Bela Borsody Bevilaqua (1885-1962) was a Hungarian cultural historian.
In 1699, Marchese Alfonso Bevilacqua and Countess Felicita Andreasi’s son named Nicola (1677-1761) was invited to stay in Hungary by Prince Ferenc Rákóczi II (1676-1735). Nicola’s brother, Morando, was a priest, and was invited to be Racoczi II’s spiritual advisor, confessor, and personal priest. Nicola and Morando stayed in Hungary in the service of Prince Ferenc Rákóczi II assisting him in organizing alliances against the Habsburg Emperor Leopold I. Nicola and Morando fought with Prince Ferenc Rakoczi II during the War of Independence from 1703 until 1711 against the Habsburg Emperor Leopold I. Nicola began the Ramus Hungaricus branch of the Bevilaqua family in 1699. His son was Conte Joannis Petri Bevilaqua born in Selmeczbanya in 1740. The letter “c” was dropped from the Bevilacqua name to make it easier to pronounce in Hungarian.
Nicola managed the production of silver, gold, lead, copper and arsenic for Prince Rakoczi II. At that time, only the nobility was allowed to own and operate mines. Nicola lived at the summit of Calvarienberg Mountain in the Hungarian Ore Mountain range in a castle with an adjacent church. The castle is now used as a fire watch-tower and the town hall. Nicola and his son Joannis Petri were instrumental in establishing an academy of refining and forestry funded by Maria Theresa, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, Archduchess of Austria, and Roman-German Empress (1717-1780) in 1760. The Academy still maintains a remarkable collection of minerals, and a chemical laboratory while the mines are now the property of the state. The Bevilaqua family was also instrumental in developing a flourishing pottery industry, and a well known tobacco pipes business. They also developed the baths of Vihnye, with springs of iron, lime and carbonic acid, and the baths of Szkleno with springs of sulphur and lime.
Bela’s father, Rezső (Rudolf) Bevilaqua studied law in Kecskemét when he was a young gentleman in the early 1870s. He then entered the government service as an administrator in the postal service and was post master general of Upper Hungary. He was born in Léva within Bars county in Upper Hungary in 1849. In 1888, Rezső Bevilaqua moved to Buda with his family in the service of the government. Béla was three years old then, and had two elder sisters. The family first lived at an estate at 44 Iskola utca, but they soon moved to a larger estate on Szagényház utca (today’s Varsányi Irén utca) which has recently been demolished next to number 13 in the historical Víziváros section of Budapest.
Bela's mother was Mária Szentessy, a sister, according to Víziváros, was “the well-known poet” Gyula Szentessy. Their father, Bela Borsody’s grandfather, Daniel Szentessy was one of the globetrotters that Bela Borsody wrote about in his book entitled Regi Magyar Vilagjrok or Hungarian Old World Travellers. Dániel Szentessy (1805, Zemplénszentes – 1895, Nagyvárad) was a sword-forging master. His family ruled the city of Szentes from which his surname is derived szentesi. After the early death of his parents, he was adopted by a Nagyvárad merchant. He completed the Várad Latin school, and studied sword-forging. As a journeyman, he started his wanderings in 1825. The main stations of his fifteen years of travels were the world-famous places of contemporary armoury: Vienna, Innsbruck, Alsace-Lorraine, Flandreau, Sheffield, Bayonne, Cordoba, Toledo, Algiers, Tunis, Damascus, and Istanbul. He returned home to open a workshop in Nagyvárad in 1840. He took part in the 1848 Revolution. He was court-martialed and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in Munkács Castle. Released in 1851, he lived in Nagyvárad until his death.
Béla Borsody Bevilaqua went to the Piarist elementary school in Pest, and the Evangelical grammar school in Késmárk. The costs of his education at this boarding school were covered by his foster-father, his elder sister’s, Hilda’s husband, Lajos Nagy from Kossoncz, who was a lawyer. Bela Borsody’s father, the Buda post master general, died when he was 47, in the year of the millenary or 1896 when Hungary celebrated the 1,000th anniversary of the Magyar Conquest.
