THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

10 July 2017

The British Library’s Romanian collections.

Without a specific Romanian acquisitions policy or a qualified Romanian Curator until the mid 1980s, the British Library historically acquired books selectively as they were offered to the Slavonic and East European department by Romanian and other European libraries. Since then we have endeavoured systematically to enrich our collections in the field of the humanities and social sciences with works in Romanian or of Romanian interest in any other language.

Although early printed Romanian books are poorly represented in the collections, a small number of them were acquired in the 19th century. These include the third oldest Romanian imprint: the Gospels in Church Slavonic printed in Târgoviște in 1512 by the Serbian monk Macarie, and Sbornik (Brașov, 1569; RB.23.c.388), a service book in Old Church Slavonic, printed by the Transylvanian deacon Coresi.

BG Chetvoroblagovestie C.25.l.1

Gospels in Church Slavonic, Chetvoroblagověstie (Târgoviște, 1512). C.25.l.1

Notable acquisitions of the 17th and 18th centuries were Indreptarea legii (Targoviste, 1652; C.112.g.5.), the first Wallachian code of laws, in a national language; and three works by Dimitrie Cantemir , Prince of Moldavia: Divanul, sau gîlceava ințeleptului cu lumea sau giudețul suffletului cu trupul (Iași, 1698; C.118.g.2.), the first Romanian philosophical writing; The History of the Growth and Decay of the Othoman Empire, first printed in London in 1734 (148.g.3.), translated into English from the author’s orginal Latin manuscript Historia incrementarum atque decrementarum Aulae Othomanicae; and Beschreibung der Moldau, also translated from Cantemir’s Latin manuscript and with the first Romanian map of Moldavia.

BG Portrait 572.d.9

 Portrait of Dimitrie Cantemir from his Beschreibung der Moldau, (Frankfurt & Leipzig, 1771). 572.d.29. 

Two seminal works of the early 19th century bear Buda imprints: George Șincai’s Elementa linguae Daco-Romanae sive Valachicae (Buda, 1805; 12962.dd.10.(1.)), followed in 1812 by Petru Maior’s Istoria pentru începutul românilor in Dachiia, an influential historical study of the origins of the Romanian people.

BG Istoria 804.d.3.

 Istoria pentru începutul românilor in Dachiia (Buda, 1812). 804.d.3.

In the middle of the 19th century Vasile Alecsandri, the Moldavian poet, playwright, politician and diplomat personally presented the British Museum Library with several of his poetic and dramatic works. The collections include significant runs of scholarly periodicals of this period such as Mihai Kogălniceanu’s Dacia Literară, (Iași, 1840; P.P.4838.ecb), Convorbiri Literare (Iași, 1867; P.P.4838.eca), edited by Iacob Negruzzi,  as well as Viața Românească (Iași,1906-1939; PP.4838.ecc), a literary and scientific journal, edited by Constantin Stere and Paul Bujor.

Of the early 20th century avant-garde journals selective issues of Contimporanul and Unu (Bucharest, 1928-1932; Cup.410.c.73) have been acquired.

BG Contimporanul C.192.b.2.
 Title-page of Contimporanul, vol. 1 no. 4 (Bucharest, 1922) C.192.b.2.

Major Romanian chroniclers – Grigore Ureche, Miron Costin, Ion Neculce , or the writers and poets Vasile Alecsandri, Mihai Eminescu, Ion Creangă – are represented by collected editions of their works originally published in Cyrillic script as classics of the Moldavian SSR. Their original Romanian editions historically formed part of the Library’s Romanian Collections. Latterly, regularly purchased material of Romanian interest, also published in the languages of the country’s ethnic minorities (Hungarian, German, Serbian, Romani, Ukrainian etc.) continues to enrich the collections, offering an independent-spirited reappraisal of events of the past decades.

Bridget Guzner, Formerly Curator Hungarian and Romanian Collections.