"In order to prove my unwavering enthusiasm to serve my beloved country and Thy Majesty with good deeds — taken into consideration non usque fructu practiced deeds of other advinced countries, that partim intuitu stratagematis bellici, partim vero de more regni et consolationem suorum regnicolarum, extraneorum vero incutiendum metum, print and exmit into foreign countries this-and-that state of affairs. Seeing this verging neither to the harm of our Country nor to the praejudicium of Thy Majesty: in omnem fortunae eventim, pro primo a few exempla de rebus, from which here presentibus including one I send to Thy Majesty with humility; which if erga ruminationem Thou would incline approbate, approbated confirm, — as I humbly await your resolution concerning this matter — without hesitation transmit them into Poland and other countries where Thy Majesty wishes to dispose. Let us not let presented as truth what that certain other nation promulgates in Novellae. Thus I propose, with your permission, a journalist to be subordinated, pure et praecise in this task industriated, and would make it serially. I, myself shall cooperate to the amount I am able. Majesty — should not every single thing comperialed in those serials — we shall not be much to blame!"
Cassovie, April 14, 1705. Count Antal Eszterházy to Prince Rákóczinak
These urgent words were written in April 1705 by Hungarian Count Esterházy Antal to His Majesty Rákóczi Ferenc the 2nd, elected leader of Hungary. Also, they did no less, but launched the progress that would produce the basis of the history of Hungarian press (or so-called "mass media").
A month after this letter, the first Hungarian newspaper was published, later known by the title "Mercurius Veridicus Ex Hungaria", the official newsletter of the Rákóczi-revolution (1703-1711). By now, it is an established fact, that several issues of this newsletter were published between 1705 and 1710. We emphasise the "established" nature of this statement, since after the peace treaty of Szatmár, that put an unfortunate end to the Revolution, all the copies of this publication disappeared from view — along with the considerable amount of documents of diplomatic correspondence, that gave an almost hour-to-hour account of these events. Afterwards, a different kind of revolution begun in Hungarian history, more like natural evolution, a slow unfolding of social and cultural development, yet more transparent, more predictable.
In the middle of the 19th century, however, our historians started to dig up the rich information-base of the Rákóczi-era with extreme diligence and enthusiasm. This body of information was (and still is) scattered all over Europe, hidden or discovered in the archives of several nations — thus proving, that one of the seeds of the newly-shaped Europe, risen from the chaos of Westfalia, the Turkish invasion and other dramatic twists and turns of history was indeed here, in the Kárpát-Basin, somewhat hidden, but seriously affecting international affairs.
Here, in the early decade of the 18th century, we have to talk about diplomacy and international politics of the most significant events since the 30-Years War. Meanwhile, in Hungary, a nation is risen to fight for its freedom against a desperate and ruthless situation, in a struggle rich with astounding and often bizarre turn of events of military history, sometimes involving barefooted infantry, other times dispatching serious machines of war. At first, even the leader of the revolution, the young and charismatic Rákóczi Ferenc the 2nd is reluctant to join the nationwide unrest — in the end, his final motives are bitter and sobering experiences with political intrigue. But how did this revolution enter the scene of European diplomacy?
For us, people of the 21th century, nothing is more natural, than to switch to a television channel, open the newspaper or a website to learn what is happening in our known universe, second-by-second. We are provided with the information — but on a second look, we have to face that we can get the exact opposite of that piece of information as well. This is what we call 'media', history takes shape on the scenes of mass-communication, and maybe this is where our ever-growing scepticism is rooted towards anything seen but by our own eyes.
Now, what about the era of Prince Rákóczi? What kind of picture the world has got about what was happening inside the borders of Hungary? Travellers witnessed a tragic scenario, and the motives and forces governing it. But what could the international scene base on its knowledge about Hungary?
Communication strategies — driven by the the "mass-media" of the day — were provided. Correspondence through diplomatic channels, official "Novellae", Mercurii", "Diarii" transmitted information on the events — each from its own certain point of view. In 1703 the first real newspaper starts publication in Vienna, by the title of "Wiennerisches Diarium" (the forerunner of the venerable Wiener Zeitung). This is a medium aimed to create and affect public opinion. And, as a real keystone of the press in Europe, it is colorful in content, and of high standard, but determined to distort communication according to the interest of the Habsburg-Court.
The picture provided by the Wiennersiches Diarium is dismal: it depicts the revolution as a rebellion of disorganised paramilitary units and aristocrats wobbling aimlessly in the web of complicated conflicts of personal interest. This seems nothing more than an annoying affair, affecting only the inner state of the Habsburg Empire; it does not constitute a political factor on an international scale.
Without unbiased communication channels, international support for the Hungarian cause could not be gained. Furthermore, miscommunication may drown even potential interest and deter natural allies. This was the main concern of Count Esterházy, when he wrote this famous letter, cited above. He wants a newspaper, he wants a journalist assigned to the task, and he wants to shape public opinion (even resorting to the "pragmatic" strategies of the adversaries). According to the letter, he managed to print the first issue of the newsletter — unfortunately, no copy of this publication has even been recovered.
This latter fact is proof like no other, that the story of the first Hungarian periodical is surrounded by questions, even unsolvable riddles. 19th century historian, Thaly Kálmán Thaly was the first to pick up the tread leading back to the Mercurius Veridicus, and follow it with enthusiasm throughout his entire life. He made it public, that Hungary indeed had had a newspaper at the gloomy dawn of the 18th century.
However thorough in research, Thaly Kálmán is often carried away with far-fetched convictions. Since then, the majority of his statements concerning the "Mercurius Veridicus" has been rebuked by academics. Yet one of his findings remains certain and indisputable: the Mercurius Veridicus is indeed the touchstone of the story of Hungarian periodicals and press. Not only by its formal appliance to the concept of "periodical", but with the fact that in the few sheets of the Veridicus, the genre of Hungarian journalism was born (thanks to the innate skills of its first editor, Count Ráday Pál), and its claimed mission to establish the basis of public communication in Hungary.
This website is by no means a critical edition of the Mercurius Veridicus — it is not even close to one. In my personal opinion, research is not even close to draw final conclusions.
However, this treasure of our national history is again disappearing from view all around the world. By now, some original and unique copies have been lost. Thus, we found it imperative to collect and make available anything that can be touched, viewed and known about the Mercurius Veridicus, its layout, its contents, along with its mysterious history. The sum of our recent findings is not to be published yet, there are still too many loose threads, that need to be unravelled.
Our purpose for now is simple: to show, what can be known, so that questions may be asked about what is unknown.
Renkecz Anita Orsolya