EOTVOS, JOZSEF, Baron (1813-1871), Hungarian writer and statesman, the son of Baron Ignacz Eötvös and the baroness Lilian, was born at Buda on the 13th of September 1813. After an excellent education he entered the civil service as a vice-notary, and was early introduced to political life by his father. He also spent many years in western Europe, assimilating the new ideas both literary and political, and making the acquaintance of the leaders of the Romantic school. On his return to Hungary he wrote his first political work, Prison Reform; and at the diet of 1839-1840 he made a great impression by his eloquence and learning. One of his first speeches (published, with additional matter, in 1841) warmly advocated Jewish emancipation. Subsequently, in the columns of the Pesti Hirlap, Eötvös disseminated his progressive ideas farther afield, his standpoint being that the necessary reforms could only be carried out administratively by a responsible and purely national government. The same sentiments pervade his novel The Village Notary (1844-1846), one of the classics of the Magyar literature, as well as in the less notable romance Hungary in 1514, and the comedy Long live Equality! In 1842 he married Anna Rosty, but his happy domestic life did not interfere with his public career. He was now generally regarded as one of the leading writers and politicians of Hungary, while the charm of his oratory was such that, whenever the archduke palatine Joseph desired to have a full attendance in the House of Magnates, he called upon Eötvös to address it. The February revolution of 1848 was the complete triumph of Eötvös' ideas, and he held the portfolio of public worship and instruction in the first responsible Hungarian ministry. But his influence extended far beyond his own department. Eötvös, Deák and Szechényi represented the pacific, moderating influence in the council of ministers, but when the premier, Batthyány, resigned, Eötvös, in despair, retired for a time to Munich. Yet, though withdrawn from the tempests of the War of Independence, he continued to serve his country with his pen. His Influence of the Ruling Ideas of the 19th Century on the State (Pest, 1851-1854, German editions at Vienna and Leipzig the same year) profoundly influenced literature and public opinion in Hungary. On his return home, in 1851, he kept resolutely aloof from all political movements. In 1859 he published The Guarantees of the Power and Unity of Austria (Ger. ed. Leipzig, same year), in which he tried to arrive at a compromise between personal union and ministerial responsibility on the one hand and centralization on the other. After the Italian war, however, such a halting-place was regarded as inadequate by the majority of the nation. In the diet of 1861 Eötvös was one of the most loyal followers of Deák, and his speech in favour of the "Address" (see Deák, Francis) made a great impression at Vienna. The enforced calm which prevailed during the next few years enabled him to devote himself once more to literature, and, in 1866, he was elected president of the Hungarian academy. In the diets of 1865 and 1867 he fought zealously by the side of Deák, with whose policy he now completely associated himself. On the formation of the Andrássy cabinet (Feb. 1867) he once more accepted the portfolio of public worship and education, being the only one of the ministers of 1848 who thus returned to office. He had now, at last, the opportunity of realizing the ideals of a lifetime. That very year the diet passed his bill for the emancipation of the Jews; though his further efforts in the direction of religious liberty were less successful, owing to the opposition of the Catholics. But his greatest achievement was the National Schools Act, the most complete system of education provided for Hungary since the days of Maria Theresa. Good Catholic though he was (in matters of religion he had been the friend and was the disciple of Montalembert), Eötvös looked with disfavour on the dogma of papal infallibility, promulgated in 1870, and when the bishop of Fehérvár proclaimed it, Eötvös cited him to appear at the capital ad audiendum verbum regium. He was a constant defender of the composition with Austria (Ausgleich), and during the absence of Andrássy used to preside over the council of ministers; but the labours of the last few years were too much for his failing health, and he died at Pest on the 2nd of February 1871. On the 3rd of May 1879 a statue was erected to him at Pest in the square which bears his name.
Eötvös occupied as prominent a place in Hungarian literature as in Hungarian politics. His peculiarity, both as a politician and as a statesman, lies in the fact that he was a true philosopher, a philosopher at heart as well as in theory; and in his poems and novels he clothed in artistic forms all the great ideas for which he contended in social and political life. The best of his verses are to be found in his ballads, but his poems are insignificant compared with his romances. It was The Carthusians, written on the occasion of the floods at Pest in 1838, that first took the public by storm. The Magyar novel was then in its infancy, being chiefly represented by the historico-epics of Jósiká. Eötvös first modernized it, giving prominence in his pages to current social problems and political aspirations. The famous Village Notary came still nearer to actual life, while Hungary in 1514, in which the terrible Dozsa Jacquerie (see Dozsa) is so vividly described, is especially interesting because it rightly attributes the great national catastrophe of Mohács to the blind selfishness of the Magyar nobility and the intense sufferings of the people. Yet, as already stated, all these books are written with a moral purpose, and their somewhat involved and difficult style is, nowadays at any rate, a trial to those who are acquainted with the easy, brilliant and lively novels of Jókai.
The best edition of Eötvös' collected works is that of 1891, in 17 vols. Comparatively few of his writings have been translated, but there are a good English version (London, 1850) and numerous German versions of The Village Notary, while The Emancipation of the Jews has been translated into Italian and German (Pest, 1841-1842), and a German translation of Hungary in 1514, under the title of Der Bauernkrieg in Ungarn was published at Pest in 1850.
See A. Bán, Life and Art of Baron Joseph Eötvös (Hung.) (Budapest, 1902); Zoltan Ferenczi Baron Joseph Eötvös (Hung.) (Budapest, 1903) [this is the best biography]; and M. Berkovics, Baron Joseph Eotvos and the French Literature (Hung.) (Budapest, 1904).
(R. N. B.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)