THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

8 posts from November 2016

28 November 2016

Stefan Zweig and the ‘Magic of Manuscripts’

Stefan Zweig, whose birthday we mark today, was one of the world’s bestselling authors in his lifetime. In recent years his work has enjoyed something of a renaissance in the English-speaking world: his books have been rediscovered by publishers and readers (and was an inspiration for the 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel), and there has been a growth in academic interest in his life and work. One reflection of the latter interest is the collaborative PhD project between the British Library and the University of Bristol which began in 2014 and has seen PhD student Pardaad Chamsaz work on the aspect of Zweig which is perhaps of greatest importance to the British Library: his activity as a collector of autograph manuscripts.

Stefan Zweig in 1912 Add MS 73185.
Stefan Zweig in 1912 (from the Zweig Provenance papers, BL Add MS 73185.)

Manuscript collecting was a lifelong passion for Zweig. In the first three decades of the 20th century he built one of the finest and most admired collections in the world. When the rise of Nazism in the 1930s forced him into exile, first in Britain and finally in Brazil, he began to refine the collection, selling many items and keeping only those which had a particular significance for him. In 1986 his heirs donated the manuscripts from this final collection to the British Library in what has was justly described by the Library’s then Chairman, Lord Quinton, as “the most important and the most generous gift that the British Library has received since its foundation.”

Zweig_ms_152_r
Lines from Act I of Goethe’s Faust Part II (Zweig MS 152 f.1r)

The manuscripts now in the British Library reflect various aspects of Zweig’s life and interests. The greatest number are musical scores: Zweig had long sought solace in music from “the grime of the political stuff, the black downpour of events” (Diary, 27 October 1915), and in his years of exile he found in the abstract beauty of music a better example of art as he understood it, as a humanistic and uniting force, than the written word, especially the written word in his native German which was becoming known as the language of the Nazis.

Zweig_ms_81a_f001r
 Franz Schubert’s song ‘An die Musik’. The words by Franz von Schober express the solace Zweig himself found in music (Zweig MS 81A)

But although he collected and retained more musical than literary and historical manuscripts, Zweig did not neglect the latter. Among the literary and historical manuscripts in the collection there are some which recall Zweig’s own literary friendships – works presented to him by authors such as Émile Verhaeren (Zweig MS 193-4), Romain Rolland (Zweig MS 184-6), Rainer Maria Rilke (Zweig MS 179-80) and Sigmund Freud (Zweig MS 150), all of whom he knew personally.

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The opening of Rilke’s Die Wiese von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Otto Rilke (Zweig MS 179, f.3r)

Freud is also an example of someone Zweig himself wrote about, along with historical figures such as Marie Antoinette (Zweig MS 171), Dostoevsky (Zweig MS 143) and Friedrich Nietzsche (Zweig MS 175), all present in the collection.

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Letter from Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, to Count Xavier von Rosenberg, 17 April 1775 (Zweig MS. 171, f.1v)

Zweig’s interest in the act of creation is clear from many of the manuscripts, perhaps most strikingly in the proof copy of Balzac’s novel Une Ténébreuse Affaire, with its numerous corrections and additions, but also in, for example, poems by John Keats (Zweig MS 163) and the German Romantic writer Novalis (Zweig MS 176).

Zweig_ms_163_recto
Lines from Keats' poem ‘I stood tip-toe on a little hill' (Zweig MS 163, f.1r )

Although French and German writers predominate, the European cultural internationalism of Zweig’s outlook is clear from the scope of his collection. There are works in English, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. Many items also recall Zweig’s love for collecting items that he felt brought him close to great figures of the past, including one surviving ‘relic’, a collection of clippings from Goethe’s hair (Zweig MS 155).

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Closing lines of Gabriele D'Annunzio's ‘La Laude di Dante', with the poet's signature (Zweig MS 140, ff.21v-22r)

The first volume of a catalogue of the British Library Stefan Zweig Collection, covering the music manuscripts (Zweig MS 1-131) was published in 1999 (2702.f.433), but for various reasons the cataloguing of the literary and historical manuscripts (Zweig MS 132-200 with some later additions) was delayed, despite the dedicated work of two now retired colleagues. One aim of the collaborative PhD project – alongside overseeing the digitisation of the literary and historical manuscripts, which can now be seen on our Digitised Manuscripts Catalogue – was to help see the second volume of the printed catalogue through to publication, and we are delighted that this will appear early next year.

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A page from Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata (Zweig MS 191, f.1r)

In order to celebrate this publication, and to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Zweig’s death in 1942, the Library will be mounting a display of items from the collection, ‘The Magic of Manuscripts’, in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery from 21 February until 11 June 2017, and on 20 March will host a study day, ‘Stefan Zweig: European, Humanist, Collector’, followed by an evening event featuring readings and music from manuscripts in the collection and from Zweig’s own writings.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

Zweig_ms_198_f004v
Doodles in the margin, from Charles Vildrac, Le Paquebot Tenacity (Zweig MS 198, f.4v). 

