In 1906 I studied in the eighth class of high school and I wanted to become a linguist and a professor of literature. The poems of Ady published in the Sunday editions of Budapesti Napló had an incomparable effect on me. I have soon learned The Poet of Hortobágy, On the Hungarian Fallow Land, On the Tisza Riverside, The Last Smile, Song in the Dust, Along the Seine by heart. And when his volume of poetry Új versek (New Poems) was published, I wrote an enthusiastic review on it, full of quotations. As by that time I had already published a number of my experiments of literature in provincial journals, and even an article in Budapesti Napló, I would have liked to publish this review as well, for I loved it so much and considered it quite good (while now, in retrospective I think it was quite weak). I took it to the journal Jövendő whose editor-in-chief was not Sándor Bródy any more but Dezső Lóránt. They promised me that they would publish it. However, it never came to light. In the meantime a member of the journal’s permanent staff wrote a review on the book, so they returned my manuscript with a thousand apologies and words of praise. Then I had the childish idea to write to Ady himself and to ask his opinion about which journal would willingly publish my review. Ady who, according to Béla Révész and Gyula Földessy, took his followers very seriously and he always kept them in mind, immediately replied to this young person who was completely unknown to him:
“Dear Sir, Thank you for your lovable attention. I know about only one journal which would accept your manuscript with gratitude: the Tolnay Világlapja. Please do not hesitate to send it there the soonest possible. Yours sincerely, E. A.”
The Tolnai Világlapja, of course, did not need the article. They published only the portrait of the poet, accompanied by some banal lines. My review was published much later and in a much shortened version in the monthly Világosság.
My first personal encounter with Ady took place in Paris in May or June 1909. I attended lectures at the Paris university and I wrote reportages of foreign affairs for a Budapest daily. I also frequented the reading circle of the Hungarian workers in Paris where I also delivered some lectures. The trade-unionist daily Népszava had published a discussion thread on Ady just some months earlier. I thought I would present the poetry of Ady to the rather intelligent working men and women frequenting the reading circle. After a short introduction I read some poems from the volumes Új versek (New Poems) and Vér és Arany (Blood and Gold). The effect did not seem really satisfying to me. A great part of the public listened with aversion to the poems that they felt too modern. Nevertheless, they expressed their wish to see Ady – who at that time was in Paris – and to ask him to give some instruction and guidance on his own poems. A functionary of the reading circle went to see him at his flat on Rue Levis. Ady accepted the invitation and he came to the meeting of Saturday night in the company of two ladies, of which one was certainly Ms. Léda. Ady delivered a warm and sincere speech and presented himself as a friend of the workers, of the suffering people and of those fighting for the future of Hungary, but not a Socialist “authenticated by the stamp of the trade union” (in his own words). A poet cannot be labeled with any kind of partisanism, he told. He said he wanted to be loved by the workers just as much as he loved the working people. He refused the unjust and narrow-minded attacks of Sándor Csizmadia in a firm and sharp tone, but without naming the attacker. The simple workers were quite heated up by the lecture of Ady. It was followed by an unaffected conversation. Ady was interested in the everyday life and financial relationships of the Hungarian workers in Paris as well as in the activity of the reading circle. He was amazed to hear that the association had hardly any budget (the members met in a private room of a café). He disapproved that they did not read any other daily and journal but Népszava. He advised them to write to Jászi and Kunfi who would willingly send them their journals even for free. Ady later remembered this meeting in an article published in Pesti Napló, and he also recalled with pleasure the journalist students he kept encountering during his travels.
Some years later, in 1912, 1913 and 1914 I met Ady a number of times in Budapest. I remember the warm and rhetorically perfect speech he told at the dinner following his admission to the lodge of freemasons.
