If Endre Ady (1877-1919) by accident had finished his career as a poet after the publication of his first two volumes, his name would be known today only to some specialists. However, his third volume of poetry, the Új versek (New poems) shook the “Hungarian fallow land” (as he calls his milieu) with the force of an earthquake, sharply dividing the literary public among the enthusiastic followers and the no less enthusiastic haters of him. The official, gentry-spirited Hungarian public that had been educated on the poems of Sándor Petőfi and János Arany were shocked by the modern poetry of Ady, but youth and the radical bourgeois opposition immediately adopted his name as a battle-cry. Nevertheless, his poetry, just like his personality was an extremely complex phenomenon that cannot be squeezed into the Procrustean bed of political stereotypes. An excellent example for the complexity of Ady’s world is his article Vallomás a patriotizmusról – Confession on Patriotism.
The Confession was published in the October 1913 edition of Szabadgondolat (Free Thought). By clearing up the forces behind this little known journal that was published in a small number of copies we also find some points of reference to the interpretation of the article.
The Szabadgondolat was the official journal of the Association of Hungarian Free Thinkers, founded in 1905 and of its member associations, the Galilei Circle, the Harkány Circle of Budapest, the Association of Free Thinkers in Arad, the Darwin Circle in Nagyvárad (now Oradea in Romania), the Martinovics Circle of Eperjes (now Prešov in Slovakia), the Batsányi Circle of Kassa (now Košice in Slovakia) and the Ferrer Circle. 1 The more knowledgeable will find out just from the names mentioned that the Szabadgondolat was a journal of freemasons. It is, however, not widely known that Ady was a member of the committee of the Association, and he even entered among the freemasons. 2 For a better understanding of the poet’s decision let us have a glimpse on the situation of Hungarian freemasonry at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The movement of freemasons which had always laid a great stress on unity, at the beginning of the 20th century was broken into two camps. The more conservative “brothers”, faithfully to their old principles, regarded it unnecessary to interfere in politics, and considered it enough to pursue caritative activities. (It is well known that freemasons established and ran several institutions of charity, including the Institute for Mothers and Infants, the Institute for the Blind and Deaf, the Ambulance Association and so on.) The other branch of freemasonry, however, did not conceal their political ambitions and did not abhor from direct participation in politics in the interest of radical political changes. In 1908 Oszkár Jászi, a leading figure of the radical wing quitted together with several companions the Democrat Lodge and founded the bourgeois radical Martinovics Lodge. A number of well known intellectuals were members in this lodge, including Lajos Bíró, György Bölöni, Géza Csáth, Géza Lengyel, Endre Nagy, Béla Reinitz, Gyula Szini, Aladár Schöpflin, Pál Szende, Ernő Czóbel, Artúr Székely, Pál Sándor. This list allows for several conclusions. First it is conspicuous that this company played a key role in the battles for the bourgeois radical transformation of the country, and second, all the above lodge members belonged to the circle of Ady’s friends. Ady had known Jászi since 1905. Besides their common political aims they were also brought together by their school, as both attended high school in Nagykároly (today Carei in Romania). Thus it is not surprising that on 19 April 1912 Ady also entered the Martinovics Lodge. 3 One of his references was precisely Oszkár Jászi, at that time the chief master of the lodge, and literature generally admits that Ady made up his mind to enter the lodge under his influence. 4 Ady published 98 poems and 70 articles in the daily Világ launched in 1910 by the Martinovics Lodge and maintained with their financial support. The lodge, however, did not want to close the poet into the fetters of formalities. He took the rules of the lodge quite loosely, and during the seven years of his membership he participated only on four occasions in the meetings of the lodge. 5 Nevertheless on 13 February 1914 he was appointed a master. 6
It is thus no wonder that his article Confession on Patriotism, published in 1913 in the Szabadgondolat survived just in the legacy of Artúr Székely, a member of the Martinovics Lodge. In 1913 Artúr Székely, an eminent businessman and commercial writer was the chief editor of the Szabadgondolat. 7 He personally met Ady on a number of occasions, and what is more, in 1906, at the age of 18 he wrote an enthusiastic review on Ady’s book of poetry Új versek. He was also present at the lodge meeting of 1912 when Ady was admitted to the lodge. “I remember the warm and rhetorically perfect speech he told at the dinner following his admission to the lodge.” 8
It is thus no chance that Ady begins his article by specifying that he is writing in the journal of superstitionlessness which is so dear to him. Freemasons traditionally fought in the name of enlightenment and rationality against all prejudices and superstitions, also ranking patriotism among these latter by saying that it divides the large family of peoples and is thus an obstacle on the path to the unity of humanity. Ady, however, did not have so simplicistic, cold and rationalistic ideas either on patriotism or anything else. He was fully aware of the importance of emotional roots. The tension of his article stems from this contrast between reason and emotion. This is why he speaks so ambiguously and wrestling with himself about patriotism: he condems it, qualifies it a superstition, characterizes it as a troublesome situation, he is ashamed of it, but finally he confesses, right at the beginning of the article, that in spite of all that he is a patriot. The same ambivalence is reflected in his beautiful, mysterious poem Sípja régi babonának (Reed of old superstition) written just some months earlier, in March 1913. István Király convincingly proves it in his brilliant analysis that this “old superstition” is patriotism. 9
