THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

8 posts from January 2018

22 January 2018

Three Alphabets of the Belarusian Language

The written culture of Belarus is over 11 centuries old. Many of us correctly associate the Belarusian language with the Cyrillic alphabet. However, many texts, in both Old Belarusian and the modern literary language (1850s onwards) were originally written and published in Latin characters. The existence of these two graphic systems in the Belarusian written tradition reflects the rich and complex cultural influences the country experienced at different periods. Many people may be surprised to learn that the Arabic alphabet was also used for writing in Belarusian. For that we should be grateful to the Tatars of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

For centuries, Cyrillic script (kirylica) was the most commonly used graphic system of the Old Belarusian language both for religious and secular literature. The oldest Belarusian book known to us is the Turaŭ [Turov] Gospel. Its only fragment, consisting of ten sheets, was discovered in 1865 in Turaŭ, a town in the south of contemporary Belarus. It is preserved in the Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences  in Vilnius. The manuscript is written in the Church Slavonic language, in uncial script (ustav) - the oldest type of Cyrillic writing.

Starting from the 14th century, a more economical half-uncial script was widely used in East Slavonic manuscripts. When the first Belarusian printer, Francysk Skaryna, established his press in the early 16th century, he chose a font based on handwritten half-uncial Cyrillic script.

All three versions (1529, 1566 and 1588) of the Statutes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were written in Cyrillic too. There is no academic consensus regarding their language. Most Belarusian scholars call it Old Belarusian, but others refer to it as Ruthenian or Chancery Slavonic. In any case, the texts of the Statutes became important precursors of the modern Belarusian language. Unlike the first two Statutes, the version of 1588 was printed; a Cyrillic font imitating an italic script (skoropis) of that time was used. This script was used for civil publications, while religious books continued to be printed in a more elaborate half-uncial script.

BelarusianAlphabetsStatute1588(2)
Title-page of the facsimile edition of the Statute of 1588 in : Statuty Velykoho Kniazivstva Lytovs'koho (Odessa, 2002-2004), Vol. 3, book 1,  ZF.9.a.951

The organic development of the Cyrillic form of the Belarusian language was interrupted by the increased use of the Polish language in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 17th-18th centuries. Polish was replaced by Russian in official use after the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Kingdom of Poland were partitioned by their stronger neighbours at the end of the 18th century.

A civil script, grazhdanka, developed for the Russian alphabet under Tsar Peter the Great’s supervision, was adopted by newspaper and book publishers after publishing in Belarusian became legal in the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 20th century. After a short period of experimentation, the Belarusian alphabet settled into its current form. It is very close to the Russian and Ukrainian alphabets, but has its own particularities, e.g. the letter ў (ŭ) which recently acquired a mascot status for the whole Belarusian language.

BelarusianAlphabetsПомнік_літары__Ў_

A monument celebrating the character in Polack, the oldest Belarusian city and the birthplace of the first Belarusian printer, Francysk Skaryna. (Photo by Pasacern7 CC BY-SA 4.0  from Wikimedia Commons)

The Latin script (lacinka) was used widely in Belarus for writing in Latin and Polish. From the 16th century, we also have examples of Belarusian texts, usually written in Latin script using the Polish alphabet.

19th-century publications in Belarusian are dominated by lacinka: the folklorist Jan Čačot, the author Jan Barščeŭski, the poet and publisher Alexander Rypinski, the first major Belarusian playwright Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievič, and the first major national poet, Francišak Bahuševič – all wrote and published their works in the Latin script. In 1862-63, the first – illegal then – Belarusian newspaper, Mužyckaja praŭda, was published by Kastuś Kalinoŭski, also using Latin script.

BelarusianAlphabetsRypinskiTitlepageCover of Alexander Rypinski, Niaczyścik, Ballada Białoruska ... Wydanie trzecie Akcentowane ([Tottenham, 1856?]). 11585.a.56.(7)


BelarusianAlphabetsDudka Cover of the facsimile edition of Frantsishak Bahushėvich, Dudka białaruskaja (Minsk, 1990). YA.1999.a.4633

The earliest Belarusian newspapers and books published legally under the Russian Empire used both Cyrillic and Latin scripts, which they referred to as “Russian and Polish characters”. Cyrillic was used to address the Orthodox Christian population and the Latin alphabet – for Roman Catholics. The Naša Niva weekly, the main voice of the Belarusian national revival, dropped its lacinka version for the kirylica one due to costs.

BelarusianAlphabetsNashaNivaPage from a facsimile edition of Nasha Niva (Minsk, 1992). ZA.9.d.379

The Latin script continued to be widely used in the western part of Belarus, which from 1919-1939 was under Polish rule. Here, the outstanding linguist Branislaŭ Taraškievič proposed a version of the Belarusian Latin alphabet which broke away from the earlier conventions; for example, instead of digraphs common in Polish (cz, sz), letters with diacritics (č, š) were introduced. This version was quickly and widely adopted by publishers in western Belarus.

