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Kertbeny 200

The literary and bibliographic work of Kertbeny

Report on Kertbeny’s translations of Toldi and Murány; Budapesti Hírlap (Budapest Herald), 26 November 1854

Report on the prospective translation of Petőfi’s narrative poems; Vasárnapi Újság (Sunday News), 1859

Cover page of Kertbeny’s Zwei novellen (Geneva, 1862)

Cover page of Ein Goldmensch, Kertbenyi’s translation of Mór Jókai’s Az arany ember (The Man with the Golden Touch)

Translation and literary work

Kertbeny started translating literary works in the 1840s. His first translation into German was a play titled Kalmár és tengerész (Merchant and Seaman) by Zsigmond Czakó under the title Kaufmann und Seefarher, which was later staged in Buda featuring German actors on November 1, 1845.

His first translated volume of Petőfi’s poems was published in Frankfurt in 1848, and he later translated János vitéz, Arany János’s Toldi, poems by Mihály Vörösmarty and Kálmán Lisznyai, and several novels by Mór Jókai. These translations were criticized by some due to their poor quality and mistranslations during his lifetime. Kertbenyi also wrote short stories in German himself.

Article by Mór Jókai in a 1874 issue of the satirical journal Borsszem Jankó

Károly Kertbenyi’s Album 100 ungarischer Dichter von 1572 bis 1853 (Album of 100 Hungarian poets from 1572 to 1853) (Prague, 1853)

Károly Kertbenyi’s Erinnerungen an Graf Stefan Széchenyi (Memories of Count István Széchenyi) (Geneva, 1860)

Károly Kertbenyi’s Erinnerungen an Graf Ladislaus Teleki (Memories of Count László Teleki) (Prague, 1862)

Kertbeny’s activities as a promoter of culture

“He lived his life in the service of his country, even when he was somewhere else. There he preached our glory among the nations” – this is how József Komócsy, founder and vice president of the Petőfi Society, summarized Kertbeny’s activities promoting Hungarian culture across Europe, standing at his grave. Kertbeny also wrote short biographies about significant Hungarian artists and politicians of his time (Ferenc Deák, Ferenc Liszt, István Széchenyi, László Teleki); in 1853, his book introducing 100 Hungarian writers was published (Album 100 ungarischer Dichter von 1572 bis 1853); the same year, he wrote an educational book on the Holy Crown of Hungary; and in 1864, he published a list of Hungarians that emigrated in 1849. He was a regular contributor to German newspapers, writing about Hungarian literature, culture and wine, and his articles were published in several Hungarian newspapers, too. All in all, he published nearly 3000 articles in German and Hungarian. 

Károly Kertbeny’s Die Heilige Ungrische Krone (The Hungarian Holy Crown) (Pest, 1853)

Kártoly Kertbenyi - Géza Petrik: German-language Bibliography in Hungary, 1801-1860 

Bibliographic work 

The bibliographic activities of Károly Kertbeny were stopped short; however, his efforts, bibliographic mission and theoretical foundations can still be considered modern. “Literature without bibliography is like property without inventory or a country without a map” – this was Kertbenyi’s ars poetica regarding his bibliographic activity, which served as a motto for several of his writings. 

In the 1840s, his plan related to Hungarian bibliography began taking shape in his mind, largely thanks to his travels abroad.  Between 1846 and 1851, he regularly visited the libraries of the major European cities, and mapped the Hungarian-language and foreign-language material related to Hungary. Later on, he continued his research at the library of the Hungarian National Museum in Pest, seeking out major booksellers and placing advertisements as well. His magnum opus was never realized; however, he collected information on 7000 Hungarian and 9000 non-Hungarian books. 

In 1876, the first and only booklet of his A magyar irodalom a világirodalomban (Hungarian Literature In World Literature) was published, which comprised of “the bibliographic overview of translations of Hungarian works published independently in foreign languages”; and 1880 saw the publication of his seminal bibliographical book Magyarországra vonatkozó régi német nyomtatványok. 1454-1600 (Old German prints relating to Hungary. 1454-1600). His research on the 19th century, which was left unfinished due to his death, was resumed by Géza Petri, who published the two-volume study Magyarországi német könyvészet 1801-1860 (German Bibliography in Hungary 1801-1860) in 1866.