The Confession is an excellent illustration of Ady’s tragic situation and his ideological ambivalence. He was not able to unconditionally identify himself with the bourgeois radical trend supporting him, because he was rooted much stronger in the Hungarian past and traditions than his freemason friends who gave priority to general human values and were less sensible to the questions of Hungarian destiny. In a simplicistic way we could say that the freemasons were anxious for humanity while Ady for humanity and for Hungary. He could not and did not even want to accept the general, internationalist way of thought of the freemasons: he was attached to his “belovedly whipped” Hungarian nation, to the “obsolete” superstition, to patriotism. He was even aware of the fact that the unity of nations and people – today we would call it globalization – kills their colorful diversity. At the sight of this danger he put to paper his beautiful confession: “the Hungarian people is an indispensable value for humanity and for humanity’s path to the stars”. This is why he declare: “I am very much Hungarian”, also adding that “I am not only a Hungarian who, perhaps sometimes with an excessive self-confidence, believes himself to be an exponent of his race, but I am also a patriot.” He further emphasizes his attachment by identifying himself with the Hungarian people and even with their faults: “Its faults that are, oh how much they are, also my faults…” But the most beautiful and most unambiguous evidence of this identification was left to us not by Ady but by his friend Lajos Fülep who in 1906-1907 was also a companion of the poet in the night of Budapest. On an occasion Fülep reproached Ady for his self-destructing way of life, his night adventures and heavy drinking. Ady replied with an outburst to the benevolent reproach: “Even you don’t understand? I am not of myself, I am not for myself, I am sent to be the awakener of this miserable people… I am not its king, not its minister, neither will I be, but its destiny is also in my hands, it also depends on what I, Endre Ady can tell to it, I who see what it has become like nobody other sees it… I have to say it out, I have to shout it out loudly. This is my weapon. But understand me, this cannot be done soberly. When I’m sober, I can only say that everything is in vain. This people has already been killed in body and soul, there will be no resurrection for it. But it is impossible to accept this, I cannot accept this, even if everyone accepts it. I have to say it out so that everyone hears it – but this cannot be done soberly…” 10
His ambiguous relation to his freemason and freethinker friends can be also understood better from the rest of Fülep’s article which describes why he could not fully identify himself with his lodge-companions and why he felt himself an outsider even among them: “Even with my best friends whom I love so much, with whom I am one in everything, who are my brothers, I am not identical – identical in the sense as I am identical with a poor Hungarian peasant, a miserable field-hand whom I had never seen before. They consider these as an oppressed class that must be liberated. Not as individuals, you see? A class! I can also consider them as such, but I also have a different view. I am identical with them, with each of them. To me they are individually dear and irreplaceable. I am one with them like with my hands or with my eyes. I feel them in me, all in all. If I touch them, if I shake hands with them then I touch myself, when I look in their eyes then I look into my own eyes. They do not feel this, they do not feel this unspeakable identity of mine with this miserable people. They think and want the same as me, but they have it in their minds and hearts, thoughts and honor – but what I say, my Hungarian essence, they do not have it in their flesh and kidney and pulmons and breath. But without this you cannot make the revolution for this people. I am unable to do it. I can incite to revolt and even fight if necessary, but this people will need a leader in its revolution. I do not know whether among my friends there is anyone who would be a worthy leader, but I’m afraid there is not. They are excellent people, but theoretical people, no revolutionaries. And excellent Hungarians, but in a way different from me and from the people. And they are not angry enough! They are no Dózsa. But even the best revolutionary and the most perfect leader is not enough if he has not my Hungarian feelings, because then this revolution will not be the revolution of this people. The two must fall into one, revolutionary leadership and my Hungarian identity.” And – writes Fülep – at this point he told the most peculiar, most staggering sentence, something he already had written in some form, even more than one time, but it was quite different to hear it of his own mouth, because like this it was no metaphor but an absolute conviction. “But this Hungarian identity does not exist besides me. It is in the people, but it does not live in them, because there it is not conscious, it is dumb. It is me who see and feel it in them, they do not know and do not feel it in themselves, so they would not even see it in me. This does not exist apart from me. I am the last living Hungarian.” 11
Ady did not delude himself. He knew that in a situation of danger when the destiny of the Hungarian people would be at stake, his feelings – that is, his patriotism – would get the upper hand over his rational arguments: “This patriotism, however, is still dormant in me. As certain as it is that I have wiped out of myself any traces of racial hatred, so that besides Oszkár Jászi there are not many who are more tenderly and benevolently disposed towards the national minorities in Hungary than me, so certain it is that patriotism would awake in me in desperate straits and occasions. I am afraid it is not impossible that this desperate situation and occasion will fall upon us more unexpectedly than we would think it.” His fears proved to be a dreadful prophecy. Nine months later the First World War broke out, and everything happened as he had foreseen it. His bourgeois radical friends were led by their reason and kept fighting for general human rights, sometimes even for utopistic aims, while the former enemies of the poet, the men of the aristocratic Hungary whose main representative for Ady was Prime Minister Count István Tisza, behaved as patriots and defended the Hungarian people in the years of the war. Ady’s obscure allusion – “But then I also will have to admit that a Hungarian count of aulic descendance who in the last year would have had every restless Hungarian killed, does not defend his own private dominion but the Hungarian people. It is probable that there will be not many persons like this, but some there will be for sure. But then how could I fight shoulder to shoulder with such people who after the danger will again become as they had been?” – in fact refers to István Tisza. “In the last year”, that is, in June 1912 it was him to oppress with force the obstructing parlamentary opposition.
