4 – Twain in Budapest

Budapest 27 march

 

 

 

Mark Twain spent two years in Vienna (1897-1899) and visited Budapest once, for a week in March 1899. The Hungarian Journalists Association invited Twain to speak during the Jubilee Celebration of the Emancipation of the Hungarian Press. Twain prepared  “German for the Hungarians” in Vienna.

The lecture was scheduled for 8:00 PM on 25 March at the Lipótvárosi Kaszinó. Upon arrival in the Great Hall, Twain abandoned the prepared remarks and instead (with “German for the Hungarians” in his hands) delivered a series of anecdotes he had developed in other lectures.

In your opinion, what would have made Twain change his mind?
sincerely yours
04

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10 thoughts on “4 – Twain in Budapest

  1. Personally, I don’t know all the circumstances of that event, but I assume that the reason why Mark Twain had changed his mind was Hungarian people and the city of Budapest itself. I think that upon his arrival to Budapest he was very welcomed in the country. People were generous and hospitable. The city was stunning. So eventually he might have realized that there was no point in arguing with Hungarian people, that they were reasonable and friendly, and they could easily solve all their conflicts simply by being kind to each other.

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  2. I looked up some of the circumstances, mainly because I was bothered by the highly political content of the speech and the fact that Twain would have acted in the name of Austria in the case of arranging the taxes between the two countries of the monarchy. I assume he was being satirical in his speech, but I am not quite sure. It is kind of difficult to find anything easily available about Paragraph 14 of the Ausgleich, but it seems to me that it is the same article that was agreed on in 1867, when the Monarchy was born, saying that every tenth year the two countries have to come to an agreement. Twain came to Hungary to give this speech for the Jubilee Celebration of the Freedom of the Hungarian Press, and he was invited by the Hungarian Journalist’s Association (so it seems to me he was really not in any official status where he would have had any reason to pressure Hungarians about this issue). English was not widely spoken among Hungarians at the time (…or… today), but German was. Twain had complained about having difficulties with German, so him lecturing Hungarians about German sounds highly ironic.
    But this is the jubilee of the free press. The press that was freed 50 years ago from the Monarchy’s pressure and censure during the revolution of 1848-1849. Seems to me that giving this speech would have been highly insensitive, especially with an audience that was really excited to receive Twain.

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  3. Being aware that I lack any further information about the event—and its circumstances—to which Twain prepared his remarks, the reason he abandoned his original notes, I believe, was the following. Spending two years in Vienna, an Austrian identity started to emerge in Twain—just as it would emerge in anyone, who spends a notable time in another country with another culture. Therefore, he saw things through “Austrian lens”, so he approached the subjects regarding Hungarian Press from an Austrian direction. However, when he arrived at Hungary, at Budapest, he got an insight to the Hungarian side as well, which could—and it seems it did—change his opinion on the relevant matter. Unfortunately, I could not find any further resources—or just very superficial and deficient—relevant to this event, so I can only analyze his decision to change his speech on a very general level. I believe it is very easy to say things, make decisions, or take sides regarding matters that we only saw from one side. But when we discover other aspects, when we see things as they are, as a whole—if it is possible at all—it can change our mind. For example, it is very easy to come up with the ideology that we do not give money to homeless people, because they will spend it on alcohol anyway. I honestly believe that most of the people who use this as an excuse—even if they completely believe their ideology is right—would do the same exact thing if they were the unfortunate ones, begging for money on the streets. This example might seem off, but I hope it supports my opinion well enough.

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  4. I did some light reading about Twain’s time in Austria, and an interview conducted with him, by an anonymous reporter of a Hungarian newspaper, on the train travelling from Vienna to Budapest. Twain kept his life in Austria in very high regard, he would go to every possible social gathering, much to the joy of the Austrians, and even had a private audience with the Emperor Franz Joseph (where, funnily enough, he forgot the speech he had memorized and had to improvise, like in Hungary). His love of Austria could thus explain why he thought it a good idea to deliver his speech in Hungary. As to why he changed his mind, apart from the obvious reason–even if one is famed for his satirical humor, he has to be able to “read an audience”–, he did learn on the train to Budapest that Hungarians respect him as high as to call their humorists at the time “Hungarian Mark Twains”. Also, he found Hungarians to be very jovial, and made remarks that he would have arrived a year earlier, if he would have known about the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Fight. So it seems he knew about Hungary’s woes and of how inappropriate the speech was, but still thought that he could get away with the joke. Perhaps his time in Austria had left him not as sensitive to Hungarian issues as he should have been; as he realized he needs to be, when he stepped on the stage.

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  5. I have read an article about an interview with Mark Twain which mentions that his visit to Budapest in 1899 on the invitation of the Hungarian Journalists’ Association to deliver a speech during the Jubilrr Celebration. Though this article is interesting describing the atmosphere and the fascination of Mark Twain about his first visit to Budapest as well as his interest in famous hunagrian intellectuals like Lajos Kossuth who is quite famous in American history, the writer of the article is also not sure about the reason behind changing the speech. But I think that Twain, after experiencing the worm welcoming of the hungarians and the beautiful city he visited made him change his mind. Also, I think that talking about “German for Hungary” would be inappropriate to deliver in a celebration fo freedom of the press. Twain in his speech said that his German was not good ” to tell the truth, my German js rather poor. I would not know tomorrow what I had perfectly mastered yesterday.” ( Anna B. Kotana. Hungarian Studies Review, Vol.IX. No.1 ) so maybe he dis not prefer to feel embarrassed while speaking a language he barely knew and barely used it back in the US and maybe he thought that Hungarians too do not use it very often because they have their own language independently.

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  6. The way I see it is that Mark Twain felt so honored and glad to be cordially welcomed by Hungarian people. We could also probably relate this with our very own experiences. I believe that good things and kindness have the power to change the way we think and feel about things around us. It could also be that he did not expect Budapest to be as beautiful as what he imagined before that its actual beauty and atmosphere lifted his spirits, and made him change his mood as well as stereotype of the city and Hungarian people he had before his arrival.

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  7. I believe that the welcoming nature of the Hungarians led to the change in Twain’s opinions.
    mark twain gives the experiences of his life the chance to change his opinions regarding things in his life, and one of these experiences is his journey to Budapest.

    one of his quotes that prove his ideology in his life is the following:
    “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

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  8. Although it is difficult to imagine the audience’s expectations concerning Mark Twain’s speech, I imagine his visit to Hungary was a sensation and people were eager to see him. The original speech is not easy to understand (at least for me), due to the German words and phrases. I sense an intention of humor or satire in his words; however, I do not think the speech would have been well received at that time, 50 years after the revolution. I assume Twain understood the inappropriate nature of his speech and decided to go with something as lighthearted as anecdotes instead.

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  9. I would agree with the others. I feel like the most important reasons why Twain changed his mind were the hospitality of the Hungarians and the fact that he must have realized that his satire was inappropriate in this context. He probably understood the significance of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 and the situation of Hungary at that time, so he decided not to present something that might have been taken as offensive.

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