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Count István Széchenyi de Sárvár-Felsővidék (Hungarian: [ˈiʃtvaːn ˈseːt͡ʃeːɲi], archaically English: Stephen Széchenyi; 21 September 1791 – 8 April 1860) was a Hungarian politician, political theorist, and writer. Widely considered one of the greatest statesmen in his nation's history, within Hungary he is still known to many as "the Greatest Hungarian".[1]

Family and early life

After his private education, the young Széchenyi joined the Austrian army and participated in the Napoleonic Wars. He was seventeen years old when he entered the army. He fought with distinction at the battle of Raab (14 June 1809) and on 19 July brought about the subsequent junction of the two Austrian armies by conveying a message across the Danube to General Chasteler at the risk of his life.

Equally memorable was his famous ride, through the enemy's lines on the night of 16–17 October 1813, to convey to Blücher and Bernadotte the wishes of the two emperors that they should participate in the battle of Leipzig on the following day, at a given time and place. In May 1815 he was transferred to Italy, and at the battle of Tolentino scattered Murat's bodyguards by a dashing cavalry charge.[2]

He left the service as a captain in 1826 (after his promotion to major was turned down)[3] and turned his interest towards politics.

Political career

From September 1815 to 1821, Széchenyi traveled extensively in Europe, visiting France, England, Italy, Greece and the Levant, and studying their institutions.[2] He also established important person

After his private education, the young Széchenyi joined the Austrian army and participated in the Napoleonic Wars. He was seventeen years old when he entered the army. He fought with distinction at the battle of Raab (14 June 1809) and on 19 July brought about the subsequent junction of the two Austrian armies by conveying a message across the Danube to General Chasteler at the risk of his life.

Equally memorable was his famous ride, through the enemy's lines on the night of 16–17 October 1813, to convey to Blücher and Bernadotte the wishes of the two emperors that they should participate in the Equally memorable was his famous ride, through the enemy's lines on the night of 16–17 October 1813, to convey to Blücher and Bernadotte the wishes of the two emperors that they should participate in the battle of Leipzig on the following day, at a given time and place. In May 1815 he was transferred to Italy, and at the battle of Tolentino scattered Murat's bodyguards by a dashing cavalry charge.[2]

He left the service as a captain in 1826 (after his promotion to major was turned down)[3] and turned his interest towards politics.

From September 1815 to 1821, Széchenyi traveled extensively in Europe, visiting France, England, Italy, Greece and the Levant, and studying their institutions.[2] He also established important personal connections. The rapid modernization of Britain fascinated him the most, and strongly influenced his thinking. He was also impressed with the Canal du Midi in France, and began to envision ways to improve navigation on the lower Danube and Tisza.[2]

The Count quickly became aware of the growing gap between the modern world and his native Hungary. For the rest of his life, he was a determined reformer and promoted development. Széchenyi found early political support from his friend, Baron Miklós WesselényiThe Count quickly became aware of the growing gap between the modern world and his native Hungary. For the rest of his life, he was a determined reformer and promoted development. Széchenyi found early political support from his friend, Baron Miklós Wesselényi, a noble from Transylvania; however, their relation later weakened.

Széchenyi gained a wider reputation in 1825, by supporting the proposal of the representative of Sopron county, Pál Nagy, to establish the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; Széchenyi donated the full annual income of his estates that year, 60,000 florins, towards it. His example brought donations of 58,000 florins from three other wealthy nobles,[2] and they gained Royal approval for the Academy. He wanted to promote the use of the Hungarian language in this effort. This was an important milestone in his life and for the reform movement.

In 1827, he organized the Nemzeti Kaszinó, or National Casino, a forum for the patriotic Hungarian nobility. The Casino had an important role in the reform movement by providing an institute for political dialogues.[citation needed]

To reach a wider public, Széchenyi decided to publish his ideas. His series of political writings, the Hitel (Credit, 1830), the Világ, (World/Light, 1831), and the Stádium (1833), addressed the Hungarian nobility. He condemned their conservatism and encouraged them to give up feudal privileges (e.g. free of taxation status), and act as the driving elite for modernization.[citation needed]

In 1827, he organized the Nemzeti Kaszinó, or National Casino, a forum for the patriotic Hungarian nobility. The Casino had an important role in the reform movement by providing an institute for political dialogues.[citation needed]

To reach a wider public, Széchenyi decided to publish his ideas. His series of political writings, the Hitel (Credit, 1830), the Világ, (World/Light, 1831), and the Stádium (1833), addressed the Hungarian nobility. He condemned their conservatism and encouraged them to give up feudal privileges (e.g. free of taxation status), and act as the driving elite for modernization.[citation needed]

Széchenyi (with the help of Austrian ship's company Erste Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaft (DDSG) ), established the Óbuda Shipyard on the Hungarian Hajógyári Island in 1835, which was the first industrial scale steamship building company in the Habsburg Empire.[4]

Széchenyi envisioned his program for Hungary within the framework of the Habsburg Monarchy.[5] He was convinced that Hungary initially needed a gradual economic, social and cultural development; he opposed both undue radicalism and nationalism. The latter he found particularly dangerous within the multi-ethnic Kingdom of Hungary, where people were divided by ethnicity, language and religion.

Besides his comprehensive political ideas, he concentrated on the development of transportation infrastructure, as he understood its importance for development and communication. Part of this program was the regulation of the flow of waters of the lower Danube to improve navigation, in order to open it to commercial shipping and trade from Buda to the Black Sea.[2] He became the leading figure of the Danube Navigation Committee by the early 1830s, which completed its work in ten years. Previously the river had been dangerous for ships and was not efficient as an international trading route. Széchenyi was the first to promote steamboats on the Danube, the Tisza (Theiss), and Lake Balaton, also measures to open up Hungary to trade and development.[2]

Recognizing the potential for the project for the region, Széchenyi successfully lobbied in Vienna to gain Austrian financial and political support. He was appointed as high commissioner and supervised the works for years. During this period, he traveled to Constantinople and built up relations in the Balkan area.[citation needed]

He wanted to develop Buda and Pest as a major political, economic and cultural center of Hungary. He supported the construction of the first permanent bridge between the two cities, the Chain Bridge. Besides its improving transportation connections, the Chain Bridge was a symbolic structure, foreshadowing the later unification of the two cities as Budapest, connected across rather than divided by the river.[citation needed]

In 1836 at the age of 45, Széchenyi married Countess Crescence Seilern in Buda. They had three children:[6]