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Kelemen MIKES
( 1690 - 1761 )


1690 born in Zágon, Transylvania (now Romania)
1700- 1707 educated by the Jesuits in Kolozsvár
1707 page in the Court of II. Ferenc Rákóczi, Prince of Transylvania
1711 leaves the country together with his master
1712 goes to Poland, then England
1713 spends five years in the Court of Louis XIV.
1717-20 they arrive in Turkey and settle in Rodostó
1735 death of the Prince
1785 becomes the leader of the Hungarian colony
1761. 2nd Oct. dies in Rodostó
1794 his writings first appear in print


1758-59 Misszilis levelek (Correspondence) At that time, Mikes received permission from the Austrian envoy in Constantinople to write some real letters home to his family. These letters are written in the same style as his Letters from Turkey, but here it turns out that he remembers more of his childhood than mentioned in his fictitious letters and knows a lot of things about his family that he failed to mention beforehand. The tone of the letters is joyful and vivid, as after a long time he had at least an opportunity to write to real people from his beloved homeland.

Letters from Turkey

1717-1758 Törökországi levelek (Letters from Turkey) Of all Transylvanians, Mikes was the most Transylvanian, perhaps because he was not allowed to revisit his homeland during the course of his whole long life. ( ) He always termed himself as a székely , not a Hungarian; he used the székely language (a dialect of Hungarian) in his translations, and in a moral respect it was always the noble Transylvanian blood that determined his judgement. ( ) He is the peak of the self-examining range of the Transylvanian spirit, and a traditional synthesis of philanthropy and deep religious thought. (Antal Szerb) This is the most important and most popular work of Mikes, a sequence of 207 letters published only long years after his death. The letters were written in Mikes time as a courtier (but not confidential consultant) of his master, and encompass 41 years of the life of the Hungarian emigrants who followed Prince Rákóczi to his Turkish exile and lived most of the time in Rodostó, a port on the shore of the Sea of Marmara. Ferenc Rákóczi II. was himself a prolific writer of letters, memoirs and religious treatises, but these show no direct effect of Mikes book. He was more affected by the French tradition of letter collections that flourished at the time. He spent a long time at the French Court. It is possible that he was acquainted with the letters of Roger Rabutin Comte de Bussy and Marie de Rabutin-Chantal Marqiuse de Sévigné, for there are many parallels of thought and feeling in his letters. It is also telling that Mikes, like his French predecessors, begins and ends his letters in a very elaborate manner and likes to meditate about the soul, religion and the love of reading. His other source and parallel was the fluent and beautiful style of the Transylvanian Court, an atmosphere that produced the memoir writers of the time; and, even more, the székely dialect, which is in itself a rare construction of witty and compact phrases, a style full of figures and evocative metaphors. The addressee of the letters is an aunty , a certain Countess E. P., in all probability a fictitious character, created to be a true and understanding correspondent in Mikes loneliness. He teases her, teaches her, adores her, just like a living person, and writes her long treatises about religion, women s education, history and everyday life. It is the elegant, poignant conversational tone and (against all odds) bright, light and playful voice of Mikes that makes these letters a whole: the illusion that he has someone to talk to. The unique completeness of the sequence resembles that of a novel; the anecdotes, chronicles, stories, gossip, descriptions, ethnographical treatises and personal accounts are united by the voice of the narrator, a very likable, sensitive and humorous man, who loves his Prince and can never forget his homeland. Prince Rákóczi was somewhat like a father to Mikes, and he followed him into exile by his own free will, never knowing that he would never ever see his own country again, even after the death of his master. The letters of Mikes are always a pleasure to read, he was a noble-hearted and sensible thinker, somewhat like the other two great lonely essayists, Erasmus and Montaigne.

Gospel Commentaries

1741 Épistoláknak és az Evangéliumoknak Magyarázattya (Gospel Commentaries) This is a theological translation and adaptation of an unknown original.

Lectures on Cathecism

1744 Cathechizmus Formájára való közönséges Oktatások(Lectures on Cathecism) This is an adaptation of Francois Aimé Pouget s original.

The Royal Way of the Cross

1747 A Keresztnek királyi úttya (The Royal Way of the Cross) A translation and adaptation of a story by the Benedictine monk Benoit Van Haeften, it is a legendary tale told in dialogue form. The original was written in Latin in the 17th century and translated into French in the middle of the century and is an example of Baroque metamorphoses. Mikes dialogues are smooth and fluid, omitting the inadequate, long-spun parts of the original text.

The Life of Jesus

1748 A Kristus Jésus Életének Historiája (The Life of Jesus) A fairly faithful translation of the Christ-biography written by the theological writer Le Tourneux, the story is based on the New Testament. It must have been of special interest to the readers of the time because of the vivid descriptions of exotic places.

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