27 November 2016

‘Our only epic poet…’: Emile Verhaeren (1855-1916)

Et le lent défilé des trains funèbres
Commence, avec leurs bruits de gonds
Et l’entrechoquement brutal de leurs wagons,
Disparaissait – tels des cercueils – vers les ténèbres.

These lines from Emile Verhaeren’s poem Plus loin que les gares, le soir’, with their evocation of a ‘slow parade of gloomy trains’ vanishing ‘like coffins’ into the distance, may be read as uncannily prophetic. Not only does it evoke the atmosphere of the stations throughout Europe where troop-trains would pull out to carry soldiers to the front, but also the one where, on 27 November 1916, the poet met his own end. Returning from Rouen to his home in Paris after speaking to a gathering of Belgian exiles and refugees, he tried to board the train too quickly, missed his footing, and fell beneath its wheels, dying shortly afterwards on the platform.

He was born on 21 May 1855 in Sint Amands, a riverside village on the Scheldt, at a time when the great canal system which had sustained trade throughout Flanders was already in decline, leaving his native country to become more and more of a backwater. Yet despite his decision to write in French and to move to Paris in 1898, the rhythms of the Flemish language and his love for a landscape dotted with disused windmills and the people who lived among them coloured his poetry throughout his life.

Verhaeren reading 11840.p.8
Verhaeren engrossed in a book, portrait from Albert de Bersaucourt, Conférence sur Émile Verhaeren (Paris, 1908.) 11840.p.8

After graduating in 1874 from the Collège Sainte Barbe in Ghent and studying law at the University of Louvain (1875-81), Verhaeren allied himself with the poets and artists who gathered round Max Waller, poet and founder of the journal La Jeune Belgique (P.P.4479.b.). Two years later Les XX, a group of twenty Belgian artists and designers, was formed, and drew Verhaeren into a circle of new friends and a career as an art critic. His essays for L’Art moderne (P.P.1803.laf.), also founded in 1881, established his reputation and brought him in contact with Auguste Rodin, Odilon Redon and other contemporary artists, many of whom supplied illustrations for his work. At the same time, as Symbolism gained ground in Belgium, his admiration for the great Flemish, Dutch and Spanish painters of the Golden Age was undiminished.

Verhaeren Flamandes 011483.c.54
 Title-page of the first edition of Verhaeren’s first volume of poetry, Les Flamandes (Brussels, 1883) 011483.c.54.

Nor was he merely a local figure; as his first volume of poetry, Les Flamandes was followed by many others and also by plays, he gained a readership which extended across Europe, especially when such distinguished literary figures as Edmund Gosse and Arthur Symons began to translate and promote his work in Britain. In Russia the poet Valery Bryusov, a distinguished translator of Homer and Virgil, performed a similar service for Verhaeren. The British Library also possesses an exquisite volume of poems by Verhaeren with paintings by the Japanese artist Kwasson, as well as an almanac (1895; K.T.C.8.a.9) in which Theo van Rysselberghe’s illustrations accompanied Verhaeren’s verses.

Verhaeren Images japonaises 15234.a.5. pagoda

Above: Poem by Verhaeren with Kwasson’s illutration, from Images japonaises (Tokyo, 1906) 15234.a.5. Below: Cover of Almanach. Cahier de vers d'Emile Verhaeren. Ornementé par Théo van Rysselberghe.(Brussels, 1895) KTC.8.a.9

Verhaeren Almanach KTC.8.a.9. cover

 Above all, however, it was Stefan Zweig who brought Verhaeren’s work before a wider audience as he championed it in the German-speaking world. Not only did Zweig spend many holidays with Verhaeren and his wife, the artist Marthe Massin, who was the subject of some of the poet’s finest love lyrics, but he translated his works, wrote a biography which soon became the standard text on Verhaeren, and collected a number of manuscripts, two of which which feature in the British Library’s Stefan Zweig Collection.

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Page from the manuscript of Verhaeren’s poem ‘Le meunier’, ([c. 1895]), BL Zweig MS 194, f1r . Verhaeren presented the manuscript to Stefan Zweig in 1908.

In the summer of 1914 Zweig, Rainer Maria Rilke and the publisher Anton Kippenberg of the Insel Verlag  were already discussing a German version of Verhaeren’s collected works when the outbreak of war put an end to the project and also to the friendship. Increasingly aghast at the devastation of Belgium during the German invasion, including the destruction of Louvain, where he had studied, and ancient libraries and art treasures, Verhaeren devoted himself to publishing polemics and denouncing German brutality. However, he was beginning to revise this uncompromising position in the interests of international cultural unity when he met his death.