Béla Borsody Bevilaqua mentioned another “foster-father”, the noble László Farkas from Indircs, who later became godfather to Béla Borsody’s son’s. Farkas was a close friend of Rezső Bevilaqua: a landowner from Kőröstétlen, he also lived in Buda on Sövény utca. He was a plant grower, and he had close connection with scientific circles via his activity as an amateur botanist. After the war, he lost his lands and fortune and finished his life as a gardener in the Városmajor Gardens.
Until the age of twelve, Béla Bevilaqua always spent the whole year in Víziváros, then as a student in Késmárk, he spent every summer there. When his sister married, his widowed mother moved to live with the young couple in a large house at 60 Toldy Ferenc utca. The estate still has its old garden which creeps up a slope to Szabó Ilonka utca. There is a gate there with the house number 59.
Lajos Nagy’s younger brothers’ years in Buda started here as well; their names were Pál and László. Later they moved to houses of their own: Pál lived in Hajdúhadháza, while László lived in Víziváros. Hilda, after her husband died from a stroke, lived in Lágymányos. Pál was struck to death with hoes and spades by “the looting mob in the stables of his mansion in Hajdúhadháza” in 1945. László, an army corps commander in Budapest after 1920, was caught by the Reaper in Balatonalmád on his way escaping towards the west. Hilda perished in misery during the siege and bombing of Budapest; she was buried in the garden of the Technical University. Later, her body was taken to the Óbuda cemetery in 1947. The father of the Kosonczi Nagy family mentioned above was Lajos Kosonczi Nagy, an artillery lieutenant in the 1848 revolution. Later he became a judge of the Court of Appeal, a noble from Kolozsvár living in the Hajdú region. A successive generation of the Nagy family, Hilda Bevilaqua’s sister, Lenke, lived in Kolozsvár even in the 1960s.
Bela Borsody Bevilaqua finished his studies at the arts faculty of Pest University in 1908: his graduation paper, on the Rhetoric of Alexandros, was supervised by the classical philologist István Hegedűs. Bela Borsody’s doctoral thesis was completed in 1911. Also, he attended medical university as a student in 1930, but did not complete his degree. Bela Borsody’s first job was as a museum assistant in the National Museum, and he became an under-keeper. He worked in Hungary’s number one public collection from 1911 to 1914 in the library which became the predecessor of the National Széchenyi Library.
He was called to front service in the autumn of 1914: he was garrisoned in Krakow in 1916, and had served in Albania and Bosnia by 1918. When he had the opportunity, he enthusiastically collected ethnographical particulars. He was impressed by ethnography, a strong attraction to this field of cultural history was always reflected in his works. He always carried his data in his mind, and members of his changeable but always exacting table society were amazed at his legendary retentive memory.
On arriving home from the frontline, he opened an antiquity shop in one of the Károlyi houses in the town centre, at 25 Veres Pálné utca. He lived at 65 Váci utca; but when he was an under-keeper, he was a tenant at 41 Liget utca in Kőbánya, and later at 14 Fortuna utca in Buda. He was trying to make business of the antiquity shop until 1925, but not with much success. Then he found a job in the National Military Museum, and he worked there until 1931 in the position of a first assistant. Then he became a person of private means, and attended medical school.
The year 1935 was a turning point in Bela Borsody’s career: “he began to live the life of a writer in Budapest” according to Pál Gulyás’ book Work and Lives of Hungarian Writers. That summer, in one of his newspaper articles, Bela Borsody wrote about his childhood, which always played an important role in his writing. He wrote with a certain nostaligia for the “little boy from Buda with glasses, bald-headed, weighing 235 pounds and standing six feet four inches tall”. Despite his old age that he lamented, Bela Borsody was at full physical and social strength who as a private person and a phenomenon in Pest made a strong impact on public memory. The coffee house wizard is still remembered; the legend of his life is made colourful by the irreversible past.
Borsordy was an expert on the history of Hungarian economics, and wrote a book called Régi és új Magyar Takácsmesterségek or Old and New Weaver Crafts of Hungary.
