Skip to main content

Kertbeny 200

Biography of Károly Kertbeny

Constantinople. Illustration for Julia Pardoe’s book The Beauties of the Bosphorus by W.H. Bartlett (1838)

Portrait of Gusztáv Heckenast, printer and bookseller, by Ferenc Haske, 1840

Daguerreotype of Sándor Petőfi, 1844 or 1845

Jahrbuch des deutschen Elementes in Ungarn, 1846

Esztergom cityscape in the 19th century, with a view of Víziváros, the Primate’s Palace, the parish church, the castle, and the basilica

Portrait of Károly Kertbeny, cc. 1865

Kertbeny’s diary entry, May 7, 1868 (manuscript from the National Széchenyi Library)

Károly Kertbeny’s speech given before his election as chairman of the Hungarian Association in Berlin; Fővárosi Lapok (Journal of the Capital City), May 1870

Colophon of the Journal of the Petőfi Society, 1877

“The old hermit of the Rudas Bath” – News report on the publication of Hungary’s oldest dramatic literature, 1550-1575. Fővárosi Lapok (Journal of the Capital City), June 1878

The Rudas Bath in the 1850s

Kertbeny’s potrait, drawing based on György Klösz’s photograph, Vasárnapi Újság (Sunday Times), 1882

News report on Károly Kertbeny’s death, Fővárosi Lapok (Journal of the Capital City), January 24, 1882

Károly Kertbeny’s funeral, Fővárosi Lapok (Journal of the Capital City), January 26, 1882

Károly Kertbeny’s obituary, Corvina, February 1882

1824: Karl Maria Anton Josef Benkert (Karl-Maria Benkert) is born in Vienna on February 28 as the eldest child of German actor and journalist Anton Benkert and painter Charlotte Benkert (née Graf).

1826: He moves to Pest to his grandmother, then lives in Eger as well, and completes his studies in Pest at the Piarist school.

1838: He travels abroad for the first time with Joseph Bayeyr, a relative from Prague, taking a steamboat from Pest to Constantinople, then to Cairo. Upon returning to Hungary, he becomes an assistant to the bookseller Schwaiger in the city of Győr.

1840: He works as a bookseller in Gusztáv Heckenast’s bookstore in Pest. He meets Lajos Kossuth, József Eötvös, Ferenc Pulszky, István Széchenyi and László Teleki.

The first page of Károly Kertbeny’s handwritten autobiography 

1842: He flees Pest and moves to Vienna in April, becoming a journalist at the Wiener Theater-Zeitung. He later works as a bookseller in Prague, Leipzig, and Dresden. After returning to Pest, he joins the army in December as officer cadet of the 5th artillery regiment.

1843: He is discharged from the military, but is officially still a soldier. He returns to Pest, studies medicine for a while, then commits his life to literature and publishing. His articles are frequently published in the Pest newspaper Spiegel.

1845: He meets Sándor Petőfi at Tódor Bakody’s literary night towards the end of the year. He frequents Pilvax café as well, where he is acquainted with Mór Jókai and Mihály Tompa.

1846: He launches his own German journal aimed at the German speaking community in Hungary (Jahrbuch des deutschen Elementes in Ungarn). However, only one volume of the yearbook is published.

1846: He travels to Italy and then to Switzerland. He is shot by Austrian guards at the border.

1847: He moves to Paris in February, where he meets József Bem and Heine Heinrich. He then relocates to London to work at the British Library cataloging Hungarian books. He applies for a legal name change.

1848: He resides in Germany. He comes of age in Frankfurt in February, and changes his name to Kertbeny. It is here that he publishes his first Petőfi translation.

1849-1850: He stays in Leipzig and hides near a botanical garden due to his missing passport, studying botanics. 

1851: He publishes the German translation of Petőfi’s János vitéz in Stuttgart and the translation of Arany’s Toldi in Leipzig. In Vienna he works as a theater critic and contributes to local journals. He is also contacted by Hans Christian Andersen.

1852: He moves back to Hungary. He works at the library of the National Museum, not yet properly organized, until 1854, compiling the Hungarian collection. He also researches sheet music for Liszt.

1854: Due to financial instability, he offers to work for the Austrian secret police (unsuccessfully). He goes to Esztergom to describe the new cathedral and collect historical data.

1856: He moves  to Vienna where he works as a journalist again.

Károly Kertbeny’s portrait, lithography by Eduard Kaiser, 1856

1860: He flees to Munich, then Switzerland, to evade military service, also residing in Geneva and Paris.

1864: He lives in Dresden and then in Brussels. It is in Brussels that he meets János Xántus and Ármin Vámbéry. His book Alphabetische Namensliste ungarischer Emigration. 1848-1864 is published.

1866: He goes to Rhineland where he holds recitals of Petőfi’s poetry, then moves to Cologne where he works as an editorial assistant.

1867: He moves to Hannover, where he writes promotional articles about Hungarian wines amongst other things.

1868: On May 6 he sends a letter to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, using, for the first time, the words “homosexual”, “heterosexual”, “monosexual” and “heterogenit”. One day later his mother dies in Vienna aged 68. In August he moves to Berlin where works at local journals and as the Berlin reporter for Mór Jókai’s journal Hon.

1869: He anonymously publishes two treatises (Paragraph 143 of the Prussian penal code and its retention as paragraph 152 in the draft penal code of the North German Confederation; Social damage caused by paragraph 143 of the Prussian penal code).

1870: He is elected chairman of the Hungarian Association in Berlin. He has a stroke aged 46, leaving his left side completely paralyzed, stripping him of his ability to write.

1874: He publishes his German translation of Mór Jókai’s novel  Az arany ember (The Golden Man)  in Berlin. The same year he offers his painting of his younger brother to the Hungarian National Museum.

1875: Quite sick, he moves back to Budapest in August. Thanks to the city of Budapest, he is housed in the Rudas Bath (later referring to himself as “the old hermit of the Rudas Bath”). He gives readings and lectures in the capital.

1876: He is elected as a member of the Petőfi Society chaired by Mór Jókai. He contributes to the society’s journals: first to Koszoru, then to Figyelő.

1880: His seminal bibliographic work Old German prints relating to Hungary. 1454-1600 is published. The same year, he writes a chapter on homosexuality for Gustav Jäger’s book The Discovery of the Soul. Due to pressure from the publisher, this particular chapter is not included in the final version, however, the terminology coined by Kertbeny is used throughout the book.

January 17, 1882: Kertbeny suffers a stroke again. He is taken to Rókus Hospital where he dies on January 23. He is buried by the authors’ aid association on January 25 in the Kerepesi Road Cemetery (today known as National Graveyard). The Society of Authors and Artists start raising funds for Kertbeny’s tombstone.