Verhaeren in 1910 010664.l.36
Verhaeren in 1910 from Stefan Zweig, Émile Verhaeren, sa vie, son œuvre (Paris, 1910) 010664.l.36.

Described by André Gide as ‘our only epic poet’, Verhaeren was in many ways a man of contradictions. Though always maintaining his Belgian roots, he travelled widely, and in London in particular he found the image of the ‘tentacular city’ of the industrial era, described in Les Villes tentaculaires (1895), sucking humanity and the landscape alike into a world of degradation. Yet he realised that the old world of the sleepy Flemish countryside had had its day, and strove to find positive aspects in the modern world. Infused with the spirit of nature which he loved so well, his late poem Novembre est clair et froid may serve as a postscript to his life:

Tout est tranquille enfin, et la règle est suivie.
Des mes longs désespoirs, il ne me reste rien.
Où donc le vieux tourment, où le regret ancient?
Un soleil apaisé se couche sur ma vie.

(All is peace at last, and the rule is kept.
Of my lengthy despairs nothing remains.
Where then the old torment, where the old regret?
Upon my life a calm sun sets.)

(Translation by Will Stone, from, Emile Verhaeren, Poems (Todmorden, 2014; YC.2014.a.14474).

Susan Halstead,  Content Specialist (Humanities & Social Sciences), Research Engagement.

22 November 2016

The philologist and the silkworm

Rafael Bluteau (1638-1734) was born of French parents in London and spent most of his life in Portugal. His training in English, French, Italian, Spanish, Latin and Greek qualified him superbly to produce his most famous work, the Vocabulário Portuguez e Latino (Coimbra, 1712; British Library 828.i.1-8.).

Less known is this newly acquired work on the breeding and cultivation of the mulberry and the silkworm which feeds on it, the first Portuguese treatise on the subject.

Silkworms Bluteau

 Title page of Instrucçam sobre a cultura das amoreiras, & criaçaõ dos bichos de seda [...] pelo P. D. Rafael Bluteau (Lisbon, 1679). RB.23.a.36973

It doesn’t do to underestimate the importance of the silk trade, and the silkworm lived like a prince.

They don’t like noise, so keep them away from noisy mechanicals such as blacksmiths (p. 136). They don’t like the wet, so ensure the mulberry leaves on which they feed are kept dry (p. 151). They do like beautiful smells (incense and benzoin, p. 160) but don’t like the breath of people who’ve been eating garlic, onions or leeks (p. 162). Naturally they don’t like thunderstorms. Obviously you can’t stop the weather, but you can try to counter its effects with nice smells such as slices of ham or fried chouriço (p. 165) and by getting a large number of people to make a noise to cover up the thunder (p. 166).

Silkworms Merian

Silkworms, from Maria Sybilla Merian Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandlung und sonderbare Blumen-nährung (Nuremberg, 1679). 445.c.15.

The silkworm was fêted in poetry from the earliest years of the printing press: Marco Girolamo Vida wrote an epic on the life of Christ, the Christiad (published 1535) but also the De bombyce, printed in a collection published in Rome in 1527 (C.4.h.5) and cited by Bluteau (p. 177).

Bluteau closes his technical treatise with two Latin paeans, one in prose and one in verse, to the not so humble worm.

And I end by quoting the finale of his Portuguese text:

Let us close by saying of the silkworms that all is miraculous while they live, and everything that remains of them after death is of benefit.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

17 November 2016

‘In Catherine’s reign, whom glory still adores…’ : Catherine the Great in the British Library’s collections

On 16 November 1796 Catherine II of Russia had been Empress for 34 years, since the deposition and assassination of her husband Peter III in 1762. In accordance with her usual habit, she rose early and, after drinking her morning coffee, retired to her study to work on state papers. Shortly afterwards she retreated to her privy closet and, when her maid and manservant became alarmed when she failed to emerge, they broke down the door and discovered that the 67-year-old Empress had suffered a severe stroke. Unable to move her unwieldy body, they laid her on a mattress on the floor and summoned her Scottish doctor John Rogerson. He did what he could, but she never regained consciousness, and died the following night at around 9.45.

When she was born on 2 May 1729 as Sophie Friederike Auguste of Anhalt-Zerbst, there was little to indicate that this impoverished daughter of a minor German prince would achieve any kind of distinction. However, the Empress Elizabeth of Russia favoured her as a match for her nephew and prospective heir, Peter of Holstein-Gottorp, and although the young couple cordially disliked each other on sight, Sophie resolved, on arriving in Russia in 1744, to do whatever was necessary in order to become Tsarina. This involved conversion from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy, and with it the adoption of a new name and patronymic – Ekaterina Alekseievna. The following year, aged 16, she and Peter were married.

