THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

11 posts from April 2018

30 April 2018

Why did Joseph Banks go to Iceland in 1772?

In 1772 Joseph Banks, a wealthy 29-year-old landowner and one of the early naturalist explorers, led the first British scientific expedition to Iceland, then a dependency of the kingdom of Denmark-Norway. Banks had been on the celebrated Endeavour expedition with Captain Cook  in 1768-71, one of the most important voyages of discovery ever made. A member of the Royal Society since 1764, he was accepted for Cook’s voyage as a supernumerary in natural history, after he offered to pay not only for himself but a party of eight including artists and scientists. His participation on the Endeavour elevated Banks to ‘a figure of international scientific significance’ (Gascoigne, p. 692).

JosephBanks1773_Reynolds

Portrait of Joseph Banks by Joshua Reynolds (1773).  Image From Wikimedia Commons. The original portrait is currently on display in our exhibition ‘James Cook: the Voyages’, which runs until 28 August.

Due to the success of the Endeavour voyage another expedition to the South Pacific was planned for 1772. The prime aim of the second Cook voyage on the Resolution was to search for the existence of an Antarctic continent, the mythical Terra Australis. Banks, convinced that a ‘Southern’ continent existed, was overjoyed when Lord Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty, invited him to be the scientific leader of the expedition.

Throughout the winter of 1771-72, Banks was busy assembling a party of scientists, artists, secretaries and servants, including a French chef, as well as vast equipment for collecting specimens, again at his own expense. All was progressing well until Banks saw the shipboard facilities for himself and his party. He became famously displeased. The vessel, he thought, was simply not large enough to accommodate his entourage and after a heated exchange with the Navy Board he abandoned the Resolution expedition in a fit of pique, thus earning himself negative epithets both from contemporaries and his later biographers.

To the disappointed Banks, it was, however, of prime necessity to engage his men in a new project. By early June he had settled on his new destination. Instead of searching for a massive continent south of Australia, he decided to head north, his choice falling on Iceland. The question begging to be answered is: why Iceland?

Clevely View of a mountainJohn Cleveley the younger, ‘View of a mountain, near Hekla with a view of a travelling caravan’, Add MS. 15511, f.48.  

Scholars have advanced various theories, but in his Iceland journal Banks adequately explained the reasons for his decision. As the sailing season was much advanced he:

saw no place at all within the Compass of my time so likely to furnish me with an opportunity as Iceland, a countrey which...has been visited but seldom … The whole face of the countrey new to the Botanist & Zoologist as well as the many Volcanoes with which it is said to abound made it very desirable to Explore... (Banks’s Journal, p. 47).

And from the documentary evidence it seems clear that seeing ‘burning mountains’, as volcanoes were called at the time, had become the major aim of the voyage. There was a growing interest in volcanology and in his passport, quickly issued at the beginning of July by the Danish envoy in London, the main purpose of Banks’s visit was recorded as observing Mount Hekla, the most famous of the Icelandic volcanoes. The ascent of Hekla was the highlight of the expedition, the measurements of the spouting hot springs described by Banks as ‘volcanoes of water’ (the word geyser was coined later, Geysir being the proper name of the most magnificent of the Icelandic hot springs), coming a close second. On their return The Scots Magazine reported in November 1772 that they had ‘applied themselves in a particular manner to the study of volcanoes’.

Clevely Crater of GeyserAbove: John Cleveley the younger, ‘View of the crater of geyser, immediately after an eruption when empty’, Add MS. 15511, f.37; Below: John Cleveley the younger, ‘View of the eruption of geiser’, Add MS. 15511, f.43. Both drawings are also on display in the James Cook exhbition.

Clevely Geyser erupting

Banks prepared his voyage as best he could within the limited period of time he had. Understandably he found no-one in London who had been to Iceland but Claus Heide, a Dane resident in London, gave him information ‘Chiefly out of books’ (BL Add MS 8094, ff. 29-30). The King of Denmark was notified of their wish to visit Iceland and was only too happy to sanction the ‘celebrated English Lords’ journey.

Among the members of the expedition were three artists: John Cleveley Jr, James Miller and his brother John Frederick Miller, and their magnificent drawings and watercolours are invaluable sources. These illustrations, over 70 of them, are now in the British Library and in steady use (Add MS 15511-15512).

Clevely Skaholt ChurchJohn Cleveley the younger, View of the Cathedral Church of Skálholt, southern Iceland; with houses, and villagers tending cattle in the foreground, Add MS. 15511, f.17

Banks also collected Icelandic manuscripts and books – something he had prepared before his departure as he wrote to Bodley’s Librarian, the Reverend John Price, that he was about to sail to Iceland and while there would endeavour to procure Icelandic manuscripts. Today over 120 books and 30 manuscripts are in the British Library, including copies of the first Icelandic version of the Bible from 1584, Snorri Sturluson’s Edda and the most famous saga, Njal’s Saga (Add MS. 45712, 4857-96). Men were sent to the only printing press in Iceland, at Hólar, to buy copies of the books printed there. In the years following his visit the district governor Ólafur Stephensen, now a friend, continued to collect and consequently ‘charged our best copyists to transcribe the antiquities and sagas’ (24 June 1773, Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic 1772-1820, p. 183)

Banks’s chartered ship, the Sir Lawrence, a brig of 190 tons, with a crew of 12, eventually left Gravesend on 12 July 1772, ironically the same day as Cook started on his second voyage. He arrived in Iceland at the end of August and after an eventful stay of six weeks they left in early October, loaded down with, among other objects, specimens of lava, Icelandic manuscripts and two Icelandic dogs, aptly named Hekla and Geysir.

As a consequence of the Iceland expedition, Banks became the acknowledged British expert on Iceland and a faithful friend of the Icelanders. Three decades later during the Napoleonic Wars, Banks assumed a crucial political role as self-appointed protector of Iceland, smoothing the way for their trade during the conflict and repeatedly urging the British government to annex the island for the benefit of the inhabitants. He became the architect of Britain’s political and commercial policy towards the Atlantic dependencies of the Danish realm.

Anna Agnarsdóttir, Emeritus Professor, University of Iceland

Further reading:

Anna Agnarsdóttir (ed.), Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic 1772-1820. Journals, Letters and Documents, (London, 2016), YC.2016.b.2118.

Id., ‘After the Endeavour: What next for Joseph Banks?’, in Endeavouring Banks: Exploring collections from the Endeavour Voyage 1768-1771 (London, 2016), LC.31.b.1774

Harold B. Carter, Sir Joseph Banks 1743-1820 (London, 1988), YK.1988.b.2415

Neil Chambers (ed.), The Letters of Sir Joseph Banks. A Selection 1768–1820 (London, 2000) m01/13368

John Gascoigne, ‘Banks, Sir Joseph, baronet (1743-1820)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 3 (Oxford, 2004).

Halldór Hermannsson, ‘Sir Joseph Banks and Iceland’, Islandica, vol. 18 (1928) Ac.2692.g/6.

