Arthur Gorgey

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Görgey, Arthur

(b. Toporc, Hungary [now Toporec, Czechoslovakia], 30 January 1818; d. Visegrád, Hungary, 21 May 1916)


Görgey came from a very old but impoverished noble family. To please his father he entered the military engineering academy of the imperial army at Tulln, Austria. In 1837 he began active duty as a second lieutenant. Following his father’s death in 1845 he left the army, in order to pursue his desire of studying chemistry. He entered the University of Prague, where, after completing his studies, he remained as an assistant to Joseph Redtenbacher. After the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 he returned to Hungary with the hope of obtaining a professorship. In the meantime, though, the Hungarian War of Independence had begun. Görgey immediately joined the newly created Hungarian national army and. as a trained officer, rapidly advanced through the ranks. He so distinguished himself in the battle of Ozora that he was promoted to general and was soon given command of an army. Following several defeats of the Hungarian army, Görgey was named commander-in-chief in 1849. In the so-called Winter Campaign he defeated the Austrian army in several battles and reconquered the capital city of Buda.

Unlike Louis Kossuth, the leader of the Hungarian Revolution, Görgey opposed a complete break with the Habsburg dynasty. When Russia began to give Austria military aid against Hungary and the situation became hopeless, Görgey forced Kossuth, who wanted to continue the fight, to resign. He then took command and surrendered to the Russians on 13 August 1849 near Világos. He was interned by the Austrians at Klagenfurt, where for a time he was a chemist in the gasworks. He returned to his native country following the Austro-Hungarian Agreement of 1867. He received a general’s pension and spent the rest of his life justifying his actions.

Görgey remains one of the most disputed personalities in Hungarian history. His military and political activity is the subject of a vast number of books and even of plays; he is sometimes presented as the betrayer of the War of Independence and sometimes as a clever and realistic politician. It is almost completely forgotten in this literature that he is the same Görgey who is cited in organic chemistry textbooks as the discoverer of lauric acid. He made this discovery while carrying out an analysis of coconut oil during his stay in Prague. After saponifying and liberating the fatty acids, he separated them by means of distillation and found in the residue, through fractional crystallization, a component whose analysis indicated an unknown fatty acid consisting of twentyfour (today twelve) carbon atoms.


Articles by Görgey on lauric acid are “Über die festen, flüchtigen, fetten Säuren des Cocosnussöls,” in Justus Liebigs Annalen der Chemie, 66 (1848), 290; and Sitzungsberichte der K. K. Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Wien, Math.-naturwiss. Klasse (1848), 208. He also wrote an autobiography, Mein Leben und Wirken in Ungarn, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1852).

On Görgey as a chemist, see F. Szabadáry, “Les recherches chimiques du général Görgey,” in Actes du XI Congrès international d’histoire des sciences, IV (Warsaw, 1965), 78.

Ferenc SzabadvÁry

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Arthur Görgey (gör´gĕĬ), 1818–1916, Hungarian revolutionary general. He fought the Austrians in 1848–49 as a commander of the Hungarian republican army and distinguished himself as a strategist. He captured Buda (May, 1849), but when Russia sent aid to the Austrians, Görgey decided to surrender to the Russians rather than continue a lost cause. He forced Louis Kossuth, with whom he had often differed, to resign. Görgey was interned in Austria until 1867.