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15 March 2019

Széphalom – The Utopia of an English Garden – Part I

Ferenc Kazinczy, as an enthusiastic amateur and knowledgeable connoisseur, has long been synonymous with horticulture in Hungary, and in particular with the art of the English landscape garden. The profound effect that this new art form, which swept through Hungary at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, had on Kazinczy’s world is indelibly preserved in the most important arena of his life, the garden at Széphalom. Among other things Széphalom conserves, for cultural memory, the attraction that was instrumental in promoting, in Hungary, the cult of scenic man-made natural landscapes which came into vogue in the second half of the 18th century.

But the catch is that Kazinczy never managed to create a proper English garden in Széphalom: a design was made for his garden following the principles of the new landscape style, but the plans never came to fruition. However, while Széphalom’s appearance today is far removed from the ideal of the English garden, it nevertheless retains something of its former owner’s unceasing affinity for harmony between beauty and nature, humanity and its surroundings.

The actual creation of an English garden remained a utopian dream for Kazinczy in his lifetime, but “the English garden as a utopia” became a part of his world view.1 This new model for the relationship between nature and mankind, originating from Britain, was highly representative of not only artistic, but also social and political paragons, namely utopias. In Kazinczy’s era the focus of public interest was very much on the relationship between the natural environment and civilisation, as well as on the correlations between the laws of nature and the nature of humanity. The terrain for the realisation of these utopias was the available plot of land, in which the visitor could physically experience the various intellectual and emotional attractions in the form of composed landscapes, Potemkin buildings endowed with symbolic meaning, moralistic inscriptions and statues of important historical figures. The new landscaping concept, with its strong symbolism, had a profound effect on the observer, but in order for it to be widely adopted, the philosophical, social and political concepts that it expressed had to be propagated via other channels as well. The greatest role in this was played by Freemasonry, just as the “cradle” of the English garden is considered to be the English countryside around London, the area to which the first English Freemasons retreated, as enlightened idealists with faith in the humanist social ideal, with a desire to create in their own surroundings the lifestyle that they had no chance of living, given the prevailing political climate in England. Alexander Pope, Lord Shaftesbury, Jonathan Swift, Richard Boyle, third Earl of Burlington, Joseph Addison and many others endowed the first English landscape gardens with such markedly ideological content that they exerted an influence on their distant followers – for example in Hungary – for several decades to come. The English garden came into fashion all over Europe, and this led to its being narrowly defined as a heavy-duty art form, giving the impression that it was nothing more than a spectacular arrangement of green spaces. However, in Hungary at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, Kazinczy and his fellow devotees of landscape gardens still felt that the English garden was a symbol of progressiveness, and its proponents committed themselves to a new morality, role in society, taste, and of course conduct.




In the first, transitional period of landscape gardens in Hungary, which began around 1770–1780, the classic French Baroque gardens began to display the first stylistic features reminiscent of English landscape gardens, reflecting a new approach to the relationship with the natural landscape.2 The spirit of free landscaping emerged in a slow process of transformation during the last three decades of the century. In contrast to the almost architectural formality of the French garden, the individualistic style of the English garden gained popularity as it appeared to represent freedom of spirit and informality; but distinguishing between truly untamed nature and planned, deliberate landscaping and planting, was a major challenge. The transformation was helped along by the search for a “picturesque” quality in the spectacle of the natural landscape, and although this cannot be regarded as a direct product of that age, the growing popularity of English gardens certainly contributed to a greater appreciation of the principles of painting among devotees of this garden style. The evolution of the picturesque, scenic style into a visual code system became both a driver for the spread of the English garden, and, at the same time, its most important consequence: it is certainly rare for such a distinct measure of taste to emerge and become definitive for such a long period.3

It was the spectacle of the High Tatra Mountains that gave Kazinczy himself his first, cathartic experience of majestic, and scenic, landscape. A defining experience of his year of studying in Késmárk (today: Kežmarok, Slovakia) in 1768 was the stunningly beautiful landscape, with the High Tatras in the background: “Below Kézsmárk beautiful meadows to Nyére on one side and Leibitz on the other; the giant Tatra peaks rising close to the town, their summits topped with snow in summer also, and always in new colours, always in a new light – so many opportunities to wile away our time! Unaware that the Poet and Painter like to marvel at such things, I spent whole hours ruminating on the magical sight.”4