In Soviet Belarus, the possibility of adopting the Latin script was discussed only once, during the Academic Conference for Reform of the Belarusian Grammar and Alphabet in 1926. The conference agreed that such a change would be the best solution, but premature at that time. Three years later, the Bolsheviks described such views as sabotage and tearing Belarusian culture away from that of Russia. Mass purges of the Belarusian intelligentsia followed soon after.

A slightly modified version of Branislaŭ Taraškievič’s lacinka has recently been adopted by the Belarusian government for transliterating Belarusian geographic names into Latin script and recommended for use by the United Nations.

From the 14th century, Tatars from Crimea, the Volga region and the Caucasus settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – some were invited to join the Duchy’s army, while others were refugees or prisoners of war. Many of their settlements survived until very recently in contemporary Belarus, and even now the small town of Iŭje is primarily known for its Tatar community. In literature, they are referred to as Lipka Tatars.

 The Tatars adopted the vernaculars of the peoples they lived among, and used them in their own manuscripts – translations of and commentaries on the Quran, prayer books and books of religious instruction. Belarusian dialects predominate in Lipka Tatar manuscripts, particularly in the oldest known to us, dating from the 17th-18th centuries. The Tatars preserved the Arabic script for writing and recorded phonetics of the language they – and people among whom they lived – spoke. These manuscripts are an important source about the development of the Belarusian language: many characteristics of the contemporary Belarusian language can be seen in Lipka Tatar writings from centuries ago.

Ihar Ivanou, Head of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London.

References / Further reading:

Peter J. Mayo, ‘The Alphabet and Orthography of Byelorussian in the 20th Century’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 4/1 (1977), pp. 28-47. ZC.9.a.9127 .

George Meredith Owens/Alexander Nadson, ‘The Byelorussian Tartars and their Writings’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 2/2 (1970), pp. 141-176.

Paul Wexler, ‘Jewish, Tatar and Karaite Communal Dialects and their Importance for Byelorussian Historical Linguistics’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 3/1 (1973), pp. 41-54.

Shirin Akiner, ‘The Vocabulary of a Byelorussian Tatar Kitab in the British Museum’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 3/1 (1973), pp. 55-84.

Shirin Akiner, Religious language of a Belarusian Tatar Kitab: a cultural monument of Islam in Europe (Wiesbaden, 2009). EDM.2009.a.41

Barys Sachanka, Belaruskaia mova: ėntsyklapedyia (Minsk, 1994). YA.1999.b.2123

A. Susha, ‘Turauskae Evanhelle – samaia starazhytnaia kniha Belarusi’, Belaruski histarychny chasopis, no. 8 (2015), pp. 22–32. ZF.9.b.69

 

19 January 2018

Mapping the Christmas Flood of 1717

This Christmas saw some pretty wet and windy weather, both in the UK and across the North Sea in the Netherlands, where I spent my Christmas holidays. Foul it may have been, but it was nothing compared to the storm that battered vast swathes of the Northern Netherlands, Northern Germany and Denmark for four days over Christmas in 1717. 

I must say, that I, like most of my fellow Dutchmen had never heard of this storm. Yet, it caused more casualties than the big flood of 1953. It was the biggest natural disaster in 400 years.  The Northern Maritime Museum,  located in two beautiful Medieval buildings in the centre of Groningen, is runnning an exhibition on this ‘Midwinterflood’, in collaboration with the Groninger Archieven. They are organising a conference about the flood on 20 January.

A prominent place in the exhibition is taken up by images of a map, which is by no means ‘only’ a topographical map, but tells the story of the flood in both cartographic and pictorial images and text. It is beautifully made, but that should not come as a surprise, since it was none other than the master cartographer Johann Baptist Homann who engraved it.

PHOTO1MapHomannMaps27095J.B. Homann, Geographische Vorstellung der jämerlichen Wasser-Flutt in Nieder-Teutschland, welche den 25 Dec. Aº 1717 ... einen grossen Theil derer Hertzogth Holstein und Bremen, die Grafsch. Oldenburg, Frislandt, Gröningen und Nort-Holland überschwemet hat. (Nuremberg, [1718?]) Maps * 27095.(6.)

Homann addresses us as ‘reader’ (‘Hochgeneigter Leser!’) instead of ‘viewer’, seemingly emphasising that the map is not just a topographical tool but a text to be read. 

PHOTO2MapHomannHochgLeser

 Detail from Homann’s map, with his address to the reader.

The most striking thing about the map is the green colouring which indicates the extent of the reach of the water. It immediately brings home the scale and seriousness of the disaster. At one point the water reached the gates of the city of Groningen, which lies 34 km inland from the coastal town Pieterburen. Estimates are that 14,000 people lost their lives across the whole of the northern Netherlands, Germany (10,000!) and Denmark. Homann gives a figure of 18,140 for casualties in Germany. Let’s hope that modern science is more accurate than he was.

