A WINTER'S JOURNEY Part 6
This accident would have removed them: for what could I have done, alone and entirely without language, with my humpbacked postilion, in circumstances of such embarrassment! I thanked God I had been wise enough to decide as I did.
We had now entered among the low hills which I have mentioned above, consisting of red, yellow, or grey earth, chiefly the produce of decomposed rock. Beyond lay still loftier ranges, covered in some places with wood, oak, and chestnut ; in others, cultivated to the top, the green of the young wheat already giving them a rich emerald hue. In some places, where the natural wood had been cut, I observed plantations of acacia protected by enclosures, which, I was told, was for the encouragement of game.
I had looked in vain for those vast forest tracts in which a Prince Esterhazy, or a Palfi, or a Batiani, give those splendid chasses which one hears of in England, and which every sportsman desires to witness : but though our road led through the domains of several of these nobles, and their preserves were pointed out to me, I saw nothing that filled the
imagination up to the point excited by the accounts I have alluded to; in fact, the forest patches seemed scarcely more extensive than many natural woods
and artificial plantations I have seen at home; and though in other parts of Hungary the forests are, no doubt, more dense and extensive, I found upon inquiry, if I may trust to my informants, that these
grand battues are generally held in the less extensive woods, as affording better and more easy sport than the wilder tracts; that, in fact, it was much the same as in England, only on a somewhat greater scale, and that all the sport depended upon preservation of the game.
The game, accordingly, is preserved with excessive strictness; and the arbitrary nature of the game-laws is calculated to aid this aristocratic proceeding, in a country where there could be no sale for game, and, consequently, but little temptation to poaching. I was told, that if a peasant were seen trespassing on any preserve, he might be shot like a wolf or mad dog. This is preserving — these are game-laws with a vengeance!
The village where we repaired damages was in habited chiefly by persons engaged in the quarrying and working a species of red marble which is found
in the hills here, and which, I understand, takes a beautiful polish. The traffic which this manufacture occasions on the roads does not, undoubtedly, improve them, any more than the fragments of stone which are strewed upon them without method or
judgment. Thus we continued subject to jolts of the most alarming description.
In one part, indeed, an attempt had been made to form a regular road of this stone ; but, fortunately, it extended only a short way, for it was intolerably rough. As to that which passed through the villages, I cannot attempt to describe it: to footpassengers it was in many places impassable; and we observed little pathways of corn stalks laid along to render the crossings from one side of the street to the other practicable. In fact, were it not for the boots worn by all, of every sex and age, they could scarcely hold communication with their next neighbours. These boots, which are cut in the hussar fashion, and are made of pigskin, are so greased and prepared as to be little harmed by moisture : it is well that such is the case, for at this season they are never dry for an hour together. I had ocular demonstration of the use of these frail causeways ; for I saw the women of the village skipping and tripping along them— then plunging, with petticoats lifted high, into the well-worked mud, and wading to their destination: and such women! great Tartar-like figures, with short jackets, or large shaggy sheepskins, like the men,- fearful objects indeed.
From hence to Buda, where we arrived about five in the evening, the road wound among hills, many of which were covered with vineyards that produce the fine red Hungarian wine. The Danube rolled its waters a considerable way to our left, and many towns and villages were seen studding the country. Among these was Grān, the seat of the Archbishop of Hungary, who is building a church in a very conspicuous position upon a hill, on the model, it is said, of St. Peter's at Rome, and of immense size. He might find better He might find better ways of spending his large revenues, probably; for I do not understand that the people here abouts are over-strict in their religious notions;-as a proof of which, I was told that Catholics and Protestants bury their dead side by side in the same churchyard : so that here at least all differences of creed are terminated in the grave.
The traffic near Buda is so great, that all vestiges of a road disappeared as we approached it, and the driver of each cart or carriage took through the fields the course he thought best. It is said that this shameful neglect of the means of traversing the country has its origin, like many other of the national ills of Hungary, in the constitution of its government; the jealousy with which the nobles regard any measure emanating from Vienna, and the utter want of unanimity among themselves. The Emperor of Austria, in fact, has but small power in Hungary ; he gets little from the country except recruits for his army, and a trifling sum of money. The diet of nobles do everything that is done--and that is very little--to benefit the country. I understood they had been sitting twelve months at Presburgh in consultation upon some important national points, but had not come to a decision upon any. I believe there are some grounds of complaint against Austria of a commercial nature ; but as I did not hear anything to be depended on upon that subject, I can say nothing about it. Great pity it is, at all events,that they cannot come to some understanding regarding their roads.