Kazinczy put this experience of his youth into writing sixty years later. In his own interpretation, his marvelling at this natural scenery took the form of an instinctive, deep-seated attraction. Even if this description of the experience is retrospective, we can be sure that his sensitivity to the majestic and not just the beautiful, in his attraction to the natural landscape, developed early and accompanied him throughout his life. The huge sublimities of nature, for example the spectacle of the high mountains, captivated him not with their fearsomeness, but by being romantic (romantisch) and enchanting. The linking of these two qualities was what made him receptive to the scenic, whether it be the sight of high mountain peaks, the meeting of mountains and plains, or large bodies of water. The ideal landscape – and thus the ideal landscape garden – is one in which rapture and order do not cancel each other out, but complement each other harmoniously.




An irrepressible passion of mine is visiting English gardens”, wrote Ferenc Kazinczy in 1803 to Gergely Kozma, by way of introduction to his visit to the English Garden in Tata.5

The aesthetic impressions gained during his visits to gardens are of fundamental importance both to the emergence of his views on garden design and to his plans for the garden at Széphalom. He first saw a garden designed in the English style in the mid-1780s, in the environs of Vienna. In his previous travels he had visited places (such as Gödöllő, or the Belvedere in Vienna) where the Baroque style set the tone, but none of his autobiographical writings mention these as garden experiences. It is important to emphasise, however, that before the 1780s he would not really have had a chance to do so, as the first gardens to display features of the English style, while still strongly representative of the transition from Baroque to the landscape style, were only created at the turn of the 1770s and 1780s, or later. He subsequently visited several of these, although not as a tourist, and only when his official duties permitted him to travel to more faraway destinations. Events conspired to prevent him from visiting such important early English gardens in Hungary, known only from hearsay but regarded as among the most significant to this day, as those at Hédervár, Nagycenk, Körmend or Csákvár. It was just at the end of his six years of incarceration, at the turn of the century, that the transitional style, which had flourished from the mid-1780s gave over to the mature landscape style.

In the very first text version of his memoirs, Kazinczy lists his visit to the gardens among the memorable experiences of his stay in Vienna in 1786: “Having spent five weeks in Vienna, my every joy is the theatre [...] the gardens, but in particular the Belvedere.”6

He mentions visits to three parks in the city’s environs and two urban public parks during the five-week stay in Vienna, but only one of these, Neuwaldegg park, was notable for its English style, while the others retained the geometric layout of the French gardens. At that time, the countryside around Vienna did not anyway have the abundance of stately homes and gardens that one might expect of an imperial capital. The wealthiest nobles of the Habsburg Empire built their opulent residences on their estates situated far from the capital city, mainly in the Czech Kingdom and Moravia, or in Hungary, as places to spend the summer months. Later, in the 1790s, the growing popularity of the English landscape style generated demand for surroundings to where a new type of nature lovers, the aristocrats, bankers and affluent middle class builders of gardens who lived in the capital, could retreat from time to time.7 Freemasonry had a pivotal role in the creation of the gardens made between 1770 and 1800 in Vienna and the surrounding area.8 Virtually all the owners of the new-style gardens were Freemasons (such as the Count Philipp Cobenzl, Johann Fries, Anton Willibald Wolfegg, Peter von Braun, Johann and Jakob Geymüller). The golden age of Freemasonry in Vienna coincided with the wave of garden building in the countryside around the city.

Kazinczy was an eyewitness to the changes that took place during the revolutionary stylistic shift in garden design; but at the time he had few opportunities to visit full-fledged English landscape gardens, as opposed to those that were still in transition. The delayed evolution of garden art in the Habsburg Empire was another important factor shaping the impressions that Kazinczy, who showed an interest early on, was able to obtain.