Uno von Troil, Letters on Iceland (Dublin, 1780) 10280.eee.14.

26 April 2018

Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages

The annual Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages will take place on Monday 4 June in the Dickens and Eliot Rooms of the British Library Knowledge Centre.

The programme is as follows:

1.30     Registration and Coffee

2.00     Stephen Rawles (Glasgow), Measuring typesetting effort in the 1530s and 40s: calculating ems in the work of Denis Janot. 

2.45     Thomas Earle (Oxford), Rui de Pina’s Crónica de D. Afonso V: manuscript and print

3.30     Tea

4.00     Geoff West (London), The Spanish and Portuguese Manuscripts of Frederick William Cosens (1819-1889)

4.45     Susan Reed (London), Fraktur vs Antiqua: a debate in the London German press in 1876.

The Seminar will end at 5.30pm.

The seminar is free and all are welcome, but please let the organisers, Susan Reed (susan.reed@bl.uk) and Barry Taylor (barry.taylor@bl.uk) know if you wish to  attend. 

Vignette 10003.w.4.
Vignette from Cornelio Desimoni, Nuovi studi sull'Atlante Luxoro (Genoa, 1869) 10003.w.4.

 

23 April 2018

La Diada de Sant Jordi: a History of Saint George’s Day Celebrations in Catalonia

Happy St George’s Day, everyone! Today England celebrates the feast of its patron saint, but the day is also celebrated in Portugal, Georgia, Russia, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Palestine and some regions of Spain. In Catalonia, there are special events for what is known there as La Diada de Sant Jordi. Customs include giving presents of roses and books, so the streets today will be full of wonderful smells and colours!

The Catalan version of the Saint George legend recounts how the brave knight was willing to give his life to save a princess. The young girl had been selected by chance to be fed to a fearsome dragon besieging her small kingdom. The knight rescued her from the beast’s claws by killing it with his spear.

St George (MS Royal 19 B XVII)
Detail of a miniature of George killing the dragon, with the princess kneeling, from the Legenda Aurea (Paris, 1382) MS Royal 19 B XVII, f. 109r

According to legend, when the drops of dragon’s blood fell on the ground, they turned into roses. The knight picked one, handed it to the princess, and together they lived happily ever after. The story also says that the rose re-blossoms with new energy every April, which helps explain why the festival to commemorate the knight’s deeds takes place in this month.

Ultimately, however, the legend of George slaying a dragon and rescuing an innocent maiden is a medieval addition to the story of a much older historical figure. The origins of the festival go back as far as 23 April 303 AD when the Romans beheaded a soldier named George who had previously led a battalion under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. His crime? Refusing to obey the Emperor’s orders to persecute Christians. His punishment was martyrdom.

The story of this Christian knight quickly attracted veneration, with a wide range of fantastic births and different legends attributed to the Saint, who was canonised in the 7th century. His cult gradually spread through the Catalan region until, in 1456, he was officially named the patron saint of Catalonia.

St George Bernat Martorell
Bernat Martorell, Saint George Killing the Dragon, c. 1434/35. (The Art Institute of Chicago; Image from the Google Art Project via Wikimedia Commons)

Sant Jordi celebrations in Catalonia can be traced back at least 300 years, with the Palau de la Generalitat already hosting a Rose Fair on the day by the 15th century. This mediaeval celebration was dedicated to weddings, betrothals and marriages, and custom dictated that a man should buy a red rose for his wife, as a symbol of his passion.

In 1456, the day became an official festival, but in the early 18th century, with the fall of the city of Barcelona and the ascension of the Bourbons to the Spanish throne, it began to lose its devotees. It was not until the end of the 19th century, with the Renaixença, that Sant Jordi’s day regained its strength and vitality to vindicate the historical and cultural heritage of Catalonia.

The revival of the day was consolidated at the beginning of the 20th century thanks to the Mancomunitat de Catalunya. At this time, an effort was made to revitalize Sant Jordi traditions, which not only appealed to feelings of patriotism and sentimentality, but also directly benefited the publishing sector, as we will see below. Under Franco’s regime, however, Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy was annulled and Sant Jordi celebrations were prohibited. Nevertheless, following the death of the dictator, the day regained its characteristic festive brilliance.

St George Goigs Cup.21.g.6(56)
Goigs en llaor de Sant Jordi, martir 
(Vilanova i la Geltrú, 1964) Cup.21.g.6.(56.) A poem in praise of St George, adapted from an older source by Ricardo Vives i Sabaté with music by J. Maideu i Auguet

The festival’s original association with books dates back to the 1920s, when the director of the Cervantes publishing house, Valencian writer Vicent Clavel i Andrés, approached the Barcelona Official Chamber of Books and the Publishers and Booksellers Guild to organize a festival promoting books in Catalonia. The date chosen was October 7 1927.

When the International Exhibition was held in Barcelona in 1929 booksellers took it upon themselves to go out into the streets, setting up stands to display their new publications and encourage reading. Their efforts met with such success that they decided to establish an annual Book Day. However, they changed the date to 23 April to coincide with the anniversary of two great authors’ deaths: Cervantes and Shakespeare.

St George Oda cover
Above: Cover of Jordi Arquer, Oda a Sant Jordi (Mexico City, 1943), no. 233 of an edition of 500 copies. Below: opening with the author's signature and a memorial dedication to Shakespeare and Cervantes; the poem, published by Arquer in exile, was intended to mark 23 April.

St George Oda dedication

Since its first inception, the festival has brought energy to Catalan publishing and continues to provide great support for the sector today. It has had such a significant impact that in 1995 UNESCO’s General Assembly declared 23 April as World Book and Copyright Day.

Sant Jordi is Catalonia’s primary patron of lovers, taking precedence even over St Valentine. Traditionally, a man gives his beloved a single red rose with an ear of wheat, and women give their lovers a book. These days, however, you will also see women receiving books, and men roses.

Why a single red rose and an ear of wheat? According to tradition, this gift combines three symbolic characteristics: the single flower represents the exclusivity of the lover’s feeling, the rose’s red colour symbolizes passion, and the ear of wheat stands for fertility. These are the elements that make it a good gift for a loved one on a special day like this.

Noemi Ortega-Raventos, Cataloguer, Gulf History

19 April 2018

‘Now my text will be destroyed by gingerbread men’: the collaboration between Arthur Sjögren and August Strindberg

August Strindberg (1849-1912) – the unorthodox, self-taught, one-of-a-kind writer, painter, historian, photographer, scientist-alchemist and one-time schizophrenic – can’t have been easy to work with. A pioneer with such singular vision would naturally find some difficulty opening his work up to the ideas of those forever catching up with his modernity.

From the 1890s onwards, Strindberg did however work closely with the artists Carl Larsson and Arthur Sjögren, falling out with each in turn some ten or so years later. The beginning of the end for the partnership with Sjögren came when Strindberg dismissed his contribution to a future publication in 1906, suggesting ‘now my text will be destroyed by gingerbread men,’ perhaps a jab at the artist’s stylizing tendency. Yet, undoubtedly, in the collaboration between Sjögren and Strindberg, some of the most significant Swedish works of art and literature emerged.