B.B.B.’s book Magyar Gaudeamus or Old Hungarian Student Songs (1932) is about historical students' customs and songs of Hungary. It contains the lyrics of thirty two songs with piano arrangements harmonized by Tibor Kazacsay. Tibor Kazacsay (March 12, 1892, Budapest - October 5, 1977, Budapest) was a composer and pianist who graduated from the Academy of Music in 1914. He taught musical theory at the National Music Institute and the Berlin Klindwort-Scharwenka Conservatory. His cantata Song about Margaret Island, composed in memory of the great eighteenth-century Hungarian poet János Arany, was awarded the "Quality Prize" of Budapest City Council in 1958. In 1960, he composed his Ode of Mourn in memory of his passed wife with lyrics by István Raics. While his early style is based on romantic harmonies from the last century, his Balaton Symphony reached the diatonic and modal folk song style first introduced by Bartók and Kodály. His other works include: Dreamland (1932); Small Songs on Animals (children's songs collection, lyrics by Lili B. Radó, 1937); Max and Móric (grotesque symphony, 1938). He also authored a book called The Harmonic Theory of New Music (1944, Budapest).
B.B.B. is still remembered for books such as The History of the Observatory of Eger University. The famous observatory in Eger was designed by the astronomer Miksa Hell and built in 1776. Hell was approached by the founder, Archbishop Károly Esterházy, and replied: "There is nothing I wish to do more than to serve my country as well as your Excellency in this manner." Mikas Hell had previously designed and built an observatory at Kolozsvár when he taught at the Jesuit Academy in 1753. Hell had later taught at Lõcse and Zsolna, and in 1755 became director of the University of Vienna observatory. Miksa Hell, a Jesuit, had an important role in the establishment of almost all of the early observatories. He lived in Vienna for thirty two years, and there published a number of famous Ephemerides, that is, almanacs. Venus was to pass before the Sun in 1769, and the Danish king invited him to make observations at Vardö. Their observations of June 3rd helped them calculate the solar parallax, the distance of the Earth from the Sun. Their measurement was questioned by contemporaries, but the accuracy of Hell's figures was later confirmed. It was an achievement that had the greatest international recognition of any during the classical phase of Hungarian astronomy. The Spekula Observatory astronomical museum is located in the library tower, and Bevilaqua had a planet named after him for his book.
BBB made a lifestyle of being a coffee-house writer sitting in libraries, archives, and at café tables. He collected data, which he later organized in large, cultural-historical monographs. He made shorter essays and thick volumes, and he probably had his fees in kind from butchers, beer brewers, and café owners alike. Themes of essays and monographs from BBB’s early years covered the history of the malaria epidemic in Montenegro, Arthur Görgey’s Frauenhoffer and Dollond telescopes, and the keys of castle gates. He was also one of the apostles of Hungarian puppetry art, and identified historic artifacts in the royal graves at Székesfehérvár. Here can be found the Castle Károlyi, which was built from the castle of the Perényi family by Heinrich Koch Wiener architect in 1884.
Bela Bevilaqua also wrote about the cultural history of polo, and he wrote an opera libretto about Mátyás deák, a hero in legends and folk tales. He worked on a fantastic novel called Wooden Sparrow, and the cultural history of spectacles. The latter work gave him the opportunity to dine once a week at the house of optician András Gács. Although these books were almost entirely destroyed, Víziváros survived as a six-hundred page long memorial of BBB. Forty copies of Víziváros have been “adopted” by a society caring for Budapest’s past, present and future. These books were auctioned, and the income was spent on saving and renewing the legendary cultural historian’s memorial tomb in Kerepesi cemetery. The tomb was donated by the international PEN society for his magnificent writing like the two volume on the history of Hungarian beer brewing.