The union, which produced a son, Paul, was predictably unhappy, and both parties had numerous liaisons. After Peter’s accession to the throne in 1762, they moved to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. It was here, where she had been left while Peter took a holiday in Oranienbaum, that Catherine learnt that a projected plot to dethrone him was in jeopardy, and had her husband arrested and compelled to abdicate. A few days later he was strangled by Alexei Orlov, brother of one of her favourites, though no proof exists that Catherine was aware of plans for this.

Despite queries about her right to succeed her husband, Catherine was crowned on 22 September 1762 and maintained her position for the rest of her life. Her reign was notable for a considerable expansion of Russian territory, absorbing the Crimea, Northern Caucasus, part of Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Courland as a result of the Russo-Turkish Wars against the Ottoman Empire and the Russo-Persian War. She had long entertained ambitions to embody the principles of the Enlightenment in her rule, corresponding with Voltaire until his death in 1778 and incorporating his library into the National Library of Russia; she also invited Diderot to finish his Encyclopédie under her patronage when its anti-religious nature jeopardized its publication in France. Yet with the outbreak of the French Revolution she was forced to reassess certain of her principles, although she continued to support the arts, writing not only fiction and memoirs but plays, several freely adapted from Shakespeare, which were composed and acted in French by a company of French actors at her private theatre, the Hermitage, in the 1780s. The British Library holds copies of these in both French and Russian (St. Petersburg, 1786; 1343.h.6).

Catherine II Rurik 1343.i.2.

Title-page of Podrazhanie Shakespiru: istoricheskoe predstavlenie bez sokhraneniia obyknovennykh teatral’nykh pravil iz zhizni Riurika (St. Petersburg, 1792) 1343.i.2.

However dangerous the precedent established by her rise to power and territorial expansion, Catherine achieved considerable advances through her reform of the administration of the provinces of the Russian Empire and of the educational system. She established the Moscow Orphanage, intended to be run on enlightened principles but doomed to failure as most of its young inmates died prematurely, and, more successfully, the Smolny Institute for daughters of the nobility, the first institution of its kind in Russia providing education for girls. Her plans for a national educational system with an emphasis on co-educational free schools was far in advance of its times.

Catherine’s attitude to religion was also ambivalent.Her tolerance of Islam in allowing her Muslim subjects to assimilate their schools into the Russian system contrasted with her imposition of additional taxes on her newly-acquired Jewish subjects after the partitioning of Poland, and her establishment of a Pale of Settlement to contain them.

Inevitably Catherine’s colourful personal life and many lovers, notably Potemkin, made her the object of gossip and scandal, as in the anonymous Histoire secrète des amours et des principaux amans de Catherine II, impératrice de Russie (‘par l’Auteur de la Vie de Frédéric II, roi de Prusse’). This came out in 1799, and concludes with a disapproving chapter on the ‘libertinage crapuleux de Catherine sur la fin de ses jours’.

Catherine II Potemkin 1200.f.10

Plate of Catherine and Potemkin from Histoire secrète des amours et des principaux amans de Catherine II, impératrice de Russie (Paris, 1799) 1200.f.10.

However, not all accounts of her reign were so scurrilous, and the fact that authors writing in other languages were prepared to devote considerable time and trouble to chronicling it testifies to their recognition of her importance. An example is J. H. Castéra’s Histoire de Catherine II, impératrice de Russie, published within four years of her death and recording her life and exploits in four volumes.

Catherine II aged 64 151.c.11

Portrait of Catherine II from J. H. Castéra, Histoire de Catherine II, impératrice de Russie (Paris, 1800) 151.c.11.

Perhaps it is fitting to conclude with a curious little book published in Kamchatka in 1797, L’ombre de Catherine II aux Champs Elysées (114.i.58). In it, the anonymous author portrays Catherine’s spirit arriving in the Elysian Fields to keep company with those of Louis XVI and Frederick the Great, discussing the politics of their times and speculating on the future. Her son and successor, Paul I, would see Russia embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars before suffering a similar fate to his father and being succeeded by his son, Alexander I. However unsatisfactory a ruler he became, there is some truth in the words which the author puts into his mouth as he reflects that the Empress had left him little to do but glean in her tracks: ‘tout ce que Pierre a conçu pour illustrer son pays, ma Mère l’a exécuté.’

 Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Engagement.

15 November 2016

The Year of Henryk Sienkiewicz

Henryk Sienkiewicz, the most popular Polish writer of historical fiction, was born in 1846 in Russian-partitioned Poland. He started his literary career as a journalist writing for a few periodicals under the pseudonym Litwos.

