As the oldest of nine children in a noble but impoverished Roman Catholic family in western Hungary, Mihály Vörösmarty could obtain a higher education only with the help of wealthy patrons. After attending the gymnasium at Székesfehérvár and Pest, and losing his father when he was seventeen, he had to accept the post of private tutor with the aristocratic Perczel family. At the same time, he continued his studies toward a law degree. These years of servitude and the hopeless love he felt for his employer’s daughter left marks of sensitivity, wariness, and pessimism on his character.
In 1823, Vörösmarty obtained a position as a law clerk while maintaining his post with the Perczel family. He had been writing poetry and drama since he was fifteen, and the lively company of his peers contributed to the further development of his talent, making him conscious of the importance of patriotic literature. During this time, he also made contact with the restless noblemen of the countryside who were conducting a determined campaign of resistance in the face of the absolutist Viennese government. Under their influence, Vörösmarty wrote the first of his anti-Habsburg poems and a number of expressive, complex historical dramas. The memory of unhappy love and the realization of limitations placed upon him by a rigidly structured society continued to haunt him, and in 1826, he left the Perczel household. His goal to “become an independent man and a writer” was instrumental in his decision to settle in Buda, which was emerging as the cultural center of Hungary. Faced with squalor and the indifference of the reading public, he was on the verge of giving up his literary activities and setting up a law practice, when he was offered the editorship of the Tudományos Gyüjtemény, one of the most prestigious journals in Hungary. He edited this publication and its supplement, the Koszorú, from 1828 to 1832. While this provided him with a steady income, the drudgery of the work and disheartening political developments occurring at the time, made his voice somber and pessimistic.
During the early years of the 1830’s, the Reform movement gained new momentum, and the cultural life of Hungary was also invigorated by the publication of Aurora, the first genuine literary monthly, edited by József Bajza, Ferenc Toldy, and Vörösmarty. The poet’s financial situation had improved. His works were regularly published,...
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