PHOTO3MapHomanndetBericht

Homann’s account (above) and depiction (below) of the flood

PHOTO4MapHomannGronEmb 

The illustrations within the map, such as the water scoop, sluice and inundated village support the story. The putti holding up the banner with the quote from Ovid’s Metamorphoses are crying, as a sign of the scale of the human tragedy and may-be the feelings of Homann himself. 

PHOTO5MapHomannwaterscoops

Water-scoop and sluice (above) and weeping putti (below) from Homann’s map 

PHOTO7MapHomannPutti

My first thought when I saw this extraordinary map in the exhibition was: “Is there a copy in the British Library?” As soon as I could I went online to check our catalogue and indeed, I found it at the first attempt. I reserved it immediately to be ready for me to study it as soon as I was back at work. I almost could not wait. Fortunately I had the exhibition to keep me entertained. It gives a fascinating account of what happened, how it could happen, the human, material and financial costs and it also highlights the hero of the story Thomas van Seeratt, who had been appointed provincial commissioner only the year before. At first ridiculed when sounding the alarm on the sorry state of the dikes, he was tragically proven right on Christmas night 1717.

Soon after the event pamphlets such as that by Adriaan Spinneker started to appear, telling of horrible ordeals suffered by people trying to save their lives by clinging on to trees, or roof tops, barely clothed, without any drinking water or food, exposed to bitterly cold and wet weather for hours and sometimes days on end, all the while carrying loved ones on their backs or in their arms. In the end some became so exhausted and stiffened by cold that they had to let go of their children. 

Spinniker
Adriaan Spinneker, Gods Gerichten op den aarde vertoond in den ... storm en hoogen waterfloed ... in't 1717de Jaar voorgevallen, aandachtig beschouwd …(Groningen, 1718) 11557.bbb.64

Authorities did initiate a large programme of dike building, based on van Seeratt’s designs, which involved making dikes less steep, so they can absorb the shocks of the waves much better. These days Dutch national authorities and the 22 water boards are responsible for dike maintenance, rather than private landowners.  This is just as well, because without dikes to protect it, the Netherlands would look a bit more like this.  

Netherlands compared to sea level
The Netherlands compared to sea level. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)


Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.

Further reading

Gerhardus Outhof, Verhaal van alle hooge watervloeden in ... Europa, van Noachs tydt af, tot op den tegenwoordigen tydt toe ... Met eene breede beschryvinge van den zwaaren kersvloedt van 1717 ... (Embden, 1720) 1607/5565.

Johannes Velsen, De hand Gods uitgestrekt tot tugtinge over zommige provintien der vereenigde Nederlanden, bestaende in zes gedigten van de watervloed, in Kersnagt, van 't jaer 1717. (Groningen, 1718), in: Dutch pamphlets 1542-1853 : the Van Alphen collection (Groningen, 1999) Mic.F.977

 

17 January 2018

Władysław Reymont’s Revolt of the Animals

A recent Europen Studies blog post by Masha Karp examined the publication history of George Orwell’s Animal Farm  in the languages of Eastern Europe. That the book has maintained its canonical status worldwide for over 70 years is proof of its universal truth. But as Orwell sat down to write his tale – a warning against the creeping advance of Soviet Communism based on his growing awareness of its brutal reality – was he aware he was not the first modern writer to use the allegory of an animals’ revolt to capture the mad logic of revolution?

ReymontBunt2004

Cover of a recent edition Władysław Reymont’s Bunt (Warsaw, 2004) 

The question has been bugging me since I discovered Władysław Reymont’s Bunt (‘Revolt’) when it came out in Poland in 2004. While growing up in communist Poland in the 1970s I read Orwell’s Animal Farm in a samizdat edition, and while well acquainted with the rest of Reymont’s oeuvre, which was compulsory reading at school as well as being widely popular through TV and film adaptations, I never heard – and I’m sure very few in Poland at the time did – of Bunt. The similarity to Animal Farm was obvious. And another striking thing was that both stories are told as cautionary tales. I was very surprised it took the book so long to resurface, especially when its lesson seemed past its sell-by date. But apparently that’s how things are with truths and lessons.

ReymontPortrait

Władysław Reymont. Portrait by by Jacek Malczewski, painted in 1905 when Reymont was acknowledged as Poland’s foremost novelist, author of The Peasants and The Promised Land, both sweeping panoramas of late 19th-century rural and industrial Poland. (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Bunt is a story of a revolt among farm animals who work for their master and often love him but are spurned, ruthlessly exploited and cruelly beaten in return. The revolt is initially stirred up by the dog Rex who calls on animals to rise against the landlord and follow him to the land of justice and plenty for everyone, a land that lies somewhere in the east. Sadly, the poor beasts, worn out by the never-ending quest, eventually turn against their leader and plead with a gorilla, the nearest they can find to a human, to rule over them.

Of course the two stories are different, both in detail and in tone – one is bleakly tragic the other tragically funny, but the basic idea and the narrative mechanism that delivers the moral point is essentially the same – a parable of human ideals falling victim to animal instincts, a lesson revealing the inherent fault laying at the heart of a revolution, or indeed at the heart of all power and authority, which may change hands even from the oppressors to the oppressed but nevertheless remain the same mechanism of oppression, and there is no escape from it.

