János Arany was born the last child of György Arany and the former Sára Megyeri in Nagyszalonta, Hungary (now known as Salonta, Romania). Taught to read by his father, Arany began his studies in 1828 at Nagyszalonta. In 1831, he became a tutor at the school there, and in 1833, he transferred to the gymnasium (high school) at Debrecen on a scholarship. He took a leave of absence to serve as tutor in Kisujszállas for about a year, and in 1836 left Debrecen without taking a degree. He settled in Nagyszalonta and became a teacher, later taking a post as notary. In 1840, he married Julianna Ercsey, the orphaned child of a lawyer. A daughter, Juliska, was born in 1841, and a son, László, in 1844.
Although originally Arany had intended to give up his literary aspirations and devote his energies to building a secure future for his family, the friendship of István Szilágyi, who became rector at Nagyszalonta in 1842, drew him into the literary world. Arany had read widely in popular Hungarian literature since his childhood and had been introduced to earlier as well as contemporary Hungarian literature at Debrecen, but Szilágyi encouraged him to continue his studies of English and other foreign authors. Arany learned English to be able to read the works in the original, and he later translated from this language as well as from German, Greek, Italian, and other languages. In 1845, Arany’s poem “Az elveszett alkótmany” (the lost constitution) won a literary prize. In 1847, his Toldi won even greater acclaim, and he became increasingly involved in the literary life of the country, as well as in the events leading up to the Revolution of 1848. He ran for a seat in parliament but was defeated; he also served as a soldier during the siege of Arad.
After the defeat of the Hungarians by the combined forces of the Austrian and Russian empires, Arany, like most of his contemporaries, spent several months in hiding and naturally lost his teaching position. For a while, Count Lajos Tisza employed him as a tutor, and in 1851 he accepted a position as teacher in the gymnasium at Nagykörös. Arany...
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