Henryk Sienkiewicz

Portrait of Henryk Sienkiewicz from Album jubileuszowe Henryka Sienkiewicza  (Warsaw, 1898) British Library 1870.c.21

The suppression of the January Uprising (1863-4) against Russian rule was a turning point in the political, ideological and cultural movement in Poland. It marked the end of the Romantic period in Polish culture. Positivism with its ideas of social, political and economic progress through education, the arts and sciences fell on fertile ground in Poland and was also reflected in Polish literature. Sienkiewicz, like other Polish positivists, believed that the national identity should be maintained not by fruitless uprisings against the overwhelming power of the occupying neighbours (Russia, Prussia and Austria) but by common effort called at the time the organic work  and constructive patriotism of the whole society. In his early works he explored the plight of the peasants, education and emigration, the last inspired by his American experiences in 1876-8. After his return from America Sienkiewicz turned to historical studies that resulted in the great historical epic Trilogy, set in mid-17th century Poland. The three novels which compose it, Ogniem i mieczem (‘With Fire and sword’), Potop (‘Deluge’) and Pan Wołodyjowski (‘Sir Michael’), published in 1884-1886, became extremely popular both at home and abroad. They describe consecutively the war with the rebellious Cossacks (1648-1657), the Swedish invasion of Poland (1655-1660) and the war with Turkey (1668-1673).

Sienkiewicz Deluge

Kmicic company (The deluge) from Album jubileuszowe Henryka Sienkiewicza, (Warsaw, 1898) 1870.c.21

Sienkiewicz was praised by critics for his epic talent, great narrative power, rich language, vivid description, the ability to develop the plot and diversify characters as well as convey period details and style. Yet some critics objected to the lack of historical accuracy. Nevertheless, the patriotic tone of the novels, the belief in the survival of the nation and the glorification of the past achievements, which were skilfully combined with the plot, gave comfort to the Polish readers. Sienkiewicz was considered a national icon writing to raise the spirits in the dark times of history. Another historical novel, regarded as his greatest achievement, was Krzyżacy (‘The Teutonic Knights’; Warsaw, 1900; 012590.cc.2). The heart of the novel is the victorious battle of Grunwald (1410)  which brought down the Teutonic Knights as a military power. It had a contemporary political context in the ongoing Germanization of the Poles in German-partitioned Poland.

However, the book that earned him international fame was Quo Vadis (Warsaw, 1896; 012591.f.59), a depiction of Nero’s Rome and the rise of Christianity. In 1905 Sienkiewicz received the Nobel Prize in Literature for his outstanding merits as an epic writer. At the turn of the 20th century he was the most popular writer in Poland and was widely recognized abroad due to the numerous translations of his historical works. Sienkiewicz’s last novel was a book for young readers, W pustyni i w puszczy (‘In Desert and Wilderness’) published in 1911. It was based on his experiences during his African trip, and became a classic in its field.

Sienkiewicz Quo Vadis 1

Ubi tu Gaius, ibi ego Gaia (As you are Gaius, I am Gaia) from Henryk Sienkiewicz, Quo vadis, (Warsaw, 1910) LR.430.u.25

Sienkiewicz was also involved in social and political activities. His last major initiative was The Relief Committee for the Victims of the War in Poland which he established together with Ignacy Jan Paderewski  in Switzerland in 1915. Sienkiewicz died in Vevey on 15 November 1916. After the war his ashes were returned to Poland.

Sienkiewicz Quo Vadis 2Quo vadis Domine? From Henryk Sienkiewicz, Quo vadis,

 Magda Szkuta , Curator of East European Collections

Further reading:

The Trilogy companion: a reader's guide to the Trilogy of Henryk Sienkiewicz, edited by Jerzy R. Krzyżanowski (Ford Washington Pa., 1991) YA.1992.a.17375

Ruth Scodel and Anja Bettenworth, Whither Quo vadis? Sienkiewicz's novel in film and television (Malden, 2009) m08/37942

Henryk Sienkiewicz, With fire and sword (Ford Washington Pa., 1991). YA.1992.b.5508

Henryk Sienkiewicz, The deluge (New York, 1991) YA.1992.b.5507

Henryk Sienkiewicz, Fire in the steppe (New York, 1992) YA.1992.b.5747

 

11 November 2016

Afire for peace: Henri Barbusse’s Le Feu (1916)

The family of Henri Barbusse originated from a part of France with a strong radical tradition. He was born in Asnières-sur-Seine in 1873 to an English mother who died when Henri was three years old and a father whose Protestant forebears had lived in the hamlet of Anduze, near Alès, as far back as the 17th century. The Protestants of the Cévennes had suffered repeated persecution, and Adrien Barbusse, a journalist and theatre critic on Le Siècle, was anti-clerical and anti-monarchist by conviction. Not surprisingly, his son grew up to be an atheist, humanist and socialist, who, at the time of the Dreyfus affair, was convinced of the accused’s innocence. Henri wrote articles for La Paix par le Droit supporting international arbitration in place of war, and was also an enthusiastic supporter of Esperanto as a means to this end.