ReymontBuntBLcopyTitle-page of Bunt (Warsaw, 1924). YF.2018.a.342

Originally Bunt appeared in the Polish weekly Tygodnik Ilustrowany (Mic.A.4839-4844) in 1922, and then in book form in 1924, the year of Reymont’s Nobel Prize for Literature, and just before his untimely death at 58. Despite being one of the first literary echoes of the Russian Revolution, it barely registered on the critical circuit. Reymont’s great champion, his German translator Jan Kaczkowski, a Polish diplomat hiding under the pen-name Jean Paul d’Ardeschah, felt the book, being topical as well as universal, deserved a better fate. He managed to place Bunt with a Swiss publisher in 1926 as Die Empörung: eine Geschichte vom Aufstand der Tiere. Later, after being transferred by the Polish Foreign Office to Holland, Kaczkowski instigated and oversaw a Dutch publication in 1928 as De Rebellie. That was the last the world heard of Reymont’s Bunt.

Reymont BuntGermanedition

 Cover of a modern edition of Die Empörung (Frankfurt am Main, 2017). Awaiting shelfmark

For a long while I was combing through Orwell’s biographies looking for ways he might have come into contact with Reymont’s story. Was he familiar with Reymont as a Nobel Prize winner? Could translations of Bunt have passed through his hands while he was working at Booklover’s Corner? Orwell did not speak German or Dutch, and the story was not translated into French, a foreign language Orwell knew – after all he read Zamyatin’s We  in French translation.

Another possibility were his friends who did read German – or Dutch or Polish – who were also interested in Eastern European literature and Russian Revolution. They may have discussed Reymont and brought up the story as part of the revolutionary lore and connected it with Orwell’s interest in fairy tales, which he had apparently developed during his time at BBC, just before he started working on Animal Farm. Could it be his publisher friends, Victor Gollancz or Fredric Warburg? The German-born Tysco Fyvel or the Swiss-born Jon Kimche with whom he worked at the Booklover’s Corner? Or was it Arthur Koestler with whom he discussed extensively how revolutionary logic worked? Perhaps someone – a Pole? – he had met in Spain? Perhaps, but I haven’t found a direct link yet.

And then my detective work suffered an unexpected twist. Discussing it with my friends at the BL one of them told me of another tale about an animals’ revolt, this time Russian, and written years before Bunt – in 1880 in fact! Following the new lead I discovered that Nikolai Kostomarov’s Skotskoi Bunt (‘The Revolt of Farm Animals’) was indeed written in 1880 but published only posthumously in 1917, in the popular magazine Niva, just a few issues before October Revolution consigned it forever to history. How come nobody knew of this story for so long? Could Reymont possibly have known of it and how? Could it be it was in fact Kostomarov’s story that seeped into revolutionary lore and inspired both Reymont and Orwell? It could be. But that’s another story. Or is it? Watch this space.

Wiesiek Powaga, Polish translator.
Wiesek’s most recent translation ‘Inside Red Spain’ by Ksawery Pruszynski, appeared in Pete Ayrton's anthology No pasaran! Writings from the Spanish Civil War (London, 2016; YC.2016.a.6057)

 

14 January 2018

‘Do the Finnish people have a history?’ Zachris Topelius’s 200th birthday

Last month the Finlandia Prize, Finland’s most prestigious literary prize, was awarded to Juha Hurme for his novel Niemi [‘Headland’]. In praising the work, the jury said that it ‘treats the myth of Finland and the Finns with all the knowledge that our culture contains. A scope of this breadth can only be explored with the magnificently dilettante literary style in which Hurme boldly challenges both the legendary Egon Friedell and Zachris Topelius’ (translation by Helsinki Literary Agency).

The last of these comparisons is inevitable for any writer who attempts a history of the Finnish peninsula. The reference to Zacharius (Zachris) Topelius draws our attention to a great author perhaps not so well-known outside of the Nordic region, and on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of his birth (14 January 1818).

Born in Kuddnäs in Ostrobothnia, Topelius wrote mainly in Swedish but was focal in Finland’s growing self-consciousness as a distinct nation. Since 1809, Finland had been a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire yet Finland managed to gain more freedom to develop a national movement in the 19th century, than it had been allowed to do under Swedish rule previously. First as editor of the Swedish-language Helsinki daily, Helsingfors Tidningar, and later as a writer of historical novels and as Professor of History at the Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki (1854-1879), Topelius crafted exceptionally popular, romanticized and patriotic national histories and thereby heavily shaped the future identity of the burgeoning nation.