The first ever truly English style garden he saw was Neuwaldegg near Dornbach. Count Franz Moritz von Lacy had bought the Baroque mansion and garden in 1766, and then under his direction it was augmented with English style sections of garden, offering a characteristic example of the transitional style. Neuwaldegg has gone down in the history of Austrian horticulture as the first English landscape garden in Austria. The garden also gradually formed a harmonious connection with the surrounding countryside, blending seamlessly with the untamed neighbouring forests. Count Lacy’s garden was one of the first to follow the important genius loci principle of the new landscape style of garden design.9 But there was also a Chinese pavilion, a Hameau (Dutch hamlet), Philosopher’s Walk and various other “staffages”, which showed the influence of the aforementioned “Jardin anglo-chinois”.10

The others that Kazinczy visited were Laxenburg and Schönbrunn, Augarten and Prater, all of which are imperial gardens. In spite of Emperor Joseph II’s enlightened spirit, adoption of the English style was slow, and the transformation of the imperial gardens and parks only took place at the turn of the century. The opening of the gardens to the general public suggests the influence of a new philosophy, but this had not yet affected the style of the Baroque, geometric gardens. The imperial gardens of Vienna, therefore, did nothing to broaden the horizons of the “garden tourists” who were receptive to the new landscape style; but they certainly encouraged a growing number of aristocrats to open their gardens to visitors. This allowed Kazinczy to enter, without a recommendation, hitherto difficult-to-access places where he could at least satisfy his botanical curiosity if nothing else.

During another relatively long stay in Vienna, in the summer of 1803, the garden visits were repeated. He went to Prater and Augarten, and also made an excursion to the landscape garden of the Freemason Count Cobenzl’s now mature landscape garden in Reisenberg (Kobenzlhof). This was the second time in his life that he saw the tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, which was still an exotic rarity at that time. His first sighting of this stunning, spring-flowering tree had been on the way to prison, in a garden near Salzburg. A few days after his visit to Kobenzlhof, he went to the botanic garden in Schönbrunn, but found the tree, which was now in bloom, a disappointment.11

Kazinczy only travelled farther west than Vienna when he was taken to prison in Kufstein as member of an anti-Habsburg conspiracy. Paradoxically it was the journey from Buda to Kufstein, and then to Munkács (today: Mukachevo, Ukraine), that gave him the most opportunities to visit mansion gardens. The impressions he gained on this journey were decisive in shaping his approach, and a big role in the crystallisation of his views on garden aesthetics was played by his discovery of the English garden of Count Lodron in Neuhaus, near Salzburg, which he found to be ideal in every respect. From this time on, Neuhaus was his benchmark. The visual experience that he recorded back then is also referred to in his brief theory of garden design, written in 1806.

This place unmistakably embodied the ideal for the type of garden that he, as a prospective garden owner with a relatively small plot of land at his disposal, could hope to achieve under the most optimal circumstances. When he visited the garden of the Freemason Count Lodron, he was well aware of how distant the fulfilment of his plans for Széphalom had become. He had just been forced to abandon the construction of his own home and ambitious garden plans as a result of his arrest and conviction.

The experience must have been made more intense by the unusual circumstances under which he visited the garden: on the way from the Kufstein prison to another, still unknown gaol, at one of the hostels, he went for an evening stroll with the other prisoners and the guard escorting them, and they stumbled upon the “garden of Eden”. The Masonic theme that the garden slowly revealed made it even more interesting for him.12

It was presumably the garden in Neuhaus that helped him to understand what would become one of the defining principles of his theory of garden aesthetics, namely the good location of the garden, and the importance of the landscape that surrounds it. The Neuhaus garden surpassed everything in this regard (and perhaps reminded him of what he had found so captivating in the Szepes County landscape by the High Tatras): the Bavarian Plain on one side, and high mountains to the east and south, replete with Alpen summits and ruined castles. “This landscape is among the most beautiful that I have ever seen.”13

The most attractive English landscape garden to Kazinczy’s eye is essentially ideal combination of garden and surrounding landscape, the surroundings of the Neuhaus garden with the lakes and planted attractions of the Tata garden, in a slightly more extravagant layout. This is what he reveals effusively to Gergely Kozma in his letter of 1803, because notwithstanding its flaws he regarded the garden in Tata as one of the best early attempts at an English garden in Hungary: “If I could pick up that garden, just as it is, and set it down in the place of Count Lodron’s garden near Salzburg – which is surrounded on three sides by the romantic, stony Tyrolean mountains, while the fine Bavarian Plain opens up before it on another, affording views of the setting sun sinking in a golden sky – I would be able to say that this is the most beautiful English garden I have ever seen.”14