I also have memories on how swiftly he wrote his poems. In October 1913 a group of progressive university students went to visit the poet in the Hotel to the Hungarian King, and the students had a dinner together with him in the restaurant of the hotel. By then I had already graduated, but someone invited me too. Ady drank wine and conversed with pleasure with the young ladies and gentlemen about politics, daily events and literature. They also talked about some unpleasant university movement. The clerical students wanted to push Jewish students out of the university, realizing a form of what we call now numerus clausus. The Makkabea Jewish student’s association also interfered in the quarrel. Ady speak disapprovingly about the intervention of this religious association, saying that it had degraded the great question of the freedom of learning to a wholly religious problem. He regarded it an inappropriate policy that not the liberal and progressive university students but a religious association was about to defend the freedom of studying. While talking, a messenger boy came from the journal Világ – it was Saturday evening – for the Sunday poem. Ady took paper and pencil, and right there on the table, while he asked us not to let us interrupt – and we in fact continued our discussion – he composed his poem in a couple of minutes. Its title was The sin of great thefts, and it was later published in the volume Who has seen me?
Concerning Ady’s own interpretation of his patriotism, I have recently found among my old papers an interesting manuscript of him which, I think, is unknown to many of his admirers. The article – as I have established – was published on the first page of the October 1913 edition of Szabadgondolat. I regard this short essay so interesting and touching, and to many of us such an actual confession that I would like Nyugat to give a larger publicity to these already forgotten lines. Its title is:
Confession on Patriotism..
I am a man prone to confessions. I am excited to dissect my own soul and I am happy when the knife cuts something concealed out of me. Now, as I am writing for the journal – so dear to me – of superstitionlessness, I am pleased by the idea of exposing one of my shameful superstitions. There are not many who do not think I am a little bit too Hungarian, and only a few believe that I consider the ravage of Hungarians my vocation. Well, the fact is that I am very much Hungarian, while accompanying even this identity of myself with a cruel criticism. But the real confession only comes now. 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. A romantic patriot of the kind of the Italian patriots and of the better Hungarian and Polish emigrants. 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. And on that occasion the many-colored camp of Hungarian progressives will have to face an issue more painful than any of the particular and specially Hungarian issues of our days.
On the occasion of the eventual advent of such a danger I would consider that the Hungarian people is an indispensable value for humanity and for humanity’s path to the stars. Its faults that are, oh how much they are, also my faults I would put then aside for a while, and I would only consider that one must protect at any cost a race threatened by military and ultramontane annihilation.
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?
So today I imagine that even in case of such a catastrophe I would fight and defend myself individually. But who knows what will my awaken romantic patriotism command to me on that occasion?
Here you are the problem of patriotism, or if you prefer so, the problem of my particular patriotism; and here is my confession on patriotism.
I have put it to paper because it is conceivable, human, Hungarian and interesting, and it stimulates everyone 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 – eventually hiding in him that is stronger than every science.
As this article attests, it would be a grateful task to collect the articles of Ady published in various dailies and journals. We would find among them a large number of important and valuable statements of the poet.
At the same time of the discovery of this article, I also found another one in the November 1913 edition of Szabadgondolat, from which I copied these sentences:
“There is only one way of redemption for this strange and sad Hungary: a salutary and refreshing change of its so-called leading intellectuals. I know that today it is the greatest audacity to speak out loudly this feared and desired secret, but I am no practical politician, and my belief is that the magic power of life lays in audacity… The multicolored society of this country is threatened by so many millions of miseries and dangers that everyone who represents the true, civilized Hungarian idea, however disdained, yes, every bourgeois and peasant with fresh energies have to stand up. A Russian student can became pogromist or nihilist, the Italian can prepare himself for conquests or for corrupt self-assertion, the English can behave arrogantly or go in for sports, the Roumanian can fight for the unity of all Roumanians – I don’t go on. The path and purpose of the new Hungarian students and of the new Hungarian youth are set by a hundred oppressed liberties and a hundred beautiful possibilities in life. But they also have to feel if they consider it worthy to feel – because it is worthy – that not our dark, boastful and self-complacent adversaries but we are Hungary and the Hungarian people.