Helsinki
A view of Helsinki from the North-West, steel engraving by Magnus von Wright in Topelius’s Finland framställdt i teckningar (Helsinki,1845-52) 1264.d.15

His first published book, Finland framställdt i teckningar, was the earliest book of steel engravings of the Finnish landscape, for which he wrote a commentary. In later works, such as En resa i Finland (1872-74) and Boken om vårt land (1875), he continued to offer comprehensive overviews of his country, bringing the whole of Finland to readers with the help of masterful engravings by the likes of, among others, Magnus von Wright (1805-1868), Johan Knutson (1816-1899), and perhaps Finland’s most famous landscape painter, Bernt Adolf Lindholm (1841-1914).

Åbo Castle
Åbo Castle, steel engraving by Johan Knutson in Finland framställdt i teckningar

Recently, the Society of Swedish Literature in Finland has created a digital portal for Topelius’s works, Zacharias Topelius Skrifter, which has so far published eight digital critical editions. This year, has released a digital critical edition of Boken om vårt Land (‘The Book of our Land’), which was and is still one of the most important history books in Finland, not least because it was, in the words of critic Pertti Haapala, ‘the foremost history textbook used in elementary schools between the 1870s and the 1940s, and it was read and commented on a great deal after the Second World War as well’ (Haapala, p. 26). The British Library has an 1886 copy of the Finnish translation, Maame kirja (first published 1876), which shows signs of being well-used by a young Finnish student, presumably the ‘Yrjä Hagelberg’ named on the inside cover. On the fly-leaf, you can make out a pencil drawing of a male figure coloured in red, lifting what apper to be weights. Later, we see several of the woodcuts coloured in (very capably) by young Yrjä. All in all, this Maamme kirja, a near 500-page textbook for young learners, full of lengthy verse quotations from the Kalevala and the Kanteletar, has however been treated with the respect that the seminal history text deserves.

Doodle
Above: Doodle on the first page of Maamme kirja (Helsinki, 1886), YA.1990.a.1111); Below: The Imatra river coloured in by a student

Imatra

Not only did Topelius frame his Finnish history from the perspective of a child’s experience, but he wrote a great many successful and enormously influential children’s books, which gave him the name ‘Mr Fairy Tale’. As Haapala notes, ‘it is easy to see that the child’s experience in reading The Book of Our Land is a metaphor for the emerging historical consciousness of a nation’ (p. 38). The children’s tales too are important in the development of the nation, as folk tales, myths, songs have always been in the foundation of national identities. Topelius’s Läsning för barn series (1864-1896, BL 12837.m.11) contains stories that continue to be translated into many languages. Each of the eight volumes contain around two hundred illustrations, some subtle and others of a more epic imagination.

Book Cover
Above: Cover of the first book of Läsning för barn (Stockholm, 1902), 12837.m.11. Below: ‘When you sleep amongst roses’, illustration by Carl Larsson, from Läsning för barn

Sleep amongst roses

For the centenary of Topelius’s birth in 1918, the Swedish Academy asked the eminent Nobel Laureate Selma Lagerlöf to write something on him. Topelius was a clear influence on the Swedish author of Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventure of Nils), which takes much from Topelius’s Boken om vårt Land, not least the idea to explain national geography from a child’s and bird’s eye view. Lagerlöf’s paean is to a writer of both Finland and Sweden, and ultimately ‘the North’ – its life and landscape. Zachris Topelius asks ‘Can you love a country, so hard, so cold, so full of neglect?’ His answer follows, ‘We love it because it is our roots, the essence of our being, and we are the ones our country has made – a hard, frosty, fierce people […]’ (En resa I Finland). The country that ‘made’ its people was itself created in the words of Topelius and fellow patriotic writers. And so, by extension, we might even say Topelius made a nation.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/further reading:

 Zacharias Topelius, The Sea King’s Gift and other Tales from Finland (Retold by Irma Kaplan; illustrated by Anne Knight) (London, 1973), X.990/4615.

Ibid., Sammy and the Mountain King (illustrated by Veronica Leo) (London, 1984), X.995/461

Selma Lagerlöf, Zachris Topelius. Utveckling och mognad (Stockholm, 1920), 011851.aa.54.

Pertti Haapala, ‘Writing our History: The History of the ‘Finnish People’ (As Written) by Zacharias Topelius and Välnö Linna’, in Pertti Haapala, Marja Jalava, and Simon Larsson (eds.), Making Nordic Historiography: Connections, Tensions and Methodology, 1850-1970 (New York, 2017), 5353.922500

Maija Lehtonen, ‘Un Finlandais du XIXème siècle face à l’Europe. Les récits de voyage de Zachris Topelius’, in On the Borderlines of Semiosis. Acta Semiotica Fennica 2 (Imatra, 1993) YA.2003.a.18418.  pp. 401-412

11 January 2018

An Arthurian castle in Slovenia: the history, legends and future of Castle Borl

“I rode at my best pace into the broad Gandine, after which your grandfather Gandin is named. The place lies where the Grajena flows into the Drau, a river that bears gold.”

Thus Parzifal/Sir Perceval learns of his family roots in the province of Styria, according to Wolfram von Eschenbach’s version of his story. The town identified as his father’s namesake is today named Hajdina, a suburb of the city of Ptuj in eastern Slovenia.

