the spring comes, one
must open up the vines again. In Tokay the vines are never trellised,
they are disposed irregularly, not even in rows - the better to escape
the denudation of their roots by rain. Each vine is supported by an oak
stick, which, removed in autumn, is replaced in spring after the
process of pruning. When the young shoots are long enough they are bound
to these sticks, and are not allowed to grow beyond them.
No less than three times during the summer the earth should be dug up
round the roots of the vine, and it is very desirable to get the second
digging over before the harvest, for when harvest has once commenced it
is impossible to get labourers at any price. The harvest operations
generally begin at the end of June, and last six weeks. In the part of
Hungary of which I am now speaking the labourer gets a certain
proportion of the harvest. In this district he has every eleventh stack
of corn, and as they are fed as well during the time, a man and his wife
can generally earn enough corn for the whole year. The summers are
intensely hot, and the work in consequence very fatiguing. The poor
fellows are often stricken with fever, the result, in some cases, of
their own imprudence in eating water-melons to excess.
It is not till the third or fourth week in October that the vintage is
to be looked for. It is not the abundance of grapes that makes a good
year; the test is the amount of dried grapes, for it is to these brown
withered-looking berries that the unique character of the-wine is due.
If the season is favourable, the over-ripe grapes crack in September,
when the watery particles evaporate, leaving the rasin-like grape with
its undissipated saccharine matter.
In order to make "Essenz," these dry grapes are separated from the rest,
placed in tubs with holes perforated at the bottom. The juice is allowed
to squeeze out by the mere weight of the fruit into a vessel placed
beneath. After several years' keeping this liquid becomes a drinkable
wine, but of course it is always very costly. This is really only a
liqueur. The wine locally called "Ausbruch" is the more generally known
sweet Tokay, a delicious wine, but also very expensive. It is said to
possess wonderfully restorative properties in sickness and in advanced
Another quality, differently treated, but of the same vintage, is called
"Szamarodni," now known in the English market as "dry Tokay." This dry
wine preserves the bouquet and strength of the ordinary Tokay, but it is
absolutely without any appreciable "sweetness." In order to produce
Szamarodni the dry grapes must not be separated from the others. The
proportion of alcohol is from twelve to fifteen per cent.
When first I saw the vintage in the Tokay district, I was greatly
interested in the novelty of the whole scene. It is well worth the
stranger's while to turn aside from the beaten track and join for once
in this characteristic Hungarian festivity, for nowhere is the Magyar
more at home than in the vine-growing Hegyalia.
[Footnote 24: Ancient Volcanoes of Hungary.]
MUIR AND PATERSON, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH.
[Illustration: Map of the BANAT and TRANSYLVANIA with Mr. Crosse's