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History of Hungarian studies in the UK

On Friday 3 March, Peter Sherwood gave a talk on the history of Hungarian studies in London and the UK, based on an article he published in Hungarian, ‘Magyar stúdiumok Londonban’ (Hungarian Studies in London), in Hungarológia I. Budapest, 1993, pp. 111–21.

The history of Hungarian studies in the UK stretches back over a century-and-a-half.

The first Anglo-Hungarian grammar, A Grammar of the Hungarian Language, was published no less than 155 years ago (1852), and written by Zsigmond (Sigismund) Wékey, who arrived in the British capital as aide-de-camp to Lajos Kossuth, the figurehead of the 1848-49 revolution. The introduction to the grammar opens with a phrase that has remained well-known to all Hungarian schoolchildren to this day: Nyelvében él a nemzet, which Wékey glossed in English as ‘A nation may be said to live in its language’.

This work was followed by a second, more comprehensive grammar by János Csink, A Complete Practical Grammar of the Hungarian Language, only a year later. Like  Wékey, Csink belonged to the circle of mid-nineteenth-century political émigrés, and reached England via Hamburg, which appears to have been the standard route for Hungarian emigrants of the time.

This post-revolution wave of emigration certainly helped to stimulate interest in Hungarian language and culture in the 1850s. Not only did two further articles appear during this particularly productive decade (Thomas Watts, ‘On the recent history of the Hungarian language’, 1855, pp. 285 – 310; Francis Pulsky (Pulszky Ferenc), ‘On the nature, peculiarities and some affinities of the Hungarian language I’, 1859, pp. 97 – 116, both in: Transactions of the Philological Society) but a Hungarian Cadet School was also funded in 1851.

Thereafter, publications appeared more sporadically until the early twentieth century. No more than four publications on Hungarian language and philology appeared: Arthur J. Patterson, ‘Hungarian’, 1874, pp. 216 – 219, and ‘Report on recent Hungarian philology’, 1885, pp. 539 – 543, both in: Transactions of the Philological Society; Ignatius Singer, A Simplified Grammar of the Hungarian Language, 1882; and C. Arthur and Ilona Ginever, Hungarian Grammar, 1909. Patterson later became the forefather of English studies in Hungary.

The School of Slavonic studies in King’s College was founded in 1915; the qualifier ‘East European’ was added to the title in the 1930s. Romanian was taught from 1919, together with Russian (which had been taught from 1889 at King’s) and other Slavonic languages. The first mention of Hungarian in the School’s history is from the 1920s, when N. B. Jopson dealt with Hungarian historical linguistic studies.

1937 was a turning point in the history of Hungarian studies in the UK: the Hungarian government donated 350 books, and subsidised the foundation of a language and literature post for Hungarian, the first occupant of which was Miklós Szenczi, who remained in the post until 1947. One of Szenczi’s students, Arthur H. Whitney, wrote the first Colloquial Hungarian, first published in 1944 and reprinted until the 1970s. Szenczi was followed by Béla Iványi-Grünwald, who taught at SSEES from 1948 into the early 1950s. Iványi-Grünwald enriched the School’s library with his collection of Hungarica, which he bequeathed to the School on condition that the collection be kept together.

The first doctoral thesis in Hungarian literature at SSEES was completed by George F. Cushing in 1952, on the subject of ‘National Classicism in Hungary’. Cushing was the first professor of Hungarian studies in the UK, 1978–1986 (Emeritus thereafter). Lóránt Czigány, author of the most comprehensive history of Hungarian literature in English, completed his PhD under Professor Cushing on ‘The Perception of Hungarian Literature in the Victorian Period’. Czigány, and László Péter, Professor of Hungarian History, appointed in 1963, now Emeritus, both belonged to the wave of post-1956 Uprising wave of emigration.

Subsequent teachers of Hungarian studies (including history, politics and language) include Martyn Rady, George Schöpflin; Michael Branch,; Peter Sherwood, and Daniel Abondolo, currently Senior Lecturer in Hungarian Studies (appointed in 1987).

Following Czigány’s doctoral thesis, there have been two doctorates awarded in Hungarian literature at SSEES: Richard Aczel’s on the re-evaluation of 19th century Hungarian literature, and Gwen Jones’s, in 2006, on the prose fiction of Budapest, 1873–1939. There are currently two research students at SSEES who are dealing with Hungarian studies: Robert Gray, 19th century history, and Eszter Tarsoly, Hungarian linguistics.

Between 1963 and the early 1990s a position of Hungarian Lektorship existed at SSEES. External examiners for BA and MA examinations have included: Stephen Ullmann, D. Mervyn Jones, Robert J.W. Evans and Robin Baker, who was formerly a student of Hungarian at SSEES. The SSEES library holds some 18-20,000 Hungarian-related items, with British Library’s holdings making London home to Europe’s largest collection of Hungarian books outside Hungary itself.