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Pál Rosty and the Revolution

Revolutions of 1848 were a series of political upheavals throughout Europe. The most widespread revolutionary wave in European history irreversibly changed millions of lives. One of the people involved was an 18 year old Pál Rosty, a member of the ancient Roman Catholic Hungarian noble family Rosty de Barkóc. The family held lands and titles since the 14th century. They were one of the most influential dynasties in the political life of Hungary. So, responsibility and national pride became the reasons that young Pál Rosty joined the revolution against the Habsburgs. Had he remained faithful or neutral, Pál Rosty might have led the idle life of an average nobleman. It was not the case. Hungarian forces were defeated, Habsburg power was restored and Hungary was placed under a brutal martial law.

One of the rare portraits of Pal Rosti. Oil on canvas.

The Escape

To avoid punishment, young Pál Rosty escaped to Munich. There he studied biology and chemistry. Soon after that he emigrated to Paris, where he learned and studied the new art of photography, which became his great passion. One of the people he met while in Munich was Alexander von Humboldt. He was a Prussian polymath, geographer, naturalist and explorer. Between 1799 and 1804, von Humboldt traveled extensively in the Americas, exploring and describing it for the first time from a modern persepctive. Humboldt told Pál Rosty first hand tales of this exciting world, and those stories stuck. So when Pál perfected the art of photography, he decided to visit the Americas and document what he saw.

The Americas – Paul Rosty travel book

Pál Rosty left on 4 August 1856 by ship to the United States. He visited Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. Then, he traveled to the island of Cuba, staying in the Havana, before continuing to Venezuela. During his trip, the political climate in Europe changed, and he arrived safely back to Hungary on 26 February 1859.

On his way back, Pál Rosty visited his mentor Alexander von Humboldt, just in time to see him on his deathbed. Pál told him of his experiences and showed him his photographs. However, he expressed dissatisfaction with the notes he made, which lacked a scientific angle. Humboldt encouraged his young student, telling him how enjoyable his tales, anecdotes and photographs were. Emboldened, Pál published his travel book of the Americas, Úti emlékezetek Amerikából (The Memoires from America) in Pest in 1861.

Rare first edition of Rosti’s travel memories from the Americas.

Based on this work, Pál Rosty became a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and a respected member of the community. His brother, on the other hand, never fought in any war. He remained, for the rest of his life, an idle nobleman.

Photo 1 from wikipedia.com
Photo 2 is from actual listing at sigedon.com

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