Strindberg & Sjögren book covers
A range of book covers by Arthur Sjögren for August Strindberg’s work, from Arthur Sjögren: Typografi och bokkonst, grafik och måleri… Nationalmusei utställningskataloger nr. 99. (Stockholm, 1944) W.P.6606/99

From the 1880s to the mid-1890s, Swedish book illustration and typography found itself in a ‘trough’, wrote the art historian Georg Svensson: ‘It had a plethora of styles but lacked style.’ That is to say, it did not have a national style of its own. Under the influence of William Morris in particular, publishers Waldemar Zachrisson and Hugo Lagerström called for a new style and for innovative artists to burst forth. Hugo and his brother Carl established the magazine Nordisk Boktryckarekonst (PP.1622.h) in 1899 and chief among its contributors was the prolific Sjögren (1874-1951), who fast moved away from an early career in architecture to the ‘pure lines’ of book craft. Nordisk Boktryckarekonst had as its aim to create the conditions for a Nordic style in book design and Sjögren would become, in the words of Erik Wettergren, ‘one of the most ingenious and intensive pioneers of book design in the national spirit’.

Sjögren signature
Arthur Sjögren’s monogram

Sjögren began working with the already famous Strindberg in 1900, at which point the writer had had a few years’ experience collaborating with Carl Larsson. In the earlier relationship, it is clear that Strindberg very rarely gave free rein to the illustrator and Sjögren would meet a similar level of artistic direction. This is by no means an abnormal situation but there is little sign of the ‘role of chance in artistic creation’, as one of his essays once lauded. Strindberg sets out the roles in the preface to their first collaboration, Sveriges Natur (1901), ‘the drawings offer landscapes, not prospects, which are composed by the writer and carried out by Arthur Sjögren to the writer’s contentment [belåtenhet].’

Sveriges Natur - Cover
Cover of August Strindberg and Arthur Sjögren, Sveriges Natur (Stockholm, 1901) L.49/151

Strindberg had travelled around Sweden in 1891-2, much as he had done around France before, and made notes and sketches in situ and these drawings and photographs were the strict basis for Sjögren’s work. The author still insisted on writing both their names on the cover in the same gold type, despite the illustrator’s protests, yet we find Sjögren’s name appears smaller than Strindberg’s, perhaps as a concession to the modest artist.

Sveriges Natur - Lappland title
Above: Heading from the section ‘Lappland’, and Below: Landscape of Lapland, from Sveriges Natur

Sveriges Natur - Lappland landscape

Future collaborations did see more conceptual input from Sjögren, yet Strindberg continued to be prescriptive. If the balance of input is not clear, Sjögren’s artwork in the poetry collection Ordalek och småkonst [Word Play and Minor Art] (1905) is without doubt as masterful as Strindberg’s verse, both encapsulating the tension between the innocent simplicity of nature and everyday life and the mystical otherness that Strindberg saw flickering everywhere at the edges.

Ordalek - Cover - title page - end combined
Cover, title page, contents and ending of August Strindberg Ordalek och småkonst (facsimile edition, Stockholm, 1974) X.989/34103

Ordalek och småkonst is visual poetry. Even without the illustrations, critics resort to imagistic terminology, evident in Lotta M. Löfgren’s interpretation prefacing her translation: ‘The realist’s eye now picks up a surreal shimmer.’

Ordalek - Gatubilder
Above: ‘Gatubilder’ [Street Pictures], below: ‘Molnbilder’ [Cloud Pictures], from Ordalek och småkonst

Ordalek - Molnbilder

The stand-out poem in the collection, if not in all of Swedish poetry, ‘Stadsresan’ [The City Journey] moves from a perfectly harmonious Midsummer’s Day in Stockholm and the shores of Lake Mälaren to a sudden apocalyptic nightmare summoned by a pianist’s music. While such darkness always sits beneath the surface for Strindberg, it only takes the warmth of an impromptu audience and his wife’s hand on his shoulder for ‘life to smile again’.

Ordalek - Stadsresan
Above: The third song in ‘Stadsresan’,  below: ‘Skapelsens tal och lagar’ [Creation’s Numbers and Laws], from Ordalek och småkonst

Ordalek - Skapelsens tal och lagar

As the pianist steps back and the room begins to glow with the praise of the onlookers and the happiness of the family, the piano itself begins to gleam and, ‘Also it beamed out a power, it cast a glow all around them / Shone on the paltry furnishings, elevated the humble.’ Strindberg captures it precisely. In art, in poetry, in the illustrations of Sjögren and the words of Strindberg, the humble life is represented as it is and, in its simple beauty, is elevated at the same time.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
A second blog post on the collaboration between Strindberg and Sjögren will appear shortly.

Further Reading:

August Strindberg, Selected poems of August Strindberg, edited and translated by Lotta M. Löfgren (Carbondale, 2002)

Michael Robinson, An International Annotated Bibliography of Strindberg Studies 1870-2005 (London, 2008),  YC.2009.a.2140 vol. 1, YC.2009.a.2141 vol. 2, YC.2009.a.2142 vol. 3

Sten-Ove Bergwall, series of blogs on the collaboration between the Strindberg and Sjögren

 

16 April 2018

Montenegro in 19th-century Maps and History Books

For almost two hundred years Montenegro was unknown to the world and, like the rest of what was then European Turkey, a forgotten country without a history. Montenegro was rediscovered in the west in the 19th century during hard and long independence struggles of the peoples living under the Ottoman Empire.

The Eastern Question’ was an umbrella term coined in the west for the complexities surrounding the uprisings of the oppressed peoples within the Ottoman Empire, the external wars against the Ottomans, and the rivalries of the European powers for control over the territories of the declining Ottoman Empire.

These events periodically renewed outside interest in the Ottoman Empire, its peoples and European provinces, inspiring the first travel accounts and histories, and establishing Montenegro on the map.

A_1820 From Vialla de Sommières, Voyage historique et politique au Montenegro (Paris, 1820) 10126.dd.14.

Significant features of some of the early works about Montenegro are their contemporary cultural observations as well as the publication of important historical sources such as international agreements, written records, and the first law-codes of Montenegro. Western accounts were published to inform the public, to mark and celebrate important anniversaries or events, and some of the books were written with scholarly ambition and scientific purpose.

B_1841From Egor Petrovich Kovalevsky, Chetyre miesiatsa v Chernogorii (St Petersburg, 1841) 10290.e.22.

Characteristically the first historical accounts of Montenegro, published in the Serbian language, drew on oral history traditions and on personal memories and experiences. Some early historians were in the service of the ruling prince-bishops of the Petrović-Njegoš dynasty and had unfettered access to the archives, which contained official correspondence and documents, chronicles and annals, as well as the first printed history of Montenegro published in St Petersburg in 1754,Vasilije Petrović Njegoš’s Istoriia o Chernoi Gory (9475.b.44.)