Barbusse portrait Lariviere YF.2010.a.19040
Portrait of Henri Barbusse from Eklumo en la abismo (Düsseldorf, 1923; British Library YF.2010.a.19040) a translation into Esperanto of  La Lueur dans l'abîme. (Paris, 1920; 08007.ee.6)

His earliest literary efforts were in poetry rather than political journalism, and in 1892 his entry for a poetry competition launched by L’Echo de Paris attracted the attention of the renowned poet Catulle Mendès, whose daughter Hélyonne he subsequently married. His first collection of poems, Pleureuses (Paris, 1895; reprinted 1920: 011483.c.74) was followed in 1908 by his first novel, L’Enfer (W16/3331), the story of a young bank clerk from the provinces who, bored and lonely in his dingy Paris lodgings, observes his neighbours through a crack in the wall. The sense of pessimism and human isolation which permeates its pages reflects the author’s awareness of the nationalism and militarism with which France was riddled, as destructive as the cancer destroying the body of one of the characters.

How prophetic this insight had been became clear with the outbreak of war in 1914. Although aged 41 and suffering from a lung condition, Barbusse did not hesitate to enlist, and in December 1914 joined the 231st infantry regiment, serving as a stretcher-bearer in the front line. Transferred to Artois, he was twice mentioned in despatches for bravery before dysentery and chest problems caused him to be invalided out into a desk job in 1916. With time to reflect on his experiences, he began work on the book nowadays regarded as his masterpiece – Le Feu.

Barbusse Le feu 12548.tt.32. cover
Cover of Le Feu (Paris, 1916) 12548.tt.32

It was a shrewd move to publish the novel in serial form in L’Oeuvre, for this enabled Barbusse to outwit another enemy: censorship. His raw and outspoken portrayal of life in the trenches was calculated to offend the sensibilities of those who entertained sentimental notions of glorious death on the battlefield, not least by his unsparing use of the ‘gros mots’ employed by the common soldiers – farmhands, shopkeepers, manual labourers – experiencing the monotony, squalor and misery of life under enemy bombardment. With a blend of black humour and clinical precision he describes the coarse jokes and unexpected camaraderie of men all too conscious that at any time they may end up like the muddied, seared and mutilated remnants of humanity whose scattered limbs lie all around them. The first-aid post provides scant relief; the overtaxed doctors, trying to stretch their meagre resources to deal with the carnage confronting them, can do little to treat the horrific injuries of hundreds of casualties.

In Chapter 23, the narrator and his comrades spend a few days on leave in Paris, a completely different world where they encounter pen-pushers, comfortable in reserved occupations, and gushing women with romantic visions of young heroes rushing to die with a smile on their lips. The narrator swiftly realizes that there is little point in trying to convey to them any idea of the true nature of war – the purpose, as it were, of Barbusse’s novel - and the closing pages reveal an army of mud-caked ghosts stumbling about in the devastated landscape, ‘like the Cyranos or Don Quixotes that they still are’, as they acknowledge that they were no more than ‘honest killers. (…) The act of killing is always ignoble – necessary sometimes, but always ignoble’. In the final paragraph, a solitary voice declares, ‘If this present war had advanced progress by a single step, its miseries and massacres will count for little’, as a single ray of light breaks through the storm-clouds, `proof none the less that the sun exists’.

Barbusse portrait Muter 08282.a.40.
Portrait of Barbusse from Lettre aux intellectuels (Rome, 1921; 08282.a.40).

The novel inevitably provoked strong and frequently hostile reactions, but its significance was rapidly recognized, and in December 1916 Barbusse received a letter informing him that it had won the Prix Goncourt. It would pave the way for other outstanding works based on wartime experiences, including Roland Dorgelès’s Les Croix de bois (Paris, 1919; 012547.aa.12) and Erich Maria Remarque’s Im Westen nicht Neues (Berlin, 1929; W13/8499). Barbusse himself became, in 1917, the co-founder of the Association républicaine des anciens combattants (ARAC) and a supporter of the Russian Revolution, making several journeys to the USSR and writing a biography of Stalin (Staline. Un monde nouveau vu à travers un homme: Paris, 1935; 20003.a.24). That same year, he died suddenly, aged 62, on 30 August during a visit to Moscow (some sources claimed that he was poisoned on Stalin’s orders, although his long-standing pulmonary trouble makes the official cause of death – pneumonia – at least plausible). He was also, however, one of the founders of the pacifist Amsterdam-Pleyel movement, and a prominent member of the Front populaire, attracting huge crowds to pay their last respects when, on 7 September 1935, he was buried close to the Mur des Fédérés in the cemetery of Père Lachaise.