The ancient city of Buda, so far as I saw, seems to consist of one street of irregular houses, at least a mile and a half long, half buried in mud and filth, running along the foot of a range of rocky hills, one of which is castellated and crowned with the fortified part of the old town. In this is the King's Palace, at this time occupied by one of the arch dukes, as Palatinate of Hungary. I have no doubt that this oldplace may contain things worth seeing, though I saw them not; at all events, the castellated rock, as it rose over the town and noble river, looming larger in the twilight, was sufficiently imposing. The appearance of Pest, the new town which has sprung up within these some years,and which occupies the opposite side of the river, is particularly fine and prepossessing. It presents to view several regular rows of handsome modern houses, built of stone or brick and whitewashed ; and, reflected in the river, made a very pleasing show ; but it has none of those picturesque domes or fantastic spires which impart so peculiar a character to the old German cities. The Danube, here, I should think, scarce a quarter of mile broad, is spanned by a bridge of boats,which joins the two cities : this in winter is taken up,on account of the ice which floats down, and passengers are forced to have recourse to ferry-boats.
We proceeded to a very tolerable hotel, called “ The Hunting-horn;" where, having sent for a coachmaker to repair damages, I indulged myself with a comfortable purification, and with a good dinner. The repairs occupied some four hours, and it was not till a little before ten at night that I was again in the carriage, and on the way towards Semlin. But our career this night was not destined to be smooth, any more than on the preceding one : our driver, who appeared more willing than skilful, attended rather to speed than safety; so that as the road was little superior to that we had left behind us, the effect was likely to be the same.
BREAK DOWN THE SECOND.
We had suffered some severe jolts, and were vociferating loudly to the man to be cautious, when our mouths were shut, and our words cut short, by the body of the carriage coming down with a thump upon the perch, in consequence of the leather of the right fore Spring breaking short near the top. It was sufficiently vexatious: we had made a fine start, as
we thought “ all right,” and had scarce cleared the town, when behold us at a stand-still! Our vicinity to the town, indeed, was the only lucky part of the affair, for one moment's glance showed us that we could not get on without the assistance of a saddler ; so back at once we drove the shattered carriage, we walking on foot through the mire to the house of an artist whom our coachman recommended.
It was now within little better than an hour of Christmas-morning, a most unlikely time to find any one ready to take our job in hand, for we had every reason to expect that we should have both
superstition and ill-humour to contend with at so ill-chosen a time. We were lucky enough, however, to find not only expert, but willing workmen, who, though summoned from their beds, received us civilly, and undertook the job with perfect readiness. It was a pair of brothers to whom we were so much obliged (for obligation it was, in the full sense of the word): they rose with alacrity, set themselves to work with skill, and so efficiently did they exert themselves, that as the clock struck twelve we were entering the carriage, having satisfied our obliging saddlers with a comparatively small remuneration. The bells were ringing, and the people all stepping along the streets,with lanterns, to church and chapel, as we passed once more through the town ; but an anxious time we had until we reached the first stage, for the remembrance of the past was before us, and fear of the future could not be altogether avoided.
CHRISTMAS MORN .
It was at daylight, on as bleak a Christmas-morning as ever dawned, that I looked out for the first time upon the regular steppe of Hungary, which now stretched around us. Misty and interminable it seemed, marked here and there only by a single tree, with a cluster of cottages in front,- a true Hungarian village. The whole, village and all, put me much in mind of the steppes of Southern Russia ; but the faces of the people had so much of the Tartar physiognomy, that I might almost have fancied myself somewhere on the borders of Toorkestan. The women, in particular, bore that character of countenance; and not one of them, young or old, was even tolerably good-looking.
Photographs of the 1950s showing that the villages have barely changed from the 1830s
The change which the costume of the men had been gradually undergoing from that of Austria was now complete. The lower orders wore shirts of coarse stuff,-sometimes, I suspect, none at all, — large loose canvass trowsers, no stockings, but long Hungarian boots. Blue or dark Blue or dark green cloth waistcoats, with several rows of white round metal buttons, and tight highly-embroidered trowsers, were affected by those who could afford them. The richer, and those of the better classes, wore over all a sort of surtout of cloth; but the external covering most common to all was the boonda, or sheepskin pelisse.
