The Kisfaludy Society was founded in honor of Károly Kisfaludy by his friends.
Initially, it only aimed to keeping alive the memory of the great writer, but in
1836 they defined their tasks more broadly: the development of Hungarian
literature, and the encouragement of young writers through competitions. The
Kisfaludy Society began its operation in 1837, its first statutes were printed
society had monthly meetings, and once a year, on the birthday of Károly
Kisfaludy, 8 February, it had a solemn general assembly. The writers could
become members of the society by elections, but the statutes also knew the
status of supporting member. By paying the annual membership fee, the supporting
members were entitled to receive complimentary copies of the society’s
publications. The Kisfaludy Society closely collaborated with the Hungarian
Academy of Sciences, it held its meeting in the rented halls of the Academy, and
from 1866 in the palace of the HAS. The membership of the two institutions also
overlapped to a certain extent: one can say that becoming a member of the
Kisfaludy Society almost always anticipated the academic membership. The
Kisfaludy Society worked from 1837 until 1952. After its dissolution, its
collection of relics and archive, as well as the – fragmentary – official
documents were handed over to the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
After the defeat of the 1848/49 War of Independence, similarly to other national
institutions, the public working of the Kisfaludy Society was also banned. Over
time, the failures in foreign policy and economy pushed the Hapsburg Empire to
loosen their repressive policy in Hungary. In 1860 the Kisfaludy Society could
start its operation again, but it was under the control of the government, and
their meetings had to be reported to the governor’s council. The following years
can be considered as the golden age of the society. Its president, József Eötvös
was a renowned author and thinker of his age,
1848 Minister of Religion and Education, its vice-president Ferenc Toldy, the
father of Hungarian literary historiography, who soon became a university
professor; and the society’s director – until his election as the general
secretary of the Academy – János Arany, the greatest poet as well as the
greatest literary authority of his time.
On the 10 October 1861 meeting of the Kisfaludy Society, according to paragraph
4 of the protocols, János Arany presented the dramatic poem The tragedy of
man, whose author did not yet want to make himself known. Arany considered
the work “an excellent composition”, which, after minor improvements, could be
worthy to be published in a volume intended for the supporting members, and
moreover included in the series of its first year. The meeting adopted the
director’s proposal, and commissioned him to publish the work.
On the meeting of 31 October 1861 János Arany – with the consent of
the author – read excerpts from The tragedy of man.
The scenes red had a great impact on the members of the Kisfaludy Society. “You
should have seen how an Eötvös, a Csengery, etc. shouted: this is beutiful!” –
wrote János Arany on 5 November 1861 to Imre Madách. “The work in its principal
idea, composition, everything which is essential, is original, bold, poetic. […]
We have won, my friend!”, expressed the atmosphere of the meeting János
The historian Iván
Nagy, a close friend of Madách first heard from Ferenc Toldy about the events of
the meeting, and in his letter written in early November 1861 he hastened to
share it with Madách as well: Toldy enthusiastically commented on the Tragedy,
saying that it must be translated into German and other languages, because it
would become world famous.
The publisher and printer worked quickly, thus János Arany could announce on the
28 December 1861 meeting that the two complimentary volumes for the
supporting members of the Kisfaludy Society, The tragedy of man, as well
as the second volume of a novel by George Eliot translated by Ferenc Salamon
would be sent out in the first days of January.
Madách was satisfied with the look of the volume, and he almost found no
printing errors in it – he wrote on 20 February 1862 to Arany,
who, however, would have preferred a better print. Nevertheless, there was not
enough money to publish The tragedy of man in a more attractive form and
on a better paper than contracted with Gusztáv Emich, the publisher of the
complimentary volumes of the Kisfaludy Society.
The annual meeting of election of members was held on 30 January
1862 with the participation of government councilor Antal Baintner as the
inspector of the government. Imre Madách was recommended by Ferenc Toldy for his
excellent work The tragedy of man. He was elected with nine votes from
ten an ordinary member of the Kisfaludy Society.