C_1847From Aleksandr Nikolaevich Popov, Puteshestvie v Chernogoriiu (St Petersburg, 1847) 10126.dd.13.

The above maps of Montenegro show the geographical and administrative division of 19th-century Montenegro into two main historical regions: Old Montenegro and The Hills. Old Montenegro consisted of four districts (‘Nahija’): Katunska (I), Crmnička (II), Riječka (III), Lješanska (IV). The Hills also consisted of four districts: Bjelopavlići (V), Piperi (VI), Morača (VII), Kuči (VIII). Each nahija in turn consisted of clans, represented on these maps by their individual names. Montenegrin clans comprised extended family groupings (‘Bratstvo’), made up of individual families.

Montenegro was landlocked and surrounded by the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia, Herzegovina and Albania; to the south Montenegro bordered the Kingdom of Dalmatia, part of the Austrian Empire.

D_1848From John Gardner Wilkinson, Dalmatia and Montenegro (London, 1848) 10290.dd.16.

Most 19th century history books on Montenegro describe four distinctive periods in the history of Montenegro: the mediaeval period to the end of the 14th century followed by two periods, one from 1516 to 1697, and the other from 1697 to 1850, and then the contemporary period from 1850 onwards.

The first mediaeval state created within the territory of Montenegro was the Principality of Doclea (Duklja), followed by the Principality of Zeta which was an integral part of the mediaeval Serbian kingdom.

E_1848_detailDetail showing Montenegro and its administrative regions, from Wilkinson, Dalmatia and Montenegro

The name Montenegro (‘Black Mountain’) probably first appeared during the reign of Ivan Crnojević (1465-90) who moved his residence to the country’s final stronghold, at the foot of the mountain Lovćen, against the invading Ottomans. The period from 1516 to 1697 is the least- known in the history of Montenegro. During this time, while under Turkish domination, the clans of Montenegro were in constant conflict among themselves and against the Ottomans. The clans’ resistance to Turkish rule, however, grew stronger over time, and from 1603 Montenegro became de facto an autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire. The historical record of the period from 1516 to 1697 does not provide much more detail beyond the names of the elective metropolitans of Montenegro and the Montenegrins’ participation in the Venetians’ wars against the Ottomans.

F_1877 From William Denton, Montenegro: its people and their history (London, 1877) 9136.bbb.45.

A turning-point came with the election of Danilo Petrović, from the Njeguši clan in Katunska nahija, as Metropolitan of Montenegro in 1697, a position he held until his death in 1735. His main efforts were directed towards the unification and emancipation of Montenegro, the implementation of the customary law of the country for clans and individuals in conflict, and the establishment of the Petrović-Njegoš dynasty, which ruled Montenegro from 1697 to 1918. From his time the politics of Montenegro towards the Ottoman Empire were intertwined with its political and military relations with the far-away Russian Empire, the neighbouring Venetians and the Austrian Empire.

Another defining moment in the history of Montenegro was the union of Old Montenegro with The Hills after decisive victories over the Ottoman forces in 1796.

G_1876 Maps 43625. (17.). Map of Montenegro and its adjacent territory, coloured to show the changing boundaries in the late 1870s. Blue shading represents Montenegro before the war of 1877-8, green shading the increase of territory accorded by the Treaty of Berlin 1878, and the blue line is the border adopted by the Conference of Ambassadors at Constantinople in April 1880.

In 1850 Montenegro became a secular principality under the patronage of the Russian Empire, which was the long-standing sponsor of the metropolitans of Montenegro and of Montenegrin independence and statehood.

In 1876 Montenegro took part in the Serbian war against Turkey that soon culminated in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 in which Montenegro finally acquired its long-fought independence from the Ottoman Empire and an expansion of its territory.

Cassells History
The war of 1877-1878 in Montenegro, presented in Cassell’s Illustrated History of the Russo-Turkish War (London, 1896) 9136.i.2. You can see the map superimposed on one of present-day Montenegro here.

The population grew constantly during this period. In the 16th century the population of Old Montenegro had been between 20,000 and 30,000, rising to around 50,000 in the 18th century, and by 1835 an estimated 100,000 people lived in Old Montenegro and The Hills. In 1864 the first official census counted just over 196,000 people and in 1878, after the territorial expansion, this figure rose to over 200,000.

Nicholas I Prince Nicholas I, ruler of Montenegro from 1860 to 1918. Frontispiece from William Miller, The Balkans: Roumania, Bulgaria, Servia and Montenegro (London, 1896) 9012.a.1/44.

A collection of 12 history books in five languages (German, Serbian, French, English and Russian), published between 1846 and 1888 and now digitised by the British Library, offers a fascinating perspective into the growth of knowledge about Montenegro in the 19th century. These books, some of them very rare, remain relevant today as invaluable historical sources and important documents on the basis of which our critical knowledge of the history of Montenegro was created over time.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

References/Further reading:

Mojsije Pajić, V. Scherb, Cernagora (Zagreb,1846) 10210.b.12.

Milorad Medaković, Povestnica Crnegore (Zemun, 1850) 9136.de.13.(1.)

Cyprien Robert, Les Slaves de Turquie, Serbes, Monténégrins, Bosniaques, Albanais et Bulgares (Paris, 1852) 10125.d.19.

Walerian Krasinski, Montenegro and the Slavonians of Turkey (London, 1853) 1155.g.13.

Aleksandar Andrić, Geschichte des Fürstenthums Montenegro (Vienna, 1853) 9135.d.20.(1.)

Die türkischen Nachbarländer an der Südostgrenze Oesterreichs: Serbien, Bosnien, Türkisch-Kroatien, Herzegowina und Montenegro (Budapest, 1854) 10126.f.23.

Dimitrije Milaković, Istoriia Crne Gore (Zadar, 1856) 9134.bb.13.

Henri Delarue, Le Monténégro. Histoire, description, mœurs, usages, législation (Paris, 1862) 10205.bb.17. Serbian translation: Crna Gora: istorija, opis, naravi, običaji, zakonodavstvo, političko uređenje, zvanična dokumеnta i spisi (Podgorica, 2003) YF.2006.a.35818

François Lenormant, Turcs et Monténégrins (Paris, 1866) 9135.aaa.32. Serbian translation Turci i Crnogorci (Podgorica, 2002) YF.2008.a.30613.

William Denton, Montenegro its people and their history (London, 1877) 9136.bbb.45.

William Carr, Montenegro (Oxford, 1884) 9136.c.40.

Pavel Apollonovich Rovinskiĭ, Chernogoriia v eia proshlom i nastoiashchem (St Petersburg, 1888) 10007.t.1.

Sima Milutinović Sarajlija, Istoriia Cerne - Gore od iskona do noviega vremena (Belgrade, 1835) 9135.g.3. Available online from Matica srpska Digital Library

Gustav Friedrich Hertzberg, Montenegro und sein Freiheitskampf (Halle, 1853) 10126.a.36.

