BENYOVSZKIANA - Miscellaneous This and That
Even 240 years after this death, there is rarely a dull moment with Benyovszky. Apart from the continued and continual celebration of his intriguing life by Benyovszky societies - aided and abetted by government bodies - across central Europe, other small nuggets of news keep popping out of the woodwork.
A very strange map indeedIn 2013, a map was discovered in a Warsaw university library. It seems to be a map which was put together by Benyovszky himself, and presented to the French government minister for Foreign Affairs, the Duc d'Aiguillon. It bears the date 1772, which is precisely the time when Benyovszky was doing the rounds of French government offices, seeking financial backing for one of his several plans for trading with (or colonising) far-off places.
The map is a curiosity, as my attached essay suggests. It is clearly based on a map drawn by someone else - for example, the great French cartographer, Nicolas Bellin, whose own work was based on the maps of earlier explorers. And it raises many unanswered questions. The Warsaw academic who discovered this map has suggested that it could prove that Benyovszky did all the things he claimed to have done in the North Pacific. I venture to throw cold water on that hypothesis. You can read all about it by clicking here.
To view the map, you can either click on the thumbnail image above (opens in new window), or access the Warsaw article and map on-line here.
Was Benyovszky ever King of Madagascar?The short answer to that question is surely: 'No.'
However, it is a question which keeps popping up, largely because certain groups of people in Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Madagascar keep insisting that Benyovszky told the truth in his tales of colonining Madagascar.
Back in early 2019, I was very pleased to be invited to give a talk to the members of the British Czech and Slovak Association, in the Slovak Embassy in London. I have put the text of my lecture in a document - just click here and be instructed. The idea was for me to give some perspective on the question of Fact and Fiction relating to Benyovszky's many tales, but in particular on the Madagascar legend.
I have to say that the British Slovaks were extremely polite and friendly, given that I had just spent 45 minutes rubbishing one of their national heroes. They made me most welcome. It was a pleasure to be there.
Whether anyone believed what I had to say, I really do not know...
Was Benyovszky ever King of Madagascar? Part II.Back in 1906, the French historian Prosper Cultru published a book about Benyovszky. Its title (translated into English) was An Emperor of Madagascar in the XVIIIth century – Benyowszky. In his book, using letters and documents from French state archives, Cultru very effectively nailed on the head many of Benyovszky's stirring tales of Madagacasar.
No one in the intervening 120 years or so has managed to counter Cultru's arguments. It is, therefore, a book that rewards a close reading.
Since the original text is in French, I have gone to the immense trouble of getting it translated. (No money, you will be glad to know, changed hands during the translation.) I used the remarkable online translation engine DeepL; the quality of the translated text is really pretty good, although I manually corrected some of the results. Having done that, I then persuaded DeepL to render the English translation of Cultru's book into Slovak, Polish and Hungarian. The results of that, for all I know, may not be perfect... All four versions, plus the original, are now available:
The King is dead - long live the King!In December 1787, the Warsaw news-sheet, 'Gazeta Warszawski', carried a small notice which had been sent to them from a correspondent in Vienna. According to this, on 7 November,
The Hungarian Baron Beniowski, who has already been declared dead so many times, has arrived here from Constantinople.
No further details were provided, and we later hear no more news of the man risen from the grave. The Count had, after all, died 14 months earlier, on Madagascar.
Had it really been Benyovszky promenading the streets of Vienna, we would almost certainly have heard much more about - and from - him. We must sadly assume that the report was a misunderstanding.
Or perhaps the person in question was an impostor?
You can read the original newspaper notice (it is in Polish, though). Click here and then go to page 8, and look at the top of the second column... ("Carogred" is Constantinople/Istanbul.)