Besse, János Károly (John Charles) (Ógyala, now Hurbanovo, Slovakia, 31 August 1765 - Marseilles, France, June or July 1841) – Traveler, researcher of the Caucasus Mountains area and East Asia. He studied at the Universities of Nagyszombat (now Trnava, Slovakia) and Budapest. By 1788 he was Secretary to the Chief Justice of Hungary. In 1790 he took part in the secret negotiations with the King of Prussia about a possible uprising of the Hungarian nobility against Habsburg rule. However, the plot was discovered and he had to flee. In 1791 he explored Germany, Holland, England and France. In 1795-1796 he took part in the Dutch military campaigns as adjutant in the Duke of York’s Hussar Regiment. In 1797 he joined the army of the king of Naples in the rank of Captain. He distinguished himself in the defense of Gaeta, where he was seriously wounded. From 1802 to 1810 he was secretary to Charles Decaen, Governor of the Island of Mauritius.
He became interested in the ancient homeland and language of the Hungarians after reading Pál (Paul) Beregszászi’s book the “Ueber die Aehnlichkeit der hungarischen Sprache mit den morgenländischen…(On the similarities between the Hungarian and the Oriental languages…) (Leipzig, 1796). In April of 1829 he set out and toured the Crimea, the Caucasus, Turkey, Algiers and East India. Next he took part in a Russian expedition aimed at conquering the Elbrus Peak. Besse also toured the valleys of the Rivers Kuma and Terek, and reached the ruins of the ancient “Madzsar” (Magyar) settlement. Upon his return to Hungary he published his experiences in the Scientific Collection (Tudományos Gyűjtemény). However, the lack of interest and appreciation of his endeavours made him bitter and prompted him to leave his homeland forever. First he went to Italy, where he became known as a free-thinker, and consequently was imprisoned in the Castel d’Angelo. He wrote about this experience as “His Holiness treated me as the barbarians treated St. Peter, whose keys He uses so effectively that He is able to lock up even the innocent.” Upon his release he settled permanently in Paris, where he embarked on Persian and Turkish studies, became acquainted with the best Orientalists of the time and taught languages at a college. He wrote: “After Cardinal Mezzofanti, I am the most famous polyglot in Europe. The Cardinal speaks twenty-two languages, I speak thirteen.” He took an active part in local literary life as Editor of the magazine Mercure Étranger ou Annales de la Littérature Etrangère. At the same time he became the first propagandist of Hungarian culture, literature and art in France. He was a Bonapartist and kept a close friendship with János (John) Batsányi. He looked to Napoleon for the overthrow of Habsburg rule in Hungary.
His four-volume autobiography and travelogue remained unpublished and was lost after his death. His main publications are Voyage en Krimée au Caucase, en Géorgie, en Arménie, en Asie-Mineure et en Constantinople en 1829 et 1830 pour server l’histoire de Hongrie (Travels in the Crimea, in the Causcasus, Georgia, Armenia, in Asia Minor, and to Constantiople in 1829 and 1830 in the service of Hungarian History) (Paris, 1838) ; Abrégé de la grammaire turque… et un petit vocabulaire en français, turc et hongrois (Pest, 1829), and Mr. János Besse de O-Gyala’s Report from the Environs of the Caucasus Mountains (Ó-Gyalai Besse János Úr jelentése Kawkaz hegyek vidékéről). In: Tudományos Gyűjtemény (1829. 10, and 1830. 2). – B: 0883, 7617, T: 7456.→Batsányi, János.
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