Zakonik Danila Prvog (Novi Sad, 1855). Available online from Matica srpska Digital Library.

Abdolonyme Ubicini, Les Serbes de Turquie: études historiques, statistiques et politiques sur la principauté de Serbie, le Montenegro et les pays serbes adjacents (Paris, 1865) 10126.aaa.43.

Timoleone Vedovi, Cenni sul Montenegro (Mantova, 1869) 10125.aa.43. Serbian translation Bilješke o Crnoj Gori (Podgorica, 2000) YF.2008.a.34135.

Sigfrid Kaper, O Crnoj Gori (Podgorica, 1999) YF.2008.a.34150.

Spiridion Gopčević, Montenegro und die Montenegriner (Leipzig, 1877) 10126.f.6.

Đorđe Popović, Recht und Gericht in Montenegro (Zagreb, 1877) 5759.e.32. Serbian: translation Pravo i sud u Crnoj Gori (Podgorica, 2003) YF.2006.a.11405.

Giacomo Chiudina, Storia del Montenero-Crnagora-da’ tempi antichi fino a’ nostri (Split, 1882) 9136.ee.1.

Jovan Popović-Lipovac, Crnogorac i Crnogorka (Podgorica, 2001) YF.2008.a.34137.

P. Coquelle, Histoire du Monténégro et de la Bosnie depuis les origins (Paris, 1895). 2392.g.4. Serbian translation: Istorija Crne Gore i Bosne (Podgorica, 1998) YF.2008.a.34225.

Il Montenegro da relazioni dei provveditori veneti, 1687-1735 (Roma, 1896) L.R.37.a.10. Serbian translation: Crna Gora: izvještaji mletačkih providura: 1687-1735 (Podgorica, 1998) YF.2008.b.3078

Đorđe Popović, Istorija Crne Gore (Belgrade, 1896) 9135.de.13. Available online from Belgrade University Digital Repository 

William Miller, The Balkans: Roumania, Bulgaria, Servia and Montenegro (London, 1896) 9012.a.1/44.

Ilarion Ruvarac, Montenegrina (Zemun, 1899) 9136.f.31.

Pavel Apollonovich Rovinskiĭ, Zapisi o Crnoj Gori (Podgorica, 2001) YF.2009.a.9153.

 

13 April 2018

Esperanto – not what you thought?

Today is the opening day of the British and Pan-Celtic Esperanto Conference in Aberystwyth.

EsperantoBlogoceltic-dragonLogo of the Conference

Esperanto speakers? You’re probably thinking there can’t be many of them – and moreover that the few who do exist are probably crazy as well. Yes, you’re right that they are far fewer in number than the people who are learning English or, these days, Chinese. But how many are there? The truth is that nobody knows. If the figure of “more than 100,000” is good enough for Encyclopaedia Britannica, far be it from me to contradict it by giving my own estimate.

In any case, we can confidently say that there are a few million Esperanto speakers scattered throughout the world. If there weren’t, the Esperanto Wikipedia would not now be the 32nd largest in terms of the number of articles (as recorded in June 2016). Not to mention the 1.6 million learners who have signed up for the Esperanto courses with the language-learning site Duolingo

Esperanto speakers are everywhere. The World Esperanto Association has members in over 120 countries. Esperanto speakers can also be found in the sort of places where you would never think of looking, such as East Timor and New Caledonia, and there are fascinating stories about the development of Esperanto in various countries, from China to the Czech Republic. The British Library’s Esperanto Collections reflect the history and diversity of the Esperanto movement and its publications.

EsperantoBlogHistoriesMontage
 Books from the British Library Esperanto Collection on the Esperanto movement in different countries and regions

Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, belonged to those 19th-century visionaries who dreamt of universal brotherhood, peace and understanding. But during the very first World Congress in Boulogne-sur-Mer in France in 1905, a more practical group came to the fore, asserting that Esperanto was just a language, a means of facilitating international communication, and had nothing to do with airy-fairy dreams of a better world.

These are not the only divisions among Esperanto speakers. There are those who are working for it to become the world’s universal second language, and those who are happy for it to remain a niche interest and prefer to concentrate on developing its cultural potential. This second approach has a name: Raŭmismo, the Rauma movement, after the Finnish town where the World Esperanto Youth Congress  was held in 1980.

As a world-wide phenomenon the Esperanto community is exposed to many influences. During the last century numerous special-interest groups were founded, contributing to a truly colourful panorama. One of the earliest was the International Union of Catholic Esperantists. But unsurprisingly the Catholics were followed by the Protestants, then by the Orthodox Christians, to say nothing of Buddhists, Ōmoto (a Japanese religion), Muslims, Bahá’í and Mormons. Naturally, in response to all this religious activity the atheists could not fail to put in an appearance – but oddly enough, there is no Jewish association at the moment, although there is no lack of Jews in the movement as a whole. All these diverse groups have found common ground between the Esperanto movement and their own ideals.

EsperantoBlogoKoranoCxapitro1Opening ot the Koran in Esperanto translation: La Nobla Korano, translated by Italo Chiussi (Copenhagen, 1970). YF.2009.a.5354

Afterwards came the Communist Esperanto speakers, the Socialists, Anarchists and other splinter groups who even fought in the Spanish Civil War, but now are more likely to fight amongst themselves. At the same time professional associations came into being, who used Esperanto as their working language and published specialist periodicals. You may be surprised to learn that there are doctors who discuss surgery in Esperanto.

MedicinaInternaciaRevuo1974
Cover of  Medicina Internacia Revuo. (July 1974)  5533.51000

 Then there are the railway workers, the journalists, the ecologists, the feminists and numerous others. Teachers are particularly important in a movement whose aim is to teach a language. Their association is the International League of Esperantist Teachers.

EsperantoBlogoKunvojagxuCover of Paul Gubbins, Kunvojaĝu: Internacia kurso de Esperanto (Pisa, 2006). YF.2008.a.23702

You might well ask yourself what all these diverse groups have in common. In fact, there is something.

The first general trait is being interested in “the other”. Esperanto was born with the aim of facilitating communication between people speaking different languages, and so curiosity about other cultures is part of its DNA.

EsperantoBlogoIntervjuoj Books of interviews with Esperantists wordwide about their reasons for learning Esperanto

The second trait is tolerance. No one cares if you support some cranky fringe movement; you will be accepted anyway. The Esperanto-speaking world is open to groups who may be subject to some rather odd looks in the rest of society. Nobody in the UK now finds anything remarkable about being a vegetarian, but that was not the case as recently as the 1960s. The British Esperanto movement contains a higher proportion of vegetarians than society as a whole, as was shown in Peter G. Forster’s study The Esperanto Movement (The Hague, 1982; X.0900/323(32)). Homosexuals were welcome in the Esperanto movement at a time when homosexuality was still a crime in many countries.