Bela Borsody’s A Hungarian Memorial to Albrecht Dürer was written because of the close relationship between Dürer and the Bevilacqua family in Italy. Morando Bevilacqua’s family had constructed a castle and a church to form the ancient nucleus of the city of Trento during Roman times. Trento was located on the ancient Antoniin Roman road, an important trade route between Europe and the Mediterranean. Over time, the ancient Bevilaqua Castle came to be known as the imposing Buonconsiglio Castle which contains the famous frescoes called the Cycle of Months completed in 1400 by an anonymous Bohemian artist. For each month of the year, the frescoes depict the lives of the peasant and the nobility: harvesting, grape picking, parades, games, and tournaments. The area surrounding Trento had expansive forests for lumber, grapes for wine production, mulberry bushes to raise silk worms, and the Italian silk industry began there in 400 A.D.
On his return journey from Venice to Germany in 1495, Dürer painted a watercolor of The Castle at Trento which is displayed in the British Museum in London. Dürer also painted another castle owned by the Bevilacqua family: View of Arco (1495) was a watercolour and gouache on paper now displayed in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. Alfonso II Bevilacqua (1567-1622) married Livia, the daughter of Count Massimiliano d’ Arco. Alfonso II was a Gentleman of the Table of the Duke of Ferrara Alfonso II d’ Este, Honorary Chamberlain of the Duke of Mantova Carlo I Gonzaga, and Alfonso II inherited the title and property as the Marquisate of Serra.
Alfonso II and Livia lived in the Castle d’Arco documented to have been first constructed in 1124 when "Fridericus de Archi" was granted the property by Barbarossa and the Prince Bishop of Trento. Livia d'Arco was living in Ferrara in the household of her relative Margherita Gonzaga, at the time of her marriage to Alfonso II in 1579. Livia was living with the Gonzaga family because of her musical talent playing the viol, under the instruction of Luzzasco Luzzaschi and the Ferrarese maestro di cappella, Ippolito Fiorino.
Livia was the great grand daughter of Odorico, the Count d’ Arco, and Cecilia Gonzaga of Marquis Ludovico II Gonzaga. Livia was the grand daughter of Count Nicolo d’Arco, the famous poet, and Giulia Gonzaga di Novellara. Livia’s father, Massimiliano inherited the title of Count d’Arco, and married Klara Ludovica von Lodron of the Prince of Bavaria. After Klara’s death, Massimiliano married Olimpia Guerrieri and they had six children including Livia.
As a university student, Bela Borsody “fought a duel of love”, as he wrote in Víziváros, and was put into the state jail for a few days. He loved life and company, and the cafés served as study-rooms for all his life. In Nap utca, where he lived between the 1940s and his death, there is somebody, who still remembers him and speaks about him spending all his days “at Bodó’s writing notes at a table by the shop window”. The same was mentioned by a well-definable circle of journalists on the occasion of his death early in the spring of 1962, and then at dedicating his tomb stone, when they commemorated his legendary figure. Péter Ruffy wrote about “a larger than life figure, Pest-Buda’s curious expert, whose “big and enormous work was often paid with food bills from coffee shop owners, breweries and butchers. Due to existential need, the chronicler’s fees were consumed, and despite his huge working capacity, the thick volumes and thousands of pages, the author spent all his life under straitened circumstances.”
Ferenc Némethy in Magyar Nemzet, the Hungarian daily newspaper, wrote about Bela Borsody’s “simple and modest” lifestyle, but he also remarks that this did not make the author timid. Once in the street he had an argument with the fascist prime minister, Gyula Gömbös. The prime minister’s poor driving caused an accident, in which an elderly workwoman was injured, and then the minister quickly changed places with his chauffeur. As a witness of the accident, Béla Bevilaqua, strong and confident, demanded an explanation, although he knew who he was. Gömbös, looking at Bevilaqua’s large fists, sneaked away.”
Of course the strong physical behaviour, not usually typical of cultural historians, faded as he was growing old. “You could see that he could not walk, sit down or stand up easily. Still he wrote. And waiters served Uncle Béla with silent respect. We often gave him sheets of paper, pencils, or a rubber, so that he could work.” György Kőbányai says in his obituary, “We sat down at his table in the café – this was his office and home – and he knew that he had to help the young generation: ‘You don’t know anything about the town,’ he said.” Kőbányai witnessed how down good old B.B.B. was in his last year, or years: he drank only weak tea, and he asked for two rounds of hot water to fill up the cup when he sipped out half of it.