Barbusse Le feu 12548.tt.32. dedication
Barbusse’s dedication of Le feu

Le Feu bears a dedication to the memory of Barbusse’s comrades who fell beside him at Crouy and on Hill 119. Within a month of his joining his regiment, around half the men in his unit were killed on the front near Soissons. On Armistice Day, whatever Barbusse’s subsequent political views, it is fitting to remember not only those soldiers and the fallen on both sides but also his testimony to them as a moral witness.

Susan Halstead Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences) Research Engagement

07 November 2016

Knud Leem and the Sami People of Finnmark

In a recently broadcast episode of the Sky Arts series Treasures of The British Library Professor Robert Winston looked at an 18th-century book from the King’s Library that includes some delightful images of Sami skiers.

Leem Skiing
Sami skiers. From Knud Leem, Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper, deres Tungemaal, Levemaade og forrige Afgudsdyrkelse. (Copenhagen, 1767) British Library 152.f.17.

In the illustration chosen, the skiers can be seen on a downhill run, one nonchalantly balancing a pole on his shoulder, the other manoeuvring his skis to break his descent. As the author Knud Leem (in the 1808 English translation of the original text) describes it, ‘by a certain wooden machine, of an oblong figure, fastened to their feet, commonly called wooden sandals, they are carried with such rapidity over the highest mountains, through the steepest hills …. that the winds whiz about their ears and their hair stands on end’.

Leem Titlepage
Title page of Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper.

The book in which the illustration appears, Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper, published in 1767, is a long and detailed (over 600 pages in the original) description of the Sami people of Finnmark  in northern Norway and was written by the Norwegian missionary and linguist Knud Leem who lived amongst the Sami for a number of years. The parallel text in Danish and Latin is accompanied by over a hundred illustrations by O.H. von Lode based on Leem’s descriptions, and together they provide a fascinating insight into how the Sami lived at this time. The subject matter ranges from the basics of everyday life such as shelter, clothes and food to reindeer herding, marriage customs and religion, the latter covering both the religion which Leem pointedly describes in the original title as that ‘previously’ practised by the Sami, and the Christian conversion which was the focus of his work.

Leem Reeindeer herding
Herding Reindeer. From Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper.

Leem’s father, also a priest, had worked in Finnmark for a number of years and it is probably from this family connection that Leem’s interest in the Sami people was originally awakened. He studied theology in Copenhagen (Norway was at that time part of the Danish kingdom and was yet to establish a university of its own) and while waiting for an appointment in the mission to become vacant, he spent two years in Trondheim learning the Sami language. In contrast to earlier attempts by missionaries to teach Danish to the Sami, Leem’s belief was that in order for missionary work to succeed, he and future missionaries needed to be able to communicate with the Sami in their own language. He writes that in this way ‘… a much greater progress in the salutary knowledge of the true God is made’. During the years he spent in Finnmark from 1725 to 1733, he would preach and conduct services in the Sami language, at times in the open air.

Leem Preaching
Conducting a service in the open air. From Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper.

As well as his ethnographic work on the Sami people, of which there are three copies in the British Library, Leem also wrote a Sami grammar (En lappisk Grammatica, 1748), a Danish-Sami dictionary (En lappesk Nomenclator, 1756) and an extended Sami-Danish-Latin dictionary (Lexicon Lapponicum bipartitum, 1768-81, the second part of which was completed by Gerhard Sandberg and published after Leem’s death). Copies of the grammar and of the first dictionary form part of the Hannås collection, a collection of Scandinavian linguistic material donated to the British Library in 1984 by the antiquarian bookseller Torgrim Hannås. The Leem titles from this collection have now been digitised and are available online through our catalogue.

Leem Nomenclator titlepage
En lappesk Nomenclator
(Trondheim, 1756) Han.135 

The other substantial piece of work for which Leem is remembered today also has a Hannås connection. It is a study of Norwegian dialect words, Norske Maalsamlingar fraa 1740-aari, which was only published many years after his death, in 1923. The editor of that work was Torleiv Hannaas, a professor at Bergen University and father to Torgrim Hannås. The bookplates of both these distinguished book collectors, father and son, appear in our copy of Leem’s Grammatica.

Leem Hannas bookplate
Bookplates in En lappisk Grammatica (Copenhagen, 1748) Han.110

Knud Leem’s contribution to the area of Sami studies, both linguistic and ethnographic, continues to be important and recognised to this day.

