István Széchenyi (1791–1860) was a man in a hurry. He wanted to bring Hungary into the nineteenth century, with railways, steam ships, tunnels, and bridges – not least one that spanned the Danube to unite Buda and Pest.
Széchenyi’s inspiration was England, which he visited five times. This book contains extracts from Széchenyi’s diary recording his stays in England in 1832 and 1834. They show the author’s enthusiasm for the new inventions and industrial processes that were being pioneered – from the ‘little devil’ of a steam train that ran between Manchester and Liverpool, to the construction of piers to support bridges, and even the operation of a bathroom shower.
But Széchenyi recognised that importing English methods was not enough to transform Hungary. A change was needed in what he called the ‘intelligence’ of the people, otherwise the transformation could only be superficial. Throughout his time in England, he alternated between boundless enthusiasm for everything new, and a despair of his fellow countrymen and their reluctance to embrace change. Translated for the first time into English, this judicious selection of extracts from Széchenyi’s diary gives a remarkable and compelling insight into England and Hungary in the 1830s as well as a glimpse into the troubled mind of Hungary’s most distinguished nineteenth-century reformer.
Masaryk Professor Emeritus of Central European History
University College London