20 kilometres to the east, a castle stands on a headland overlooking the Drava/Drau river, commanding a sweeping view of the valley and of the wine-growing Haloze hills around. Its Slovenian name is Borl, derived from the Hungarian word for a river crossing, and it is also known in German as Ankenstein. Its heraldic crest is an inverted anchor, the symbol in the legend of Parzifal’s Grail family.

Borl_KolaricDarko1View of Grad Borl today (Photo by by Darko Kolarič)

Borl’s true origins are poorly documented, and the Grail legend is just one of the many evocative tales associated with it. It dates from at least the 11th century and probably occupies the site of an older settlement. Reflecting its situation close to the old border between the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary/Croatia, it changed hands many times before becoming an established part of the Habsburg Duchy of Styria, with a series of different aristocratic owners who lived well on the vineyards and farmlands surrounding it.

In 1681, Georg Matthäus Vischer (1628-1696) recorded Grad Borl in three images as part of his Topographia Ducatus Stiriae. Visher was one of the pre-eminent cartographers and engravers of his day. His work documenting the castles and towns of the core Habsburg lands is still widely used as a reference source, and has been reprinted frequently. It is the sole known source for the 17th-century appearance of many of the castles. For some of them, it is the only source we have at all. That Borl appeared in three illustrations marks it as one of the more important castles: less significant ones had a single image apiece.

Borl Vischer 1

Above and below: Views of Grad Borl (here called “Ankchenstein”) from  Georg Matthäus Vischer, Topographia Ducatus Stiriae (Graz, 1681) Maps C.22.a.17.

Borl Vischer 2

In 1918, Lower Styria and Borl became part of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, subject to land reforms that proved controversial in the Habsburg successor states. Its disgruntled owner sold it to a local stock company. During the Second World War, the Nazis occupied the area, incorporating it into the Reich and issuing an arrest warrant for Borl’s Jewish owner, Zora Weiss, who fled, as did her co-owner, Vuk von Vuchetich. Borl became an internment camp for Slovenes who were being deported from Styria for resisting Germanization, and the occupiers looted any of the contents that were not nailed down.

This grim war-time story makes what happened next the more remarkable to me. In 1946, the new socialist government of Yugoslavia nationalised the castle, using it consecutively as a children’s convalescent home, a refugee centre for people fleeing the Soviet invasion of Hungary, and finally a successful hotel. During the latter period, it acquired a swimming pool high on the ledge above the river, and furnished many people with very happy memories.

Sadly, this happy phase did not last. The hotel closed down, and although the castle was still used for events some of the remaining treasures were stolen during the 1990s. Since 2010, for safety reasons, the gate has been locked and a poignant notice forbids entry without the permission of the Republic of Slovenia. On a recent visit, even the Prime Minister was obliged to respect this no-entry rule. But Borl still captures the imagination. There are re-enactments of events in its past and films of its history made every year. A voluntary society, the Društvo za oživitev gradu Borl, composed of local historians and other enthusiasts, campaigns to raise funds and awareness, and maintains the grounds during summer. Random hikers, cyclists and other explorers post their videos on Youtube. Miha Pogačnik, violinist, inspirational speaker and Slovenian cultural ambassador, has a protective interest in the Castle, where he held arts and business conferences for several years before 2010. Inspired by the Parzifal connection, he believes it could become a centre for the formation of a pan-European identity and European spiritual revival.

In 2018, work is due to take place to restore the main courtyard of the castle and shore up the hillside below it. What happens beyond that is sadly unclear, but it is not through shortage of ideas or enthusiasm about this beloved and dramatic building and a surrounding landscape full of cultural monuments.

BorlAshtonPhoto by Janet Ashton. 

 Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager (With particular thanks to Sonja Golc, Mira Petrovič and Branko Vnuk)

References/Further reading:

Ivan Stopar, Razvoj srednjevške grajske arhitekture na Slovenskem Štajerskem (Ljubljana, 1977) X.421/9913

Vnuk, Branko and two others. Grad Borl : gradbenozgodovinski oris in prispevek k zgodovini rodbine Sauer. (Ptuj, 2010). https://www.dlib.si/details/URN:NBN:SI:DOC-IHU7ORVJ/

Wolfram, von Eschenbach, Parzifal, translated by A.T. Hatto. (Harmondsworth, 1980) X.909/45081

 

08 January 2018

Two Murders, a Suicide and an Anglo-German Newspaperman

In the course of my research on German printers and publishers in 19th-century London it can be hard to discover how long an individual was at a business address, let alone any more personal details of their lives and backgrounds. But searching for information about Johann Lachmann von Gamsenfels, sometime printer of the German-language Londoner Journal (1878-91), I discovered an unexpected and tragic story.

On 15 August 1889 Gamsenfels took lodgings in Stratford-on-Avon, accompanied by a woman and a four-year-old girl. They appeared a devoted and happy family, and enjoyed visiting the local sights, but on the following Monday morning the landlady heard gunshots from their room. The police were called and forced open the locked door to reveal the woman and child lying on the bed and Gamsenfels on the floor, all three shot through the left temple. Gamsenfels had apparently murdered his wife and daughter while they slept and then killed himself.

