Images and shadows: The personality of Menyhért Lónyay
The author of the essay provides a multi-perspective picture of the life of Menyhért Lónyay (1822–1884), who was the Minister of Finance, later Prime Minister of Hungary. On the one hand, He attempts to show how his contemporaries viewed and depicted him as well as to find an explanation of the fact that the favourable portrait drawn about Lónyay underwent a spectacular transformation within a few years’ time: his characteristic features lauded before appeared as distorted qualities of his personality.
On the other hand, relying on personal records (diary, correspondence, memoirs), the author also attempts to reconstruct the way in which Lónyay regarded himself and assessed his own personality. He has to admit that the available sources offer only limited opportunity to achieve this, hence only a few of the predominant components of Lónyay’s life and personality will be highlighted in the essay. On the basis of the documents written by Lónyay himself the author will deal with the childhood education of the would-be politician, as well as his schooling and his pleasure in self-education. Furthermore, he discusses the maturing process in which Lónyay got acquainted with the world of politics, chose heroes to follow, developed professional and oratorical skills. Following this, the author examines how Lónyay’s fall in 1872 (his own party lost its trust in him and the opposition accused him of corruption) affected his personality and his subsequent behaviour: Lónyay became insecure, and from this time on, paradoxically, he became attracted and at the same time repelled by the world of politics; his acts were characterized by the feeling of offense, the desire for redress and a constant drive for self-justification. The author regards family relationships as an important component of the personality, and hence he puts great emphasis on mapping Lónyay’s relationship with his own family (with his mother, wife, children and siblings). Finally, the author also covers briefly Lónyay’s physical conditions, how he related to the maladies of his own body.
In the third place, the last chapter of the essay investigates the ways in which posterity – from Lónyay’s death to present times – remembered him. The most important conclusion of this part is that authors writing about Lónyay, in most cases, only repeat the contemporary charges against his political persona, making them into anecdotes without undertaking a circumspect examination of his political activity. The author is convinced, however, that scrutinizing Lónyay’s career can take us closer to the understanding of the life of the political generation (1840s), which in spite of a long struggle and several failures was able to create the political and economic conditions and frameworks for the evolution and prosperity of modern Hungary. On the other hand, Lónyay’s portrait can also show that in addition to the common features that he shared with his generation, what were the peculiar characteristics of his career. Such an examination can be especially rewarding in the case of Lónyay, who was a politician (Prime Minister), financial expert, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, entrepreneur, landlord and leader of his family.