In the 130 years since the first book in Esperanto was published, Esperanto speakers have been creating their own culture of novels, poetry, songs and jokes. Hundreds of thousands of books have been published, both translated and original. Many Esperanto authors are known for their writing in their own languages as well as Esperanto, for instance the British writer Marjorie Boulton

  EsperantoBlogBeletraAlmanako

Literary serial Beletra almanako (New York, 2006-). ZF.9.a.7847

Musicians singing in Esperanto can be heard online (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27BP5sXwuTs), and many of the thousands who have started learning with Duolingo create videos for YouTube. You will also find many Esperantists on social media platforms.

EsperantoBlogoKajtoKajto (Ankie van der Meer and Nanne Kalma from Netherlands) singing at the London Esperanto Club (Photo by Olga Kerziouk).

And finally, the last trait that all Esperanto speakers share, whatever their backgrounds or beliefs, is their love for the language itself and for the Esperanto-speaking community. For many couples Esperanto has even become their family language, particularly when they belong to different nationalities. They chat in Esperanto over the dinner table and use it to talk to their children.

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics at La Sapienza University in Rome, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto / Anna Lowenstein,  Esperanto author and journalist

Further reading

Esperanto in the New York Times: 1887-1922, edited by Ulrich Becker. (New York, 2010).YD.2010.a.12499

Roberto Garvía Soto. Esperanto and its rivals: the struggle for an international language. (Philadelphia, 2015) m15/.11262

Esther H. Schor, Bridge of words: Esperanto and the dream of a universal language (New York, 2015). Waiting for shelfmark.

Geoffrey  Sutton, Concise encyclopedia of the original literature of Esperanto, 1887-2007  (New York, 2008). YC.2008.a.12495

11 April 2018

The British Library’s Russia in the UK Web Archive

The Russian-speaking community has a long and established presence in UK cultural and political life. The UK-based Russian-speaking diaspora is a visibly distinct community with a rich and diverse history and cultural life, while also being an integral and significant part of the UK’s historical landscape.

Papers montage Three Anglo-Russian Newspapers: Nasha Rodina, 1 August 1943. P.P.3554.emz; Russkii v Anglii, 15 January 1936. LOU.LON 696 [1938]; Russkii Put’, 11 March, 1922. LOU.LON 682 [1922]

A web archive focusing on the online presence of this community in the UK will form one of the British Library’s Special Collections, Russia in the UK. This special collection will bring the online presence of Russian culture and community in the UK together in a unified archive.

Collected and curated by the British Library, the collection aims to reflect the virtual life of the UK-based Russian diaspora, from news, sports and music, to literature, art and cultural collaborations. It will include sites relating to the activity of the Russian-speaking communities in Britain, such as community events, groups and campaigns, cultural centres and schools, businesses and blogs. This special collection hopes to provide a platform which represents the diverse experiences of the Russian-speaking community, and the services and frameworks that exist to support and promote this Russian-speaking diaspora. It seeks, most importantly, to collect and preserve the online presence created for and by this community.

Legal Deposit Libraries (LDLs) like the British Library prioritise the selection of websites which reflect the diversity of a community’s life, interests and activities throughout the UK. The objective is to preserve those web resources which are expected to be of interest to future researchers. The website selection process is also influenced by considerations of whether a website is at risk of being lost, and whether selection would result in a more comprehensive collection.

Web ArchiveA snapshot of websites related to the Russian Revolution included in the British Library’s web archive. February 21, 2018

The Russia in the UK collection will serve both as an original dataset and as a means of including and engaging a diverse range of audiences. This collection represents a cross section of Russian and English UK-based websites containing a wealth of material which will be of value to researchers now and in the future.

In bringing together these virtual traces of a linguistic community, connected through their common cultural and diasporic identities, this special collection will provide a foundation for community-members and researchers curious about the heritage and influence of the Russian diaspora in the UK.

The Russia in the UK web archive is growing and is now ‘live’ and accessible to the public through the British Library’s reading rooms. We would like to invite members of the public who are interested in contributing to web archive to nominate websites they feel reflect Russia in the UK today.

For more information about this project, please send your questions and suggestions to hannah.connell@bl.uk.

Hannah Connell, Collaborative Doctoral Student, King’s College London and British Library

09 April 2018

French 18th-Century Books with Colour-Printed Illustrations in the British Library

In the long 18th century, colour-printing techniques changed the ways in which information could be communicated. British Library collections of French books illustrate these seismic shifts, and highlights from its collections will be showcased in the study day 18th-Century Colour-Print Cultures, involving nine London collections, which is part of the conference ‘Printing Colour 1700-1830’ (10-12 April 2018, Senate House, University of London).

0PC1700-1830-Programme-27 Mar 2018a (2)

Following technical innovations in printmaking processes in various European countries in the first half of the 18th century, colour printing flourished in France from the 1740s. It waned shortly after the beginning of the French Revolution, but French single-leaf colour prints were, and still are, very collectable because of their outstanding technical qualities and highly fashionable subjects.

Until the introduction of chromolithography  in the middle of the 19th century, French intaglio colour printing was dominated by illustrations about natural science. Colour printing was rarer in other disciplines, such as medicine, and it was briefly used to illustrate novels around 1800. Scientific illustrations in intaglio (etching and engraving are far more detailed than relief techniques, like woodcut) were first colour-printed in Holland, England and Germany in the early 1700s. By the 1780s, French engravers, printers and hand-colourers were producing the most refined scientific images in Europe, particularly in botany and zoology. They still faced strong competition internationally, especially from England and Germany, but the quality of their designs and colour-printing techniques was renowned.

1IMG_8540aLes Egyptiens submergés dans la mer rouge. Plate 75 from Recueil d’estampes d’aprés les plus beaux tableaux et d’aprés les plus beaux desseins qui sont en France, dans le Cabinet du Roy, dans celuy de Monseigneur le Duc d’Orleans, & dans d’autres Cabinets… (Paris, 1729) 1899.p.14

One item on display will be the first volume of the so-called Recueil Crozat of 1729, of which the second volume was published in 1742. The title translates to ‘collection of prints after the most beautiful paintings and drawings in France, from the collection of the King, from that of the duc d’Orléans, and from other collections’, with descriptive texts and biographies of the artists by Joseph-Antoine Crozat (1696-1751). He was the nephew of the great collector Pierre Crozat (1665-1740), owner of the (anonymous) collection mentioned in the title; Pierre died shortly before the publication of the second volume, and Joseph-Antoine inherited part of his vast collection. Some might say that this enormous project ‘democratised’ art collecting, because these reproductions of original artworks in French collections allowed many people unprecedented access to unique artworks through the then best-possible, full-colour reproductions. However, relatively few copies were printed, they were expensive items for elite collectors, and they celebrated royal and aristocratic collections. Nevertheless, it demonstrates how a range of new colour-printing processes created a new, relatively mass market for artwork.

2IMG_3148a

‘Le Pongo’ from Jean Baptiste Audebert, Histoire naturelle des singes et des makis (Paris; Frankfurt, 1799) 39.i.11–12.

