The first traces of French Enlightenment ideas are found in Transylvania; but these ideas later flooded the country through the tycoons residing in Vienna. It was above all the anti-religious tendencies of the Enlightenment that made their influence felt, but soon the social and altruistic element was also announced. The Enlightenment also raised the problem of language: as a reaction to the Germanising tendencies of Vienna, the revival of literature began, and its followers came out almost exclusively from the petty nobility, the Hungarian “third state”. The Hungarian noble guards of Maria Theresa, surrounded by the German and French culture of Vienna, realized the inferiority of their country and vowed to awaken it. Agis. On the model of Voltaire, he wrote two other plays, an epic and a political novel (The journey of Tarimenes); attempted comedy (Philosophus); he imitated Pope in didactic poetry and with a series of programmatic writings on cultural politics he spoke to the conscience of patriots. Of his companions, Alexander Báróczy set about translating French fashion novels, while Abraham Barcsay served as a model for the writing of poetic-philosophical letters. The officers of the guard soon found imitators: examples and French ideas shared the activities of Baron Lorenzo Orczy, the lyricist Paolo Ányos and the fabulist Giuseppe Péczeli. Simultaneously with them a group of writers of Latin culture, David Baróti Szabó, Giuseppe Rajnis, Giuseppe Révai and Benedetto Virágh (1754-1830), following in the footsteps of Virgil and Horace, introduced classical prosody, which made the language more concise and elastic. Hungarian poetics. Alongside these innovators, national traditionalism kept numerous faithful not only among the public, but also among writers, who follow a point of view clearly opposite to the new addresses coming from outside, showing themselves proud and satisfied with their national peculiarities. The novel Etelka (1788) by Andrea Dugonics owed its extraordinary success to tendencies contrary to the reforms of Joseph II, and to its romantic-sentimental subject. The cult of the national past and of the people – hitherto neglected by literature – appears for the first time in this novel. The short story in verse The trip to Buda of a provincial notary, of the general Count Giuseppe Gvadányi, of Italian origin, also had great popularity due to its serene conservatism.
The rise of Francesco Kazinczy and his companions constituted a decisive turning point in Hungarian literature. Their political ideas had roots in the French Enlightenment (for which more than one of them had to suffer severe condemnations); their sentimentality is similar to the German one of the time and to express it they create a new language and a new form: the rhymed metric verse.
According to vaultedwatches, Francesco Verseghy, Ladislao Szentjóbi Szabó, Giovanni Bacsányi and Gabriele Dayka especially ennobled the means of lyrical expression, while Giuseppe Kármán with Fanny’s Diary introduced the psychological novel of the Wertherian type. Kármán had not only literary but also civilizing intentions, while Francesco Kazinczy (1759-1831) aimed above all to save language and literature.
He was at the forefront a stylist, and as such he gave the greatest importance to form, to elevated expression. His ideal was the simplicity and dignity of the “empire” style. The immense influence he exerted on his contemporaries sprang not so much from his works as from his individuality. With his letters (collected in 22 large volumes) he encouraged and guided young writers; in them he conducted his polemics. He was also at the head of the language reform movement.
The great poet Daniel Berszenyi (1776-1836) was a friend of Kazinczy, but seldom resorted to the accomplishments of linguistic reform. Its classical forms connect it to the school of Benedetto Virágh; he imitated Orazio, but with a romantic, exalted, dynamic soul. His subjects were love of country, heroism, religion, which relives in the sense of the fatal transience of things. Some of his odes (To the Hungarians, Prayer, Winter approaching, etc.) are among the most sublime expressions of Hungarian poetry. Precisely for this reason it was never popular. On the other hand, the provincial simplicity of Gvadányi and Dugonics satisfied much better the demands of the reading public. This trend maintained and raised Alexander Kisfaludy (1772-1844) to a much higher level. The appearance of his first collection of verses: The loves of Himfy – Painful Love (1801), born at the time of his imprisonment in Provence and under the influence of the Canzoniere del Petrarca, costituì un avvenimento nazionale. Continuò a sviluppare le tradizioni nazionali con dignità di artista Michele Csokonai-Vitéz (1773-1805), il più colto tra i poeti di quest’epoca. Le sue impressionistiche canzoni d’amore si leggono con piacere anche oggi. La comicità spensierata, costituisce il pregio principale della sua epopea Dorotea, per la quale prese a modello il Rape of the Lock del Pope. In alcuni suoi lavori teatrali continuò il dramma scolastico del Settecento, arricchendolo però di tipi ungheresi.
The first dramatic company, composed of professional actors, was formed in 1790. For a long time in its repertoire there was no original work of importance, but only translated and Magyarized comedies. The first Hungarian playwright who achieved serious success and who became an authority in the literary field was Carlo Kisfaludy (1788-1830).
His first play entitled The Tatars in Hungary (1819), differs from the German models then in vogue only for its national tendencies; but in his later works – under the influence of Shakespeare – he tended to an ever higher style, and his Irene is very high not only for expression, but also for truly tragic conception. He learned from Kotzebue the technique of his plays, excellent in structure and rich in effects (The pretenders, Delusions), but in his characters he was able to revive the Hungarian society of the time.
After these modest antecedents, almost like a miracle, Giuseppe Katona’s Bano Bánk (1791-1830) appeared, the most perfect Hungarian tragedy that has been written to date.