Leem Sami couple
Sami couple in traditional dress. From Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper.

Barbara Hawes, Curator Germanic Studies

References and further reading

Knud Leem, An account of the Laplanders of Finmark, their language, manners, and religion.
(London, 1808) L.R.80.c.1

Knud Leem og det samiske : foredrag holdt ved et seminar i regi av Det Kongelige Norske Videnskabers Selskab 11.-12. oktober 2002. (Trondheim, 2003) Ac.1060(2)[2003,No.2]

Professor Knud Leems Norske Maalsamlingar fraa 1740-aari-handskr. nr. 597. 4to i Kallske samling. Ed. Torleiv Hannaas. (Kristiania, 1923) Ac.5561/27

Treasures of the British Library will be broadcast on Sky Arts at 21.00 on Tuesdays until 22 November 2016.

 

03 November 2016

Samuel Boguslaus Chylinski’s Lithuanian Bible

On 21 October, to mark the approaching 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and of the start of the Protestant Reformation as well as the 350th anniversary of the death of Samuel Boguslaus Chylinski, the British Library hosted a seminar on the first printing of the Bible in Lithuanian (1660), the legacy of Chylinski and links between British and Lithuanian Protestants.

Samuel Boguslaus Chylinski, the son of a Calvinist preacher, was born around 1633 in Šventežeris, in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Educated in the Calvinist school in Kėdainiai, in 1653 Chylinski was sent to the Franeker Academy  in the Netherlands to study theology in preparation for the translation of the Bible into Lithuanian. Unable to return to the Grand Duchy because of the war, in 1657 Chylinski travelled to England where he received encouragement and financial support from his compatriot Samuel Hartlib as well as English Protestants including Henry Wilkinson, John Wallis and Robert Boyle. Boyle, a scientist and liberal thinker, was preoccupied with the idea of translating the Bible into vernacular languages, among others Irish, Welsh, Malay, Turkish and Lithuanian.

In 1659 Chylinski published an ornate pamphlet An Account of the Translation of the Bible into the Lithuanian Tongue in which he claims to have translated the whole of the Bible. An Account also includes a testimonial from Oxford professors and other prominent public figures supporting Chylinski in his endeavour. The pamphlet was meant for English patrons and was published in order to raise funds for the printing of Chylinski’s translation. The Latin version of the brochure, Ratio Institutae Translationis Bibliorum in Linguam Lithuanicam, was published in Oxford in 1660.

 

Chylinski Account 1214.a.5

Samuel Boguslaus Chylinski, An Account of the Translation of the Bible into the Lithuanian Tongue (Oxford, 1659)
British Library 1214.a.5

On July 12, 1661, Royal letters patent was issued by King Charles II, ordering a collection to be held towards the printing of the Lithuanian Bible and towards the relief for the Lithuanian Protestant churches devastated by the war. Money was to be collected in churches throughout England and Wales; door-to-door collections were also to be organised if necessary. The brief was sent to at least 40 major towns. A Privy Council memorandum, issued on the same day, stated that the brief should not serve as a precedent as the case was unique.

The printing of Chylinski’s translation started in 1660 but came to a halt in 1662 due to disagreements among Lithuanian Protestants. Chylinski’s printing expenses were misrepresented as his private debts and doubts were cast on the quality of his translation (it is important to remember that one of the persons appointed by the Vilnius Provincial Synod to check the translation was working on his own version). Chylinski lost the support of his patrons. His manuscript translation of the New Testament, in the British Library’s collections, includes many inscriptions, among others an unaddressed draft letter in which the author, destitute and desperate to return to his mother country, is asking for financial help. It is not known who the addressee was and whether the letter reached them. Chylinski died in poverty in 1666.

Chylinski MS

Manuscript of Chylinski’s translation of the New Testament, 1658. Add MS 41301

Chylinski wasn’t the first person who translated the Bible into Lithuanian. Jonas Bretkūnas translated the Bible between 1579 and 1590. His translation, never published, was based on Luther’s Bible  whereas Chylinski’s one was based on the Dutch Statenbijbel.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were three known copies of Chylinski’s Bible. The so-called Berlin copy has been missing since World War II; the Vilnius copy has been lost since 1918. The only surviving fragment of Chylinski’s printed translation of the Old Testament (Genesis-Joshua), acquired by the British Museum in 1893, is in the British Library’s collections.

Chylinski Biblia

A page from Chylinski’s Old Testament translation, (London 1660-1662 C.51.b.13


Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator, Baltic Collections

References:

Gina Kavaliūnaitė, Samuelio Boguslavo Chylinskio Biblija (Vilnius, 2008- ). ZF.9.b.1272