By William Cullen Bryant
[Address in which William Cullen Bryant introduced Louis Kossuth at the banquet given in honor of the Hungarian patriot by the Press of New York, December 9, 1851.]
“. . . The Washingtons, the Franklins of Hungary, her sages, her legislators, her warriors, expelled by a far worse tyranny than was ever endured here, are wanderers in foreign lands. Some of them are within our own borders; one of them sits with his companions as our guest to-night, and we must measure the duty we owe them by the same standard which we would have had history apply, if our ancestors had met with a fate like theirs.
“I have compared the exiled Hungarians to the great men of our own history. Difficulty, my brethren, is the nurse of greatness—a harsh nurse, who roughly rocks her foster-children into strength and athletic proportion. The mind, grappling with great aims and wrestling with mighty impediments, grows by a certain necessity to their stature. Scarce anything so convinces me of the capacity of the human intellect for indefinite expansion in the different stages of its being, as this power of enlarging itself to the height and compass of surrounding emergencies. These men have been trained to greatness by a quicker and surer method than a peaceful country and a tranquil period can know.
“But it is not merely, or even principally, for their personal qualities that we honor them; we honor them for the cause in which they so gloriously failed. Great issues hung upon that cause, and great interests of mankind were crushed by its downfall. I was on the continent of Europe when the treason of Gorgey laid Hungary bound at the feet of the Czar. Europe was at the time in the midst of the reaction; the ebb tide was rushing violently back, sweeping all that the friends of freedom had planned into the black bosom of the deep. In France the liberty of the press was extinct; Paris was in a state of siege; the soldiery of that Republic had just quenched in blood the freedom of Rome; Austria had suppressed liberty in northern Italy; absolutism was restored in Prussia; along the Rhine and its tributaries, and in the towns and villages of Wurtemberg and Bavaria, troops withdrawn from the barracks and garrisons filled the streets and kept the inhabitants quiet with the bayonet at their breasts. Hungary, at that moment, alone upheld—and upheld with a firm hand and dauntless heart—the blazing torch of liberty. To Hungary were turned up the eyes, to Hungary clung the hopes of all who did not despair of the freedom of Europe.”
“Russia did not misjudge. If she had allowed Hungary to become independent and free, the reaction in favor of absolutism had been incomplete; there would have been one perilous example of successful resistance to despotism; in one corner of Europe a flame would have been kept alive, at which the other nations might have rekindled among themselves the light of liberty. Hungary was subdued; but does any one, who hears me, believe that the present state of things in Europe will last? The despots themselves scarcely believe it; they rule in constant fear, and, made cruel by their fears, are heaping chain on chain around the limbs of their subjects.
“They are hastening the event they dread. Every added shackle galls into a more fiery impatience those who are condemned to wear it. I look with mingled hope and horror to the day—the hope, my brethren, predominates—a day bloodier, perhaps, than we have seen since the wars of Napoleon, when the exasperated nations shall snap their chains and start to their feet. It may well be that Hungary, made less patient of the yoke by the remembrance of her own many and glorious struggles for independence, and better fitted than other nations, by the peculiar structure of her institutions, for founding the liberty of her citizens on a rational basis, will take the lead. In that glorious and hazardous enterprise, in that hour of her sore need and peril, I hope she will be cheered and strengthened with aid from this side of the Atlantic; aid given, not with a parsimonious hand, not with cowardly and selfish apprehension lest we should not err on the safe side—wisely, of course,—I care not with how broad and comprehensive a regard to the future—but in large, generous, effectual measure.
“And you, our guest, fearless, eloquent, large of heart and of mind, whose one thought is the salvation of oppressed Hungary, unfortunate, but undiscouraged, struck down in the battle of liberty, but great in defeat, and gathering strength for triumphs to come, receive the assurance at our hands, that in this great attempt of man to repossess himself of the rights which God gave him, though the strife be waged under a distant belt of longitude, and with the mightiest despotisms of the world, the Press of America will take part—will take, do I say?—already takes part with you and your countrymen.”
Addresses: Tributes to Great Men
Ashley H. Thorndike, Editor
Professor of English, Columbia University
“Difficulty, my brethren, is the nurse of greatness—a harsh nurse, who roughly rocks her foster-children into strength and athletic proportion.”
“Every added shackle galls into a more fiery impatience those who are condemned to wear it.”
“And you, our guest [Louis Kossuth], fearless, eloquent, large of heart and of mind, whose one thought is the salvation of oppressed Hungary, unfortunate, but undiscouraged, struck down in the battle of liberty, but great in defeat, and gathering strength for triumphs to come. . .”
--William Cullen Bryant
[Kossuth County, Iowa is named after Louis Kossuth]
Kossuth County, Iowa