PETOFI, ALEXANDER Hungarian lyric poet, was born at Kis-K6r6s, Pest county, on New Year's Day, 1823. The family received its diploma of nobility from the emperor Leopold in 1688, but the ultra-patriotic Alexander early changed the old family name, Petrovics, which pointed to a Croatian origin, into the purely Magyar form of Petofi. He was disowned by a tyrannical father, and for three years led the wretched life of a strolling player, except for a brief interval when, to escape starvation, he enlisted as a common soldier in an infantry regiment. His first volume of original poems was pub lished in 1844 by the Society Nemzeti Kor, through the influence of the poet Vorosmarty, when every publisher had refused his ms., and the seventy-five florins which he got for it had become a matter of life or death to him. The little volume published by the Nemzeti Kor was followed by the parody, A Helyseg Kala pdcsa ; the romantic epic Jdnos Vitez ; Cipruslom bok Etelka Sirjcirol, a collection of passionate elegies over his lost love, Etelka CsapO (1845) ; Uti Jegyzetek, an imitation of Heine's Reisebilder (1845) ; Szerelem Gyeingyei (1845) ; Felhok (1846); Szerelme es hdzassdga (1846), and many other volumes.
The first edition of his collected poems appeared in Petofi was not yet twenty-five, and, despite the protests of the classicists, who regarded him with cold dislike, the best heads in Hungary, poets like V6r6smarty and critics like Szemere, already paid him the homage due to the prince of Magyar lyrical poets. The great public was enthusiastic on the same side, and posterity, too, has placed him among the immortals. Petofi is as simple and genuine a poet of nature as Wordsworth or Christian Winther, and his erotics, inspired throughout by a noble idealism, have a Byronic fervour, though it is perhaps in his martial songs that Petofi's essentially passionate and defiant genius asserts itself most triumphantly. On Sept. 8, 1847 Petofi married Julia Szendrey. When the revolutionary war broke out, he espoused the tenets of the extreme democratic faction. He took an active part in the Transylvanian campaigns of the heroic Bem ; rose by sheer valour to the rank of major, and was slain at the battle of Segesvar (July 31, 1849). The first complete edition of Petofi's poems appeared in 1874. The best critical edition is that of Adolph Havas, (R. N. B.; X.)