His constant companion was Olga Finály, a teacher and poet who was more than twenty years younger than him, and she adored him with love. They were together almost every day in the cafés and coffee-houses. When they ordered something, Bevilaqua would say, “Well, let’s sell the skin before we kill the bear!” He would get a fee for something sooner or later, he promised. Olga Finály, of course, knew very well that beloved Béla would never kill that bear.
The master had a strong uvular “r” when he spoke, but his strong baritone voice reached the neighbouring tables. People who were listening to his stories when he stopped writing his slanted lines on quarter-folded sheets did not mind that he omitted articles in speech. His written style had its strange features as well: when a noun was important for him, he started it with a capital letter, and he used quotation marks with nouns of special importance.
On the first anniversary of his death, Ágnes Fedor wrote in Esti Hírlap, the evening newspaper, about a 1963 encounter with Bela Borsody in a café at Király utca and Károly körút. Bevilaqua spoke about his film scenario. It was the outline of a fantastic play called Faveréb (Wooden Sparrow), about which Bela Borsody wrote much more in Víziváros. It is about a millionaire who buys some elixir, the water of resurrection. However, the characters that are brought back to life realize that “life is life only as long as it is real”. He also wrote operetta books and puppetry plays. In the 1950s, he was the founder and chairman of the Puppetry Artists’ Association. In addition to writing, he designed scenery, museum displays and architectural decoration. The majolica mail-coach on the building at 13 Régiposta utca was made based on his drawings.
We know several places where he regularly turned up to write and live during the years. One is the Centrál Coffee House, others are the Huszár and Bodó’s. But he often visited an “espresso bar” in Király utca, especially after the war and when he lived in Buda, or the Hadik, which was one of Karinthy’s frequented places. And he often went to the Japán. He was restlessly working on those thousands of pages, helped only by his memory. As we read his printed texts, we know that he often mistook details or he did not remember if he had already completed a certain story in an earlier chapter of the material that he was working on. Since nobody edited his volumes, these mistakes and repeated contents of several passages appeared twice or sometimes three times in the published version as well.
His lines should be read with criticism, but this is not a reason why we should not pay respect to his unusual memory. After all, he clearly remembered at least two thirds of the details. And people who have read anything of his work all know that it almost entirely consists of data. The colours and phraseology of live speech are missing from his scholastic volumes. Even so, they are colourful. The author‘s personality strikes through the scenery of the rather arbitrarily defined mass of information.
Ágnes Fedor’s article 'Bevilaqua' from the Esti Hírlap newspaper states, “Bela Borsody Bevilaqua (B.B.B.) was a patron saint of journalists; there are even some young contemporary ones who were presented a splendid mosaic tile of the history of Budapest… By chance, I myself got much more from him than this. I think he saved my life in a way… When I made an interview with him in 1939 about the origin of Hungarian Jews, who he considered to be Khazar on the evidence of geographical and family names he looked at me and asked, ‘Does this anti-Semitic law apply to you as well?’ I nodded. ‘But you’re a typical Khazar, too!’ he said. He stared at me drawing an inventory of my features, which was very common that time – but he did it on the purpose of saving my life. Then he said, ‘With these features, complexion and bone structure you can securely mingle as a Slovakian maid servant. It’s only your eyebrows that you have to dye fair!’It was snowing in March 1944 just like today, when I first considered taking his advice. I dyed my eyebrows fair in the danger of death. And I survived.”
