The Hungarian Baron (then Count), Móric Benyovszky (1746–1786) was one of the best known European adventurers in the years before the French Revolution. As a young soldier he participated in a Polish uprising (1769) against the Russians, was captured by them and exiled to Kamchatka, from where he fled, and after a long journey at sea (via Formosa, Canton, Madagascar and Africa) he arrived in 1772 in Paris. There he proposed to the Court the colonization of Madagascar and organized his first expedition to the island (1774–1776), which turned out to be a complete failure. However, he insisted on making a second attempt, offering the island first to the French King, then to the English, and finally to rich American merchants in Baltimore. He was sailing to Madagascar again (1785–1786), but was soon killed by the French soldiers there. His
and other publications about him were quickly published in French and English, as were several books in German, Dutch, Swedish, Polish, Slovak, and Hungarian immortalizing him. In 2004 the Hungarian National Library published a manuscript
(originally an official report of exculpation to the French authorities about the first expedition). My paper describes this work, and adds some source critical remarks. Benyovszky was a typical figure of his time: hero and impostor, explorer and blind reporter of an extraordinary world. The interest in his person (not only in Hungary or Slovakia) has not flagged for over two centuries.
Intellectuals and (following them) also common people remember their distant origin. Cultural memory institutions maintain references to factual and historical past, and it looks back also to mythical origins, or connections with old (since then have often been extinguished) peoples. Virgil heroificated the Trojan origin of Rome. The identity of France embraces also the Celtic Gauls, the German Franks, and the local ancestors, speaking Romance languages. Moscow heralded herself as “third Rome” (Byzantium being the “second Rome”). There are many particular forms of the so called “cultural memory”: in pointing towards the glorious or unjustly lost ancestors.Hungary is another — not neglectful — clear case of constant searching for “intermediate” forefathers. Since the Middle Ages Hungarians have been connected (both from outside or inside of the country) with the Huns, and the country’s tragic history in 15th–17th centuries was compared with that of Israel, already depicted in the Old Testament. Historians of the 18th and 19th centuries, interested in Hungary, tried to prove the “oriental” (Persian, Aryan, Turanian, etc.) bases of Hungarian language and culture. My historical report ends by the end of the 19th century, but the same tendency is actual in our days too. I call that as “proxy cultural memory” — presenting one’s own culture through a “creative reference” to different and other (old) cultures. The “proxy identity” is not constructing one’s actual identity, but it aims to invent a constructed image about something else. It has two main characteristics: it covers the times from which we do not know proper historical facts — and it is a part of ideology. As such it serves the “nation’s characterology”, ethnic stereotypes and imagology as well.
In folklore research the notion and the meaning of “humour” are generally unclear and underdeveloped. Proverbs are usually considered as “witty”, therefore they seem to be “humorous”. But, in fact, the vast majority of proverbs are not humorous. “All proverbs” might be humorous in a specific context or usage, but this does not mean that the proverb texts themselves are humorous. The paper discusses a famous Hungarian proverb collection, published by Z. Ujváry, in which a single peasant informant, in each case with his own classification, wrote down 1,143 proverbs and sayings. Only 38 items (i.e. 3.5%) were labelled by him as “joking, ironic, mocking, malicious”, etc. The analysis of the proverb texts shows that only very few proverb texts (less than 1%) have a sense of humour. The author has used a modern Hungarian proverb collection as test material, and is convinced about the assumption: only a very small percentage of the proverb texts are humorous in themselves.