The display will also include a volume of Jean-Baptiste Audebert’s Natural history of apes and monkeys from ‘an VIII’ of the French Revolutionary calendar (1799/1800). It demonstrates how new colour-printing techniques transformed zoology through the exact depiction of animals, sometimes life size (hence this volume’s large folio sheets), to achieve the then-unsurpassed natural rendering of their skins and furs. Hand-colouring could not provide for that level of accuracy and standardisation across an edition. The colour printing in Audebert’s work transformed the understanding of apes and monkeys—and also the field of zoology itself.

3IMG_8510a‘Stuartia’, from vol. I of Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau/Pierre-Joseph Redouté/Pancrasse Bessa [et al.], Traité des arbres et arbustes que l’on cultive en France en pleine terre…, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1800-1819) 37.i.1-7.

Another highlight will be one of the botanical volumes designed by Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840), which demonstrates the implications of these new techniques to the understanding of plants. The title boasts of the new information, much like textbooks in the 1990s might have boasted of a CD-ROM: ‘Treaty of trees and shrubs that are cultivated outside in France: with illustrations in colour’. This first volume of a series of seven exemplifies the high quality of French botanical publications, which were world-leading at the time. They visualised the scholar Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau’s (1700-1782) extensive expertise through the draughtsmanship of Redouté (the most prolific botanical artist of his generation) and Pancrase Bessa (1772-1846), the engraving skills of a team of 54 engravers who translated their drawings into prints, the artisanal skills of the printers who inked each plate à la poupée in natural hues, and also the artistic skills of what must have been a large team (possibly of women) who delicately finished impressions with paint.

4canvas1a Decorated paper, Le Tourmi, No 190, Orléans. Hirsch J1390-J1415 f. 16

The display will be accompanied by a projection of 18th-century French decorated papers which are part of the Olga Hirsch collection  and have been digitised by the British Library (see Box 13, Hirsch J1390-J1415  and Folder 14, Hirsch J1416-J1436 ). The decorative colour printed sheets were meant for daily use. They contrast with the elegance and technical skill of the scientific illustrations. They were printed manually (that is, by block-printing or stamping), so they use matte pastes or water-based inks, rather than glossy oil-based printing inks. This means that a different palette was available to the producer, and the inks have a different and often less even appearance. This kind of colour printing is often omitted from the history of colour printing, because it was not produced with a printing press, but it would have been familiar to people of all social classes and far more common than the elite and educational uses that exemplify the furthest technological advances.

Elizabeth Savage (Institute of English Studies) and Ad Stijnman (University of Leiden)

Further reading:

Margaret Morgan Grasselli, Colorful Impressions. The Printmaking Revolution in Eighteenth-century France (Washington, 2003). LC.31.a.1009

Otto M. Lilien, Jacob Christoph Le Blon, 1667–1741, Inventor of Three- and Four Colour Printing (Stuttgart, 1985). 2020.148000 Bd. 9

Ad Stijnman, Engraving and Etching 1400–2000: A History of the Development of Manual Intaglio Printmaking Processes (London; Houten, 2012). YC.2014.b.820

Ad Stijnman and Elizabeth Savage, Printing Colour 1400–1700: History, Techniques, Functions and Receptions (Leyden, 2015). YD.2015.b.527

 

06 April 2018

Singing in the rain with Vítězslav Nezval

This year marks the centenary of the establishment of Czechoslovakia as an independent state. Today we also commemorate the 60th anniversary of the death of one of the new country’s most notable poets, Vítězslav Nezval. He belonged to the generation which found its voice as Czechoslovakia itself was finding its place on the international stage in culture as well as politics.

Nezval PortraitPortrait of Nezval by Josef Šíma from Menší růžová zahrada (Prague, 1926) YA.1997.a.5557

Many of the young poets of the First Republic were members of the left-wing avant-garde, in general strongly influenced by modern French poetry. They had made their acquaintance with it through Karel Čapek’s outstanding anthology of translations Francouzská poezie nové doby (Prague, 1920; Cup.410.f.663 ), and it would leave a lasting imprint on Nezval’s own development; in particular he was strongly influenced by Guillaume Apollinaire.

It was in this decade that the Poetist movement evolved as modernity’s recreational counterpart to Constructivism. Its leading figures included the writer on art and architecture Karel Teige (1900-51), who summed up its nature as ‘easy-going, mischievous, fantastic, playful, non-heroic, and erotic’, a spirit which Nezval gleefully evoked in polythematic poems such as Podivuhodný kouzelník (‘The Marvellous Magician’, 1922) and Akrobat (‘Acrobat’, 1927).

Nezval H

Nezval ABECEDA

 The dancer Milca Mayerová posing as one of the letters of the alphabet, and the cover of Nezval’s Abeceda (Prague, 1926) Cup.409.b.5.

Nezval, as the son of a musical and art-loving schoolmaster from Moravia, had displayed a talent for music early in life and was far more at home in artistic circles than at Charles University, where he studied philosophy but never graduated. His companions in Prague’s cafés and studios included not only Teige but also Jindřich Štyrský, Jaroslav Seifert and Toyen (Marie Cerminová), and in 1922 they bonded together to found the avant-garde group Devětsil (literally ‘nine forces’, the Czech name of the butterbur plant, but with an implicit reference to the nine founding members of the group). They frequently collaborated on artistic and typographical projects; Nezval’s poem Židovský hřbitov (‘The Jewish Cemetery’), for example, featured six original lithographs by Štyrský and typographic design by Teige.

Nezval Cemetery

Above: Lithograph by Jindřich Štyrský from Židovský hřbitov (Prague, 1928) Cup.410.g.577. Below: the author’s signature from the flyleaf.

Nezval signature

It was natural that Nezval’s interests should lead him to visit France, where he made contact with many of the most significant figures in the Surrealist movement, including André Breton and Paul Éluard. As a result of this a specifically Czechoslovak Surrealist group was established in 1934; Nezval had already translated Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto in 1930, and he went on to edit the group’s journal Surrealismus. His collections from this period, such as Praha s prsty deště (‘Prague with Fingers of Rain’; Prague, 1936; Cup.408.zz.27) reflect this influence, while a later collection, Absolutní hrobař (‘Gravedigger of the Absolute’; Prague, 1937; X.989/38352), was strongly influenced by the paintings of Salvador Dali and might be said to be his most Surrealist work.

Nezval Surrealismus RF.1999.b.2

 Cover of Surrealismus (Prague, 1936) RF.1999.b.2.

Initially the young Poetists had been eager for more extreme political action than that advocated by President Masaryk and his followers, and had identified with the international Marxist and proletarian movements. Nezval subsequently rejected André Breton’s doctrine, and returned to a less experimental poetic style which was linked to his staunch support for Communism. Unlike his contemporary Jaroslav Seifert, for example, who left the party in 1929 and went on to become one of the signatories of Charter 77 , Nezval remained loyal to it and from 1945 to 1950 even headed the propagandistic film department at Czechoslovakia’s Ministry of Information. He also composed an effusive poem in praise of Stalin, which makes uncomfortable reading when one considers the worst excesses of the era following the Communist takeover of 1948.