On the way to prison, however, he did ask for permission to stop at three locations: Ács, Oroszvár (today: Rusovce, Slovakia) and Malacka (today: Malacky, Slovakia). With few words, but nevertheless expressing his growing interest in English gardens and increasingly discerning taste, he later went on to explain the effect that these gardens had on him, either in terms of their overall impression or with regard to specific details.15 He did not give a cogent evaluation of any of them, but we find sketch drawings of all three locations among the notes in the manuscript.16 It appears that, after his release from prison, he showed a lively interest in the Hungarian boom in garden design until writing his theory of garden design in relation to a description of the garden in Hotkóc (today: Hodkovce, Slovakia) in 1806. In 1803 he visited several more gardens, and this was the second, and also the last, stage of his field research in Hungary. After 1803, his memoirs only give detailed accounts of his visits to gardens in Transylvania, and in all other respects the topic appears to have been pushed into the background.

In 1803 he visited the Esterházy Garden in Tata, Sándor Prónay’s garden in Tóalmás, Pál Ráday’s English garden under construction in Ludányhalászi, and the Orczy Garden in Pest.17 Overall, he had positive experiences at all these places, and we find references to several details in various texts. The garden in Tata, in particular, earned his appreciation with its water features, the system of lakes that remains famous to this day. Tóalmás appealed to him with its close-to-nature simplicity, and Ludányhalászi for being where he made the acquaintance of the garden’s designer, Rudolf Witsch, who he mentions with the greatest professional admiration. The Orczy Garden caused him some disappointment in 1803, but he later called this opinion a mistake.18 These transitional-style English gardens in Hungary provided the basis for the reasoning behind his oft-mentioned “theory of garden design”, which he described in 1806 as the culmination of his views on the subject at the end of a long newspaper article on the garden at Hotkóc. In this, he used his visually recorded experiences, if only in relation to one or two minor details, to illustrate the good and bad solutions.




Beyond the creation of the gardens themselves, an aspect of the first era of the English garden style in Hungary that retains its importance to this day was the planting of previously hitherto unknown, or barely known, foreign tree species. The robinia, the Canadian poplar, horse chestnut and other non-indigenous trees first appeared in English gardens, but spread from there, and today they grace forests, parks and the sides of roads everywhere. The first tree-planting experiments often took place in areas (for example, the site of the Orczy Garden in Pest), that had previously been treeless scrub, where domestic varieties were unable to survive. The tree-planting fashion that came with the establishment of English gardens led to the propagation of tree species in Hungary that we now regard as commonplace, although the dendrologists of the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries distinguished them as “garden trees”. János Grossinger’s taxonomy published in 1797 under the title of Dendrologia, sive historia arborum et fructium was the first to describe, in addition to forest and fruit trees, and the exotic citrus trees, what he referred to as foreign “garden trees”. The only 10–20 new tree species on record at that time were later joined by hundreds of exotic species, which first appeared in English landscape gardens before conquering the whole country.19

A substantial proportion of the garden owners, from Britain and Germany to Hungary, were passionate about botany, and about dendrology in particular. The introduction of overseas tree species, which were then still regarded as exotic in Europe, required an understanding of climate and soil. The higher the number of rare, or indeed unknown species in a garden, the more important and prestigious that garden became. It was from England that the American poplars and magnolias, for example, set off on their conquering journey. Certain tree species had such an influence that they came to define whole eras, with the weeping willow becoming the tree of the 18th century, and the plane symbolic of the 19th.20

Hungary’s geographical and climatic conditions did not really favour the tree planting programmes of landscape gardens, which were better suited to the wetter and milder English weather. In much of the country, the low rainfall and extremes of temperature (hot summers and cold, snowy, icy winters) were unsuitable for the fashionable lawns and turfed spaces, as well as for the special trees, not to mention the continuous maintenance of preferably natural lakes and streams. In spite of this, thanks to the concerted efforts, by the turn of the century Hungary’s flora, which had remained more or less unchanged since the Turkish occupation, was transformed by the demand for the variety and uniqueness required by the English garden style.21

The problem of the soil, and the difficulties caused by extremes of weather, limited the garden design opportunities in Széphalom, too: the natural features of the area could only be overcome at a high financial cost. Creating and maintaining the garden in Széphalom was already more costly than it would have been in other parts of Hungary that boasted more favourable climatic and soil conditions (such as certain regions in the west of the country).