Gamsenfels Illustrated Police News
The discovery of the bodies as depicted in The Illustrated Police News 31 August 1889, via the British Newspaper Archive

Such a ghastly event was bound to arouse press interest and there was no shortage of lurid coverage, especially when it was found that the murdered woman was not Gamsenfels’s wife but his mistress. The couple had been living together for some years as if married, while Gamsenfels continued to support and occasionally visit his legal wife Rosanna and their son. Rosanna said at the inquest that she had found compromising letters to Gamsenfels from a woman five years previously and had confronted them both, but claimed to have had no knowledge of her husband’s continued infidelity and to have accepted his explanation of long absences from home as business related.

One thing that struck me in all this was that Gamsenfels was described in the newspaper reports as editor – and sometimes founder – of the Londoner Journal, although the issues of the paper which I have examined mention him only as its printer. Even in this capacity his name disappears after July 1884, as do large-scale advertisements for his printing business. This must have been around the time that Rosanna discovered his infidelity, and indeed when his mistress became pregnant with their daughter, and I can’t help speculating that his disappearance from the public face of the paper is related to these events.

Gamsenfels large ad Londoner JournaMasthead of the Londoner Journal (12 January 1884; NEWS14598) with an advertisement for Gamsenfels’s printing business

Did the Londoner Journal’s staff agree to turn a blind eye to Gamsenfels’s adultery if he withdrew his name from the enterprise? Were they perhaps sympathetic to his situation and willing to give him a nominal role as editor in order to help him support two households? I say ‘nominal’ because by the time of the murder he and his mistress were also touring with a stage act (as ‘Herr Mozart and Mme Lenormand’), which sits oddly with editing a newspaper full time. Yet if his colleagues were in any way complicit in Gamsenfels’s double life or allowing him to carry out less than a full-time role, they gave no hint of it in their report of his death. There he is described as ‘our editor for many years’ and ‘a diligent worker, jovial colleague and good friend’. The writer states that Gamsenfels and his wife were estranged – something Rosanna seems to have played down in her comments to the inquest – but implies no prior knowledge of the mistress and illegitimate child. So my speculations must remain just that. 

Lachmann LJ report
The opening of the Londoner Journal's report of Gamsenfels’s death (22 August 1889)

Gamsenfels’s motive for the murder-suicide was equally impossible to prove. At the inquest it was assumed that severe financial difficulties must have led him to such a desperate act and that his state of mind could not be ascertained, although the Londoner Journal claimed that ‘sufficient resources were always available to him,’ and describes the crime as being carried out  ‘apparently in a moment of mental disturbance.’ The inquest judge  (quoted in the Banbury Guardian of 5 September 1889) took a more moralising tone: ‘it was the natural result of an illicit and shameful connection … a vicious life ending in a disgraceful manner.’

But the saddest mystery in this strange case is the identity of the dead woman. Many reports identify her only by her stage name Mme Lenormand. Later she was tentatively identified as Caroline Monthey, the woman whose letters Rosanna Gamsenfels had discovered in 1884, but Rosanna herself said she could not be certain of this. Whoever she was, both she and the daughter she had with Gamsenfels, the victims of his crime, were buried anonymously, with no family or friends to mourn them.

 Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

05 January 2018

Algerian pirates, a famous Spanish captain and a lesser-known Virgin

The most renowned Hispanic cults of the Virgin Mary belong to Our Lady of Montserrat in Catalonia, Our Lady of the Pillar (el Pilar) in Zaragoza and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, which goes back to an apparition of 1531. She was well loved in Spain as well as the Empire, as witness:

Guaytoca Guadalupe
Gabriel de Talavera, Historia de nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Toledo, 1597). 4805.d.1.

But much less famous places had their local cult of the Virgin, such as Guaitoca (Guaytoca) near Guadalcanal in the Sierra Morena.

On the morning of 5 January 1790 a small fleet set sail from Cartagena on the southeast coast of Spain. In command was the eminent Majorcan captain Don Antonio Barceló (1717-97). He had carved a brilliant career in the fight against Moorish pirates from Algiers, particularly on the mail run from Barcelona to Palma. In 1766 he rescued some Spanish captives off Alicante who presented him with an ex-voto of Our Lady of Montserrat.

Guayatoca AntonioBarcelóAnónimo1848
Don Antonio Barceló. 19th century copy of an 18th-century portrait (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

In the 1770s Barceló was tasked with protecting ships on the first leg of the voyage out to the Indies. (Here we see the connection with the cult of the Virgin and Latin America which will become clearer in a moment.) In 1779-83 he masterminded the ultimately abortive Siege of Gibraltar.