However, when his writings of this nature have been justly forgotten, it is perhaps for his evocations of Prague itself, its people, buildings and landscapes, that Nezval will be remembered. He portrays in loving detail its shop-windows at Christmas-time, its office girls waiting for a tram, its bridges, chimneys, markets and acacia-trees, and Prague in the midday sun, ‘beautiful as the mystery of love and improbable clouds’. And, summing up the quirky contradictions of Poetism, here is one of the best-loved poems from his collection Sbohem a šáteček (‘A Farewell and a Handkerchief'; 1933), ‘Pocket Handkerchief’:

I’m taking off today; I feel like crying—
Just time to wave my handkerchief, I see;
If all the world were one great gaudy poster,
Cynic, I’d tear it, throw it in the sea.

Just like a fish, this vale of tears absorbed me,
Its image, broken thirty times, composed;
Now leave me, skylark, your great glorious error,
If I must sing, I’d sob a bit, one knows.

The kerchief flutters down; the city opens—
Grotesquely, at the tunnel’s mouth, it breaks;
A pity death’s not just a long black journey,
From which, in some unknown hotel, I’d wake.

You whom I loved like Andrea del Sarto,
Turn a silk kerchief for fair women’s eyes;
And, if you know death’s just a leap, a moment—
Don’t flinch, now—Good day, goshawk!—up one flies!
(Translation © Susan Reynolds, 2011.)

Susan Halstead (Reynolds), Subject Librarian (Social Sciences) Research Services.

03 April 2018

Literature of the Baltic countries in English translation

In this centenary year of the independence of each of the Baltic republics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, great efforts are being made to promote the three very distinct literatures of those countries in translation. Until now, when lists of works appearing in translation were produced by the literature-promoting agencies of each country, English translations made up the shortest list among the European languages.

Since English is more widely spoken in Europe than the other languages into which translations are made, it is a matter of urgency to rectify this, and now, in this centenary year, being marked by ‘market focus’ status at the London Book Fair in 2018, there is a chance to showcase the rich diversity of Baltic literature – in translation.

The reverse side of the coin is the huge competition for the attention of English-speaking readers in the marketplace. Only a small proportion of each country’s literature is seen as worth translating into English, given the relative unpopularity of translated literature among Anglophones.

Part of the problem in the Baltic case is that there are practically no opportunities to study these literatures, either in the original or in translation, at British universities. At the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (part of University College London), from 2018 it will be possible to study an undergraduate course introducing the literatures of these three countries in English translation. The range of available texts is now at last expanding rapidly.

Each of the Baltic republics’ governments operates a state-subsidised translation programme; these have existed almost since the countries regained their independence in 1991. With the centenary celebrations and the market focus at the London Book Fair, English is being emphasised as a target language this year. Both modern works and the classical canon are being represented, and the introductory course will try to give at least a taste of as many genres and generations of writing from each Baltic country as possible.

BalticKalevipoegCoverCover (above) and titler-page (below) of Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, Kalevipoeg (Tartu, 1935). Ac.9076/19. 
BalticKalevipoegTitlepage

The languages are ancient, but the literary traditions are relatively young. To present the ‘folk’ literature of each nation is to be thrust into the 19th-century National Awakening which followed in the wake of Enlightenment scholars such as Herder and their influence filtered through the Baltic German nobility (at least in Livonia, the northern half of the region). In Estonia the national epic Kalevipoeg (The Son of Kalev) was largely the work of 19th-century authors Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald and Friedrich Robert Faehlmann, inspired by the more genuinely ancient folk poetry of the Kalevala in Finland.

In Latvia, too, the work of epic ancient heroism Lāčplēsis (The Bear Slayer) was the work of one 19th-century author, Andrejs Pumpurs. The germ of this creation, however, lay in much older oral verse, as gathered by Krišjānis Barons in his vast collection of dainas – short rhymed verses reflecting folk wisdom on various aspects of life, love and the annual cycle of the seasons.

BalticBlogLatviansongsTitle page of Latwju dainas (Jelgawa, 1894). X.900/4488

The situation in Lithuania was slightly different, the result of different historical processes and the long political association with Poland. The first notable Lithuanian work available in any kind of English translation is Kristijonas Donelaitis’ 18th-century poetical cycle Metai (The Seasons) – there were earlier poets and writers, but their work is still virtually inaccessible to the English speaker.

From the 19th century onward certain trends are detectable that reflect European literary movements of the time, but the works are also specific to each country’s situation. 19th-century literature is inextricably linked to the struggle for recognition and development of the languages as literary vehicles in their own right.

Early examples of the novel genre, such as the Latvian Kaudzīte brothers’ Mērnieku laiki (The Time of the Surveyors), are not readily available in English. In fact, any literature written before the first independence period (1918-1940) is hard to come by in English translation. Breaking away from foreign cultural models was linked to the prevalence of Russian and German in education in the Baltic countries. The full flowering of the novel came with independence, with authors such as A.H.Tammsaare and Friedebert Tuglas in Estonia and Andrejs Upītis in Latvia. Among the most prolifically translated Baltic authors is Jaan Kross of Estonia.

BalticBlogTuglasTitlepage

Title-page and frontispiece of  Friedebert Tuglas, Riders in the sky (Tallinn, 1986). YA.1992.b.648

Poetry in translation is mostly confined to anthologised work, but it spans both of the independence periods. Some poets have achieved international distinction, such as Tomas Venclova from Lithuania and Jaan Kaplinski from Estonia. What is more difficult to obtain in English is drama – very few plays from the Baltic republics have appeared in English, not even the works of the Latvian Rūdolfs Blaumanis, and thus the survey of literature in translation is a little lopsided as to genres.

Kaplinski Through the Forest YK.1997.a.3737Cover of Jaan Kaplinski, Through the Forest, translated by Hildi Hawkins (London, 1996). YK.1997.a.3737

Contemporary literature is much more widely available in translation. Writers who lived into the second independence period, or are writing now, are making their literatures known more than ever before. In Lithuania, Ričardas Gavelis and Jurgis Kunčinas; in Latvia, Pauls Bankovskis and Zigmunds Skujiņš; in Estonia, Andrus Kivirähk and Indrek Hargla have recently become available in English, to name but a few.

Baltic literature in English translation is still patchy in its coverage. Certain writers who are central to the canon in their own countries – Oskar Luts in Estonia, Jānis Rainis in Latvia and Vincas Krėvė in Lithuania, are still sorely under-represented. But this is an exciting time to become acquainted with this previously little-known corner of Europe and the literary treasures it holds.

Baltic montage

Christopher Moseley, Teaching Fellow in Estonian, SSEES, UCL

On 9 April the British Library will be hosting ‘Being Baltic’, a discussion with three leading Baltic writers – Mihkel Mutt (Estonia), Nora Ikstena (Latvia) and Kristina Sabaliauskaitė (Lithuania) chaired by Rosie Goldsmith. You can find more details and book online here.