The uniqueness of the flora of the garden in Széphalom, against the backdrop of the Zemplén Mountains, also stems from the use of what were then rare tree species. Planting these continued to be a labour of love for Kazinczy throughout his life, regardless of his financial situation. He insisted on the trees not only because of their outward appearance, but also for their atmospheric character. After his release from prison, and after settling down in Széphalom in 1805, he finally accepted that he would never be able to create a true English garden; but nevertheless, to his dying day he never gave up improving his garden, planting and nurturing his favourite trees, shrubs and flowers. “I’m not making a botanic garden; that comes with a whole lot of trouble and much cost. For me it is sufficient to avail myself of a few rare trees, and all of a kind whose growth, trunk, leaf, blossom or seed is attractive to the eye.”22

Kazinczy was keen on the trees that were introduced to Hungary in the decades between 1780 and 1800 thanks to the growing popularity of English gardens. The weeping willow, the poplar, the plane, the horse chestnut and locust were among his favourites, and he attempted over and over again to grow these species.

In regions to the north of the Alps, the poplar was a substitute for one of the iconic trees of Italian gardens and the bucolic landscape paintings of antiquity, the tall, straight Cypress. Its popularity and rapid spread was partly due to this symbolic role. The best known use of the species, to this day, is the group of poplars surrounding Rousseau’s grave memorial erected in Ermenonville in 1778. Kazinczy gave an account of planting varied and rare poplar varieties, such as the Canadian poplar or the black poplar (Populus nigra) in the spring of 1807. Compared to other, wealthier garden owners who returned home from their travels of Western Europe with dozens of poplar and other saplings, such as János Aspremont, Kazinczy could only plant small cuttings that were sent by post.

Keeping these alive took a great deal of patience. Kazinczy soon learned about the decorative use of the poplar, especially the tall-growing Lombardy poplar. On the garden plan made in the 1790s, visitors are greeted by four Lombardy poplars. The written notes on the plan reveal that these trees were already there by then. However ubiquitous the Lombardy poplar may have been in Hungary, the Canadian poplar was entirely new to this part of Europe: Populus canadiensis was only brought from North America to Western Europe in the 1760s, and from France to Germany in 1765.23

A short-lived but very important feature of Kazinczy’s garden was the weeping willow. It gained symbolic importance during the 18th century, but only soared to the peak of its popularity during the era of what were known as the sentimental gardens. This tree, of Asian origin, was first used by Alexander Pope at his Twickenham estate. The first example in Hungary was recorded by Grossinger in the Esterházy family’s park in Tata in 1797.24 Kazinczy first visited Tata in 1803, where he must have seen what were, by that time, enormous examples of the weeping willow; but being one of the most expressive tree species, he may have already known it from pictures. The tree in his garden took on an even greater symbolic meaning when, exactly on the day that his daughter Iphigenia died, it started to wilt, and died out completely a few days later.25

One of Kazinczy’s favourite trees was the robinia (false acacia), which was first planted on the Erdődy family’s estate in Pozsony (today: Bratislava, Slovakia) in the early 18th century. It was only in the second half of the 19th century that it became so widespread that it is now regarded as a Hungarian tree, having taken hold across a vast area of the country. In Kazinczy’s garden in Széphalom, however, it was still considered a rarity. His garden plan created around 1790, and his subsequent comments (perhaps made in prison) also feature a pair of robinia planted together, which he refers to as his “notable” trees. Because of their notability, his comment on the plan says that the two robinia trees must be enclosed with a fence, up which grape woodbine could be grown. He even suggests erecting a statue inside the enclosure. In a letter written while in prison in 1798, he also asks his brother József to take special care of the two robinia trees growing in front of the house in Széphalom. Later another robinia also stood near the house, which, local legend has it, he received in person from Sámuel Tessedik, founder of the agricultural vocational school in Szarvas, who visited him in Szarvas in 1793. It was Tessedik who discovered that the robinia was suitable for the replanting of the saline, sandy, dry soil of farmlands in the Plain region.