Fedor Ágnes went on to publish her book Sárga Nárcisz. This book was a collection of her poems from 1939 through 1945. The journalist poet recorded the events of the persecution and the Holocaust in poems, together with comments on the political events. It was published in Budapest in 1945 by Magyar Téka Publishers. Bevilaqua Borsody Béla Borsody secretly wrote a book during World War II called Német Maszlag Othotól Adolf Hitlerig 972-1945 published in Budapest by Magyar Téka in 1945. Nemet Maszlag means “He will take no lies” and it is based on German data on the history of the German persecution of Hungarian Jews from the year 972 with special forcus on Adolf Hitler’s atrocities. The International PEN Society, an association of writers formed in 1926 to defend freedom of expression with 140 centres in 99 countries, awarded B.B.B. their highest honor for using the power of the word for the expression of the freedom of thought in the face of grave personal danger.
Bela Borsody’s second wife, according to Pál Gulyás’s biography, was Ella Weiss, the daughter of Jónás Weiss and Nanette Gottlieb. B.B.B. married Ella Weiss in the late 1920s, and she must have died in the late 1950s: the register of his third marriage shows that the “writer and historian” was a widower when he got married for the third time.
At three o’clock in the afternoon on March 1st they called a registry officer. They were married by Dr. Imre Felméri, the registry officer of the council of district 8, who stood by the sick-bed, the rickety metal bed. There was candle light, and one of the marriage witnesses, Béla Pethő, local butcher, bought a bottle of wine. ‘Yes,’ it was said twice, then Borsodi-Bevilaqua shook hands with the registry officer, his eyes sparkling, and said, ‘Thank you for marrying us, now I’m sure I’ll recover.’
His wife was beside him, taking care of him. He fell asleep in God and closed his eyes forever at dawn yesterday. The death register recorded cerebral haemorrhage; the patient waited for the unavoidable in Rókus Hospital. A lot of people mourned for him; so did Putyi, with whom he built up the connection again after the middle of the 1940s. His son sent four parcels to his Budapest address in 1961–62. Being in possession of a certificate of poverty, as it is mentioned in his letters, he hoped to be dispensed from paying customs duty. The mail exchange between Bellino and his father and their finding each other when Putyi was twenty one years of age.
A lot of people mourned for BBB. It was not the “legal” widow, Magdolna Mányi in her mid-60s that time, that expressed the greatest sorrow, but Olga Finály. She was his faithful attendant and companion in his last years. She paid his bills, typed his manuscripts, and who knows how further in tenderness enthusiastic love carried them. Because it was love, the deep mourn proves it. Here are the last two stanzas of her poem ‘In memory of the scholar’: “Through the narrow, dim window / eternity came to see him, / may all my songs get softer, / eternity came to see him / through the narrow, dim window, // The all-the-same embraces me, / no need to worry any more, / hour and minute fall apart, / the all-the-same embraces me.” And here is another, written in 1957 (a third, fourth, fifth one might just as well be quoted): “Remember me. With a sick child’s word / I ask you, like my father, / hold my hand when wandering / through a dense forest / crying to shout after you; / don’t say my wish is sick and senseless, / and remember then that I loved you.”
The spectator representing the unbiased posterity has great admiration for the radiation of Béla Bevilaqua Borsody’s spirit, his indisputable and unexplainable attraction, by means of which, even in his physical and existential disability, he was able to attach a woman, who was enthusiastic about him, while he married another, giving romantic colour even to his death. “Eternal love. Without Hope. When two pronounce the hard and stubborn word of break-off, behind it with broken wings some hope may glitter – when the train flies off, waving farewell with a shawl suggests future, and forthcoming tomorrow – but I was beaten by the sunset, and became a lonely one to keep your last face to my last face.” Olga Finály.
Bela Borsody Bevilaqua’s letters from Krakow, where he was garrisoned as an officer in 1916, addressed to his friend, the author and poet Artúr Keleti, were also signed by a certain lady called Lolly, who appeared as “Mrs. Bevilaqua” in her signature at the end of November. Artúr Keleti was the best known of the contemporary representatives of Hungarian literature. Keleti drew inspiration from the lyrical and bizarre, and transformed events into poems and stories. Lolly was Baroness Yolanda Stauffenberger Perényi who took this generation of the family to America with their son Bellino. B.B.B. is survived by several grand children and great grand children who reside in the United States.