The adventures of 1790 come late in his career, and are recounted in a chapbook:

Guyatoca Nuevo y curioso romance

Nuevo y curioso romance en donde da cuenta y declara el caso que le aconteci[ó] á Don Antonio Barceló saliendo con su armad[a] del puerto de Cartagena ...  (S.l., 1790?) 1074.g.23.(94.). Whitehead N25.

The pirates, led by the renegade Barbique, attacked off the coast of Sicily: the battles lasted three days and “even the fishes cried out” [Hasta las peces braman].

Barceló instructed his sailors to throw themselves into the water rather than be taken alive.

But then Barceló thought to kneel before an effigy [efigie] of Nuestra Señora de Guaytoca. Inspired, he took two fuses and climbed to the crow’s nest, no mean feat at 73.

The Spaniards were down the last of their powder, when three ships of the Buenos Aires line appeared and Spain was victorious.

Thus although Spain ascribed some of her greatest victories to the Virgin Mary not all were the work of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References

Diccionario biográfico español, VI, 808-11 HLR 920.046

H. G. Whitehead, Eighteenth-century Spanish chapbooks in the British Library: a descriptive catalogue (London, 1997) RAR 094.30946

Benito Gil Bezerra, Paraíso de oraciones sagradas (Barcelona, 1739), pp. 630-42 

 

02 January 2018

Polish mathematicians and cracking the Enigma

For centuries all cryptosystems had a linguistic orientation. However after the First World War cryptography entered the era of mechanisation and as a result cipher machines were built with the set of rotors as a primary component. They were used for encrypting and decrypting secret messages. To break their ciphers mathematical knowledge was needed.

The Enigma, the most famous example of the cipher machine, was created by the Germans at the end of the First World War. It was used for commercial and military purposes, although the two versions differ significantly. In the late 1920s Germany had the most sophisticated communications in the world. The British, French and Americans tried to tackle the Enigma cipher but failed to break it. One country, however, desperate to monitor German secret messages, achieved considerable results. This was Poland.

Sandwiched between two powerful neighbours, Soviet Union to the east and Germany to the west, Poland, a newly-created state after the First World War, was in great need of finding a way to ensure her security. The success of the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1920 was due to intelligence activities in which Polish cryptographers played a crucial role. To continue the work on cryptology seemed to be an obvious choice.

Enigma Memorial
Memorial at Bletchley Park commemorating three Polish mathematicians. (Photo by Magda Szkuta)

Polish Intelligence was successful in cracking the German military ciphers until the German cryptograms began to change in 1926. The Poles quickly realized that they were machine-enciphered and identified the machine as the Enigma. A commercial model purchased by the Polish Cipher Bureau was however different from the German military Enigma. Unable to decipher military messages and to reconstruct the machine they decided to turn to a mathematical approach. In 1932 a team of young mathematicians from the University of Poznań was set up. Among them were the main code breakers Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski. It was Rejewski who first cracked the Enigma code, in only ten weeks. His excellent mathematical education, fluent command of German, exceptional intuition and completion of a course in cryptology, together with the intelligence information he received from the French Secret Service, led to his success. The first messages were deciphered as early as Christmas 1932.

Enigma Rejewski

Cover of Z.J. Kapera, Marian Rejewski: the man who defeated Enigma. (Krakow, 2013) YD.2014.a.1832

Rejewski was now joined by Różycki and Zygalski. Their contributions included the Różycki clock and the Zygalski sheets Subsequently the Poles were able to replicate the Enigma machine and design mechanical devices which allowed them to break the Enigma code. A crucial device which made it possible to reconstruct daily codes in two hours was the cyclometer. It was substantially developed by Alan Turing in the Second World War. In 1938 the German cryptographers increased Enigma’s security and the Poles’ techniques no longer worked. There were no resources to carry out further work either. By that time the Polish cryptographers had read about 75% of intercepted German Radio communications. This was kept strictly confidential.

Enigma Zygalski

Cover of Z.J. Kapera, The triumph of Zygalski’s sheets: the Polish Enigma in the early 1940. (Kraków, 2015). YD.2016.a.4085

In July 1939, with the German invasion of Poland imminent, the Poles invited French and British code breakers for a secret meeting near Warsaw. The Polish team disclosed their Enigma results and handed their allies-to-be copies of the Enigma machine. On 1 September the war broke out. The three genius mathematicians fled Poland and later joined the French cryptographers in France. The knowledge they had provided considerably contributed to the cracking of the more complicated wartime Enigma codes used by the Germans. This happened at Bletchley Park. The breaking of Enigma had a significant impact on the course of the Second World War. It is believed that it shortened the war by two years and saved countless lives.

An original Enigma machine is currently on display in the British Library outside the Alan Turing Institute.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further reading:

David Kahn, Seizing the Enigma (London, 2010). YC.2011.a.1687

Frank Carter, The first breaking of Enigma: some of the pioneering techniques developed by the Polish Cipher Bureau (Milton Keynes, 2008). YK.2010.a.35748

 Simon Singh, The Code Book (London, 1999). YC.1999.b.8756

Enigma Machine
The Enigma Machine on display in the Library (Photo by Clare Kendall)