Translation by Daniel Nashaat





1 Galavics, Géza: Az angolkert mint utópia [The English Garden, as Utopia], in: Vizi, E. Szilveszter (ed.): Székfoglalók a Magyar Tudományos Akadémián [Inaugural Lectures at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences], Budapest, Akadémiai Kiadó, pp. 1–35.

2 Cf. Zádor, Anna: Az angolkert Magyarországon [The English Garden in Hungary] Építés – Építészettudomány, issue 5 (1973) 1–2, pp. 17–22. Galavics, Géza: Magyarországi angolkertek [Hungarian English Gardens] in Adrian von Buttlar, Az angolkert [The English Garden], Budapest, Akadémiai Kiadó, pp. 9–16. Fatsar, Kristóf: Magyarországi barokk kertművészet [Hungarian Baroque Garden Art], Budapest, Helikon, 2008, p. 62.

3 Nemes, Péter: “A táj esztétikája: A picturesque mint esztétikai elmélet és gyakorlat” [The Aesthetics of the Landscape: The ‘Picturesque’ as Aesthetic Theory and Practice]. In A kultúra átváltozásai: Kép, zene, szöveg [Metamorphoses of Culture: Picture, Music, Text]. Eds. Éva Jeney, Mihály Szegedy-Maszák, Budapest, Balassi, 2006, pp. 38–39.

4 Kazinczy, Ferenc: Pályám emlékezete [Memoirs of My Career], in: Pályám emlékezete, in press Orbán, László: Debrecen, Debreceni Egyetemi Kiadó, 2009 (Kazinczy Ferenc Művei: Első osztály: Eredeti művek), p. 565. See also further variants of Pályám emlékezete: op. cit., pp. 564, 722.

5 Ferenc Kazinczy to Gergely Kozma, 25 May 1803. KazLev. III, letter 598, p. 61.

6 Kazinczy: Pályám emlékezete, p. 498.

7 Hajós, Géza: Romantische Gärten der Aufklärung: Englische Landschaftskultur des 18. Jahrhunderts in und um Wien, Wien–Köln, 1989, pp. 34–35.

8 Hajós: Romantische Gärten, pp. 46–59.

9 Ibid. p. 36.

10 Buttlar, Adriann Von: Az angolkert, [The English Garden], Budapest, Akadémiai Kiadó, 1999, p. 233.

11 Kazinczy: Pályám emlékezete, p. 295.

12 Kazinczy, Ferenc: Fogságom naplója, [Diary of my Captivity] in press Szilágyi, Márton, Debrecen, Debreceni Egyetemi Kiadó, 2011 (Kazinczy Ferenc Művei: Első osztály: Eredeti művek), p. 119.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 Kazinczy: Fogságom naplója, p. 460; Kazinczy: Pályám emlékezete, pp. 288; 650.

16 MTA KIK Kt., K639 93a; RGy., Szemere-tár, I. fol. 210.

17 Kazinczy: Pályám emlékezete, pp. 287–288; 305–306.

18 Kazinczy: Pályám emlékezete, p. 705.

19 Rapaics, Raymund: Magyar kertek: A kertművészet Magyarországon [Hungarian Gardens: Garden Art in Hungary], Budapest, n. d., pp. 198–199.

20 Ibid. p. 199.

21 Zádor: op. cit., p. 12.

22 Ferenc Kazinczy to Farkas Cserey, 29 June 1807, KazLev. V, letter 1130, p. 63.

23 Galavics Géza, Magyarországi angolkertek, p. 130.

24 Rapaics: op. cit., pp. 151–154.

25 Ferenc Kazinczy to Farkas Cserey, 25 September 1806, KazLev. V, letter 1000, p. 63.

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