This is common to young and old of both sexes,and, generally,of all conditions. It is a long, ample covering, which may either be worn with the wool outside or inside : the latter mode is generally adopted ; but in rain, when the skin or leather would be spoiled by wet, they turn the shaggy side without. The leather is often ornamented with a very neat embroidery in coloured silks, representing flowers; sometimes they are painted with various devices, and their wearers always throw over the shoulders the skin of a black or grey lamb, with its feet stretched out on either side, by way ofan additional ornament: the effect is better than one might imagine, giving a furred richness of look to what otherwise is but a gown of embroidered yellow leather. The cost of these boondahs is from twelve to thirty florins, of silver, say from twenty-four to sixty shillings, according to the workmanship.
I believe the mere wrappers of the poor are still cheaper : the boots so universally worn cost from one and a half to three silver florins, according to quality. But the most marked and singular piece of Hungarian costume is the enormous hat worn by the peasantry: it is made of coarse brown felt, and of most extravagant dimensions, with a little low rounded crown and enormous brim. I do not think I exaggerate when I say that these brims would, if standing straight out from the head, measure four feet across: but this monstrous margin is tilted up all round, so as to form a broad deep trough between it and the crown, most inconvenient , I should think, in heavy rain. At some distance they look like enormous mushrooms ; but when closer, and that you see their construction, they rather suggest the idea of some great brown flower of the ranunculus sort, the petals of which are represented by the brim, while the crown stands up for the round cluster of stamina and pistils in the centre. What they do with these extravagant scrapers in case of rain, I do not know ; for though we had plenty of rain on the way, our postilions seldom could boast of a whole hat, so that the water ran off at the gaps.
The costume of the women is not very remarkable. They wear boots, like the men, and tie blue or other coloured handkerchiefs on their heads, bringing a fold over the mouth to protect them from the cold; a fashion, one might think, borrowed from their Eastern neighbours. Another handkerchief covers the bosom, and sometimes is crossed by a second of a different hue, over a short body-jacket of some bright colour; and their longhair, platted into queues, hangs behind, in the fashion of the Tartars.
The villages in which these people dwell are situated in oceans of mud, that seem utterly impassable; but the houses themselves, when you have attained them , are comfortable enough. The best are built of brick, and thatched with straw or reeds. Only the public buildings, such as town-houses and churches, have a covering of woody shingles. They are all
whitewashed, and are generally furnished with one or two windows, painted of a bright green colour : even the houses of t he poorer c lasses, though only build of mud and reeds, were all nicely white washed, and appeared warm and comfortable within.
These villages, particularly as we advanced, were of great size and very populous,though but thinly scattered over the country: but we observed a sort of hamlets, or even single houses, frequently sprinkled on the plain between them; and these, we were
informed, were places for gathering and folding the sheep.
They consisted, generally, of a tolerably well built house, surrounded by some wretched huts of reeds and thatch, sometimes of a single large shed, and are called boostas. The huts are the dwellings of the gooliashes, or shepherds, who never leave their charge; and we used to see them in all weathers standing like statues under their monstrous hats and sheepskins, watching the sheep at pasture. At night, too, we often came upon groups of them,
picturesquely seated round a fire; for, unless when the sheep are housed, the sky and their pelisses are the only covering of these hardy shepherds.
Leaving Potshaza,- for so was the village called where we breakfasted with the fiscal of the place, a man of letters and an author,--we struck into the
wide steppe; for here all regular roads are at an end, and each man takes the best path he can find. We proceeded, sometimes among patches of cultivation, sometimes on the natural surface of the plain, often dashing through great pools of water, not u n frequently sinking deep in clay or mud,and occasionally, though rarely, finding a piece of hard ground where we could get along at a good pace. There were a few cattle and some sheep seen pasturing at large, but everywhere plenty of hogs: your Hungarian is truly a porcivorous animal. Approaching the next stage, we saw numbers of people,all dressed in their holiday-clothes, crowded into the country carts, or chars-à-bancs, on their way to join some Christmas festivity ; and fain would I have had, at least, a day of rest myself.
But no rest was there for us, soon we scoured, or dragged like snails, according to the road; sometimes throughmorasses,where the path was most difficult to find ; at others, through wide floodings of some swollen stream , where there was none at all; til, at length, the face of the country changed from a flat clayey plain to as sandy tract, of irregular heights and hollows. The guidance of the carriage among these became most difficult; for in following the tracks of other wheels we often sank with one side into a hole, in a manner which threatened a repetition of our former summerset, and in seeking for a new path the risk run was still greater. At length our charioteer, forgetting, doubtless, that he had not one of his country-carts to deal with,- it had been better for us if such had been the case, in trying to guide the britchka over a narrow neck between two hollows, fairly turned it over, and down went the unfortunate vehicle with a worse crash than before.