According to the statutes, a newly elected member is presented to the society by
an old member, and then the new member occupies his place with a freely elected
lecture. Madách in his above quoted letter of 20 February 1862 asked János
Arany to tell the introductory words before his inaugural lecture, since Arany
made his name known in literary circles, and his refusal could have also buried
him forever. Arany willingly undertook this task. According to paragraph 1 of
the meeting of 27 March 1862, director János Arany greets and introduces Imre
Madách, newly elected ordinary member, who occupies his seat with the lecture
The mutual influence of aesthetics and society.
When briefly presentin the new member, János
Arany stressed how much responsibility and moral solidarity he assumed when he
recommended the Tragedy to the attention of the Kisfaludy Society. In
fact, the author trusted it to the opinion of János Arany whether his work
should be published or forever perish. Madách sincerely confessed: were his work
sent back with a negative judgment, he would have thrown it into fire, and “Adam
would have dreamt his last dream among the flames of purgatory.”
After the brief but thoughtful introduction Madách had his lecture.
It is interesting, but also characteristic, that he occupied his seat in the
Kisfaludy Society not with a literary work, but a scholarly treatise. Perhaps
his failure of 20 years ago, when his treatise analyzing the dramas of Sophocles
was refused by the severe jury, also had its role in it: now he wanted to show
how multi-talented, a real poeta doctus he was. In his treatise he
examined the individual and social impact of aesthetic culture. The phenomena
falling within the scope of aesthetic beauty, says Madách, not only enrich the
life of the individuum, but are also important documents of national existence,
even if the national state has not yet achieved its rights. He brought the
German culture as an example, but it was obvious to everyone that he intended
Hungary, which was administratively cut up by the neoabsolutist power, which
wanted to merge it into the empire. The treatise also reveals that for Madách,
the esthete the Hungarian example was Vörösmarty and János Arany, while the
counter-example the daily press and the unpretentious language of scholarly
publications. Madách could not come to terms with the breadwinner literature and
the professional writers. As a result, he did not appreciate the novel, but he
set the dramatic poem as an example to follow.
The foundation made by Imre Madách in favor of the Kisfaludy Society was
also announced at this meeting. Madách donated an unusually large amount – 100 forints –
from the honorary of the first edition of the Tragedy. At this meeting, a
total of 110 forints and five founding letters were acknowledged.
The protocols show that Imre Madách did not appear any more at the meetings of
the Kisfaludy Society. His name was recommended on 5 October 1863, when the
program of the solemn assembly of the next year was discussed. Károly Bérczy
suggested Imre Madách as one of the lecturers. Madách willingly offered the
details of one of his works in preparation, and on 28 January 1864 Károly Bérczy
read instead of him the first scene of his dramatic poem Fairy Dream.
According to the protocols, the Society was pleased to listen to the beutiful
details, but they could not read it at the general assembly, because its program
has been composed in the meantime.
On the 26 October 1864 meeting, secretary Ágost Greguss announced a new great
loss of the Hungarian literature and the Kisfaludy Society: on 5 October Imre
Madách passed away. At the announcement of the news, they immediately invited
Károly Bérczy, the old faithful friend of Madách, to hold a memorial speech
according to the traditions of the Kisfaludy Society. Bérczy undertook the task
without hesitation. He read his speech after a long preparation, one and half
year after Madách’s death, on 6 February 1866, at the solemn annual
meeting of the society. He embedded the evaluation of Madách’s literary and
public career in the framework of his biography. The largest extent was of
course dedicated to the great work, the Tragedy. Bérczy also responds to
the question of contemporary critics whether the Tragedy is a clearly
original work. Did the author draw from the works of Goethe, Milton, Byron? The
Tragedy is such a faithful mirror of the character and thinking of the
author – says Bérczy – which cannot be detected in other great writers, a
faithful impression of Madách’s soul, which should have been written like this
even if he never heard about the Faust.