Márton Szepsi Csombor's (1595-1622) Europica Varietas is the first great Hungarian travelogue, written in 1620. The author, one of the most interesting figures of late humanist literature in Hungary, toured Europe for two and a half years, between 1616 and 1618, visiting Poland, Holland, England, France, then Heidelberg, Nuremberg and Cracow. On his return to Kassa he worked as headmaster for a few years, but died prematurely in an epidemic. His travelogue, written in Hungarian rather than Latin, was written with the aim to spread information, but he also included a lot of anecdotes that make his book a very lively and interesting reading.
Here we publish an excerpt from the first complete translation of Europica Varietas by courtesy of the translator, Bernard Adams.
Márton Csombor arrives in Paris
Thence from Possiacum we crossed over to Pontoisa (1), in the middle of which town there is a strong stone castle, in every street there are stone gutters, there is a pleasant Jesuit boarding school with many pupils, and it is surrounded on all sides by vine-hills as finely as the part of Tarcal towards Tokaj. The people are very dark, both men and women, so much so that I had never seen more swarthy Christians; they wear their headkerchiefs almost like the Gypsies. The town is divided into two parts, called the eastern and the western, linked by a big river (2) with two bridges.
In this town I fell into grievous difficulty, for as I have said nowhere was Hungarian gold accepted from us, but for two days over a lengthy distance our two travelling companions paid for us. At the inn here, which if I remember correctly was the Crown, in the evening, weary after our exertions, we drank deeply of the good wine, and as I and my German companion slept soundly the two Frenchmen rose (I believe that they doubted the good faith of a foreigner) and early in the morning dressed and set out. My German companion realised this and, quickly seizing his weapon and clothes, caught them up and begged them in the name of God not to go but to pay for us, saying that in Paris we would change money and repay them in full. They did not turn back, and the German, seeing that his requests were in vain and that he had no other recourse, also went with them, simply leaving me abed. I rose and awaited the Frenchmen, but most of all the German, in whose loyalty I had trusted, but growing tired of waiting I called the landlady to settle the bill. She said that my companion and I owed a forint and a half, and I proffered a gold coin which she rejected, saying that it was false; I proffered another, and she said angrily No boun pistol, it is not good money (for they call the coin struck by their king pistol), after which I brought out all that I had for her to choose from, but she liked not a single coin but seized the cloak which I was wearing and shamefully tore it off me. My God, was I to go like that? What was I to do? I could not appear in public in my jerkin. I resolved myself and went to call on a priest who lived nearby, and when I had reported to him in full my condition and whence I came, he rose at once and came with me to the inn and reproached the woman severely, pointing out that the coins were good and alarming her by saying that their whole nation would gain a bad reputation in other countries through the unseemly action of one wicked woman. He therefore made her restore to me my cloak of bright red broadcloth, enquired how much I owed, and paid the rascally woman from his own pocket. I hurried after my disloyal friends and soon overtook them not far from the town, lying under an apple tree. They laughed loudly, but when I would show no liking for them whatever they persuaded me of their good faith and swore that they would have returned for me (I thought so too, as by that time I owed the two Frenchmen more than three forints) and were only trying to see what I would do among them as I did not know their language. I became reconciled with them, and as we went on we came to a high hill from which we looked with no little delight upon the famous and renowned city of Paris, which I had long desired to see, with all the villages, towns, monasteries, many churches and costly stone walls that surrounded it. We descended the hill and entered the town of Argentera (3), passing all the way among magnificent fine vineyards. Here the vineyards are not on hillsides but in level fields, often alternating with plough-land.
ARGENTERA is a fine walled town endowed with every municipal adornment, paved streets, towers, bells, channels of running water and a market place, and just as in Holland vines are trained on the walls of the houses. Beside it runs the Sequana in two branches, and as there is no bridge people are ferried over, but not for an impious fee as in Normandy, and two hours thence we came to the greatest wonder of the world, the city of Paris. Let there be at this point a nota bene concerning Normandy: there the poor go about only in wooden clogs, from which it comes that frequently a grandchild will wear a grandparent's clogs; they are taken to market by the cartload and countless numbers thus sold for twelve, thirteen or fifteen pénz, and a pair will last for as long as ten years.
PARIS, OTHERWISE LUTETIA
The ancients wrote little of the city of Paris, from which it appears that it has not long been in the condition of royal splendour in which it is today. Mention is made of the Paris race, but no evidence is set forth that it had so great a city. It is called Lutetia a luto (4), because it is exceedingly muddy, especially the town on the island in the Sequana. Some trace its origin to Paris, son of Priam of Troy, some only from Julius Caesar, but the former is the more credible opinion as it is much more ancient than the time of Julius Caesar, as the antiquities there reveal. It has expanded several times, for one can find inside a number of walls to which it formerly extended. There are in it five hundred big streets and an abundance of all manner of foodstuffs—were you to see it of a Saturday you would judge that all the oxen, sheep, fowl, bread and every sort of fruit in the whole country had been carried thither. This city is the chief of all Gallia not only on account of its imperial quality but also of its size, and is built on fine meadows beside the Sequana. It is divided by the river into three parts: the one is that proprie dicta (5) Lutetia, the second, which is on an island in the Sequana, is called de la université because of the university, and the third proprie sic dicti Parisii. These three towns, and they are complete towns, are linked by fine, costly bridges just as in Londinum, but the wonderful thing is that some of them are only of wood and yet so great are the roads on them that one would think it impossible that they should bear so great a weight for as much as two months, and yet they have been standing for sixty or seventy years. There are fine and costly churches in the city, notable among which are the parish church and that of St Joachim, and outside the city that of St Dienes, which all reckon as one of the seven wonders of Europe. The house of the father of the parricide Johannes Castella who, wishing to kill him, plunged the knife into the mouth of Henricus Quartus (6), stands near La Palle (7), the palace of the Parliament, in a very beautiful place where today a very fine drain flows out with the images of two maidens. The house of the Parliament is an immense building, one would think it an entire street, and three months before the greater part of it, in which were statues of all the kings of Francia in order from the beginning, had burnt to the ground, and because of the collapse of the attic the damage inside alone amounted to more than seventy thousand forints. From there one goes straight along the rue de Betesi to the gate known as the Porta de Paris. Between these gates stands a rough little house with barred windows into which are cast the bodies of those killed by day or night in the streets; they are kept there for twenty-four hours, and then without any delay, even if there were none more pious in the world, they are hung up by the feet outside the council house. For each person, however, a new gibbet has to be made, and never is more than one hung on the same gibbet either at one time or successive. The bodies are kept on it for a day, and next day are given decent burial (8).
(2) The Oise. Pontoise is now a commune in north-western Paris.
(4) Latin lutum 'mud'.
(5) Properly called.
(6) Jean Châtel attempted the life of Henri IV in December 1594, hitting him on the lip with a knife.
(7) The Palais de Justice.
(8) Csombor's route takes him from the Palais de Justice to the right bank of the Seine, along what is now the rue St Denis towards the Grand Châtelet, one of the gates of which was the Porte de Paris. The 'council house' must therefore be the Châtelet fortress, seat of the other judicial institutions of old Paris.
Translated by: Bernard Adams
Tags: Márton Szepsi Csombor