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Acsády, Ignác

(1845–1906), historian, journalist, and fiction writer. Ignác Acsády (Adler until 1875) was born in Nagykároly, Hungary, the oldest son of a wealthy landowner. Acsády’s father served as head of the Jewish community of Hajdúszoboszló for almost 30 years and was a member of the board of Hajdú county. Acsády earned a law degree in 1869 and a doctorate in 1877 at the University of Budapest. With his wide interest in the humanities, he decided against limiting his career to law.

In 1869, Acsády began to write for the periodical Századunk, followed by the daily Pesti Napló—then edited by Zsigmond Kemény—and served on the editorial staff of the latter between 1870 and 1893. He was also a regular contributor to other papers in Budapest and elsewhere in Hungary. Heavily influenced early in his career by the politics of Ferenc Deák and the liberal ideals of József Eötvös, Acsády opposed the political line of Prime Minister Kálmán Tisza and identified with the goals of Egyesült Ellenzék (United Opposition), led by Albert Apponyi and Dezső Szilágyi.

From the early 1880s, Acsády took a stand against rising antisemitism. He was a founder of Egyenlőség, a leading Jewish periodical, to which he remained a lifelong, though often anonymous, contributor. In his articles and in a pamphlet titled Zsidó és nem zsidó magyarok az emancipáció után (Jewish and Non-Jewish Hungarians after the Emancipation; 1883), Acsády expressed support for Jewish assimilation and opposition to immigration from Galicia.

Acsády was an active member of the Izraelita Magyar Irodalmi Társulat (Israelite Hungarian Literary Society; IMIT). As a fiction writer, he blended realism with romanticism, depicting the social and economic issues of his age, the relations of the Christian and Jewish bourgeoisie and the nobility, and the omnipotence of money. His works include the novel Fridényi bankja (Bank of Fridényi; 1882); the novella Pénzházasság (Money Marriage; 1880), and the satirical comedy Aranyországban (In the Golden Land; 1880). Between 1891 and 1893, he edited a reference lexicon (Kézi lexikon), the first of its kind in Hungary.

The increasingly general nature of Acsády’s articles on economics and politics prompted him to write about history. His works in that area were characterized by his antifeudalist, liberal views and were influenced by Comte’s positivism and Spencer’s organic sociology. As a self-taught historian in the 1880s, he translated three volumes of Leopold von Ranke’s History of the Popes as well as Johann Kaspar Bluntschli’s History of Politics into Hungarian. His last work was a study composed for the Hungarian edition of Heinrich Graetz’s History of the Jews (Budapest, 1906–1908).

On 4 May 1888, Acsády was elected associate member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; he served on its historical committee as well. This appointment was the only official acknowledgment of his stature, as his opposition to official politics (both Hungarian and Jewish) made it impossible for him to obtain an academic appointment.

In addition to his interest in political history, Acsády also explored the economic issues of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Hungary and the plight of the lower classes. He published numerous monographs and studies in general journals as well as in Magyar Zsidó Szemle (Hungarian Jewish Review) and the IMIT Évkönyv (Yearbook of the Israelite Hungarian Literary Society). Acsády was one of the initiators of the statistical method in Hungary.

In 1904, Acsády published A magyar birodalom története I–II (History of the Hungarian Empire), brilliantly written in classical Hungarian and regarded as his greatest and best-known work. Despite his patriotic tone that occasionally bordered on chauvinistic nationalism, some critics accused him of promoting Jewish prejudices and anticlerical, antifeudal attitudes. Succeeding generations have tended to display more appreciation of his work, especially his comprehensive A magyar jobbágyság története (History of Serfdom in Hungary; 1896), unique to this day.

Suggested Reading

Péter Gunst, Acsády Ignác (Budapest, 1973); István Rejtő, “A regényíró Acsády,” in Fridényi bankja, by Ignác Acsády, pp. 431–441 (Budapest, 1968).



Translated from Hungarian by Veronika Szabó