Ady opposed to the war from the very beginning, as he knew that Hungary can only lose with the war. István Tisza, the hated enemy of Ady thought and acted in the same spirit, committing everything to prevent the war. 12 Tisza, however, regarded it to be below his station to openly boasting with his pacifism that he represented behind the political scenes, and endured with patience as the press was reviling him as a war demagogue. The historian Gyula Szekfű treats in one chapter of his famous Three Generations the destiny of the two enemies Ady and Tisza. Complete books were written on their relationship that is impossible to outline in a few lines. It is not widely known that in spite of their mutual hatred they occasionally had the feelings of solidarity of a Hungarian with the other Hungarian towards each other. In November 1910 in an aristocratic company Tisza declared that “Ady and the [literary journal] Nyugat are louses on the tree of Hungary”, 13 while Ady usually apostrophed Tisza as “the wild fool of Geszt”. Nevertheless, he burst into tears when he heard about the murder of Tisza. (Ady even earlier had some kind of sympathy with Tisza as an illustrious representative of the Hungarian people. In his sarcastic article of 1908 in the Budapesti Napló he also wrote: “Even if we do not love Tisza, we cannot think of him without our Hungarian blood being heated up. How peculiar, how faulty, how harmful, how obstinate, how strong, how beautiful, how Hungarian this man is!” 14 )
These two representatives of the Hungarian idea fell more or less at the same time, and history stepped over them.
In October 1918, at the outbreak of the “Aster Revolution” Ady kept with his bourgeois radical friends, and although he was already very ill, he participated at the inaugural meeting of the “counter-academy”, the Vörösmarty Academy, and he welcomed the revolution with the poem Greeting to the Winner. This is more or less what the literature usually says about Ady’s activity of 1918. But the history does not end here. At the sight of the fall of the historical Hungary, the disintegration of the country and the anarchy Ady felt disappointed. He thought just as he wrote some years earlier in his Confession, that the Hungarian people and country had to be defended “at any cost”. He was terminally ill, so he could not put to paper these thoughts any more, but several witnesses remember his words. His younger brother Lajos Ady and his attorney Dr. László Farkas equally wrote: “I heard that Ady, when he still was able to wake up, went to the nearby redaction of the Új Nemzedék in Duna street, 15 and there he cried for Transylvania. About the revolution in course he only told: «I thought it differently.»” 16 He probably had thoughts like the ones quoted by Lajos Fülep: “but even the best revolutionary and the most perfect leader is not enough if he has not my Hungarian feelings, because then this revolution will not be the revolution of this people. The two must fall into one, revolutionary leadership and my Hungarian identity.” Several visitors of him remembered that in the last months of his life he was only and with obsession thinking about “his” Transylvania.
At the end of his article calls upon his reader to “seek for his own Hungarian patriotism and to examine it; and to proceed in a similar way with every other superstition – or let us simply say sentiment.” This article and personal fate of Ady can be a memento and lesson for our age as well.
In Volume 11 of Endre Ady’s Complete works in prose, the footnotes to Confession on Patriotism include this: “The original manuscript of the article was in the possession of Artúr Székely back in 1924. This, however, did not find its way to any public collection. Only the photocopy of its first page is preserved in the Manuscript Department of the Petőfi Museum of Literature. The original and complete manuscript was either lost or it is hidden somewhere.” 17
Since the end of December 2009 it is not hidden any more, but it is in the property of the Manuscript Department of the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. We are grateful for it to Eri Székely, daugther-in-law of Artúr Székely living in Zürich. It was her to donate the five leaves of the Confession to the Library. The document is conserved in the “K” section reserved for the particularly valuable manuscripts, together with the other documents on Endre Ady, under shelfmark K 21/84.
The manuscripts of Ady’s Confession and of his letter to Artúr Székely on
in the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences