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43 posts categorized "Czech Republic"

18 August 2018

A Bohemian bicentenary: Václav Bolemír Nebeský and the Národní Muzeum

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It is a truism that in choosing a name one should consider whether it is likely to date – how many Kylies approaching their mid-thirties regret being given one which marks them out as children of the early 1980s? A similar phenomenon could be observed in Bohemia in the early 19th century – but with an unusual twist. Many parents who had presented their offspring for baptism with such solid Czech names as František, Josef or Magdalena must have been perplexed when their growing sons and daughters announced that they would no longer use these but in future preferred to be known as Ladislav or Dobromila. Far from being new-fangled inventions, their choices were drawn from the ancient Czech chronicles and legends and simultaneously stated the bearer’s identification with the Bohemian nation’s glorious past and rejection of alien (i.e. German) cultural influences.

Young Václav Nebeský was such a one. Born on 18 August 1818 on the Nový Dvůr estate just north of Kokořín, he was given the name of the king who became Bohemia’s patron saint (‘Good King Wenceslas’), but even that was not patriotic enough for him. He went to high school in Litoměřice, where he proved a gifted student who learned Greek and Latin with ease and went on to study in Prague at Charles University. This was a time when the National Revival was in full swing, and under the influence of its reverence for Bohemian history he decided at the age of 20 to adopt the ultra-Slavonic Bolemír as a second name – a statement all the more emphatic in confirming his sympathies while he was living in Vienna after graduating.

Nebesky portrait 010790ee3Portrait of Václav Bolemír Nebeský from Život a spisy Václava Bolemíra Nebeského by J. Hanuš (Prague, 1896)  010790.ee.3.

Like many talented young men without private means in those days, he earned his living as a private tutor. This could involve occupational hazards such as those experienced by Friedrich Hölderlin – being treated like an inferior servant or becoming emotionally entangled with the lady of the house – but Nebeský was more fortunate. He secured a post in the household of Jan Norbert z Neuberka (Neuberk), who in 1841 had become president of the Národní Muzeum. This National Museum had been established in 1818 by the nobleman and palaeontologist Kaspar Maria, Graf von Sternberg, whose letters contain frequent but unsuccessful appeals to his friend Goethe to visit Prague. Nebeský had already made a wide circle of friends among the generation who would lead the National Revival, both in literature and politics, including the dramatist Josef Kajetán Tyl, Karel Jaromír Erben, whose Kytice remains one of the best-loved works of Czech poetry, the poet and journalist Karel Havlíček Borovský, and Karel Sabina, who provided the libretto for Smetana’s Prodaná nevešta (The Bartered Bride), but was also a notorious police spy. Life in the Neuberk household introduced him to still more eminent figures and helped to develop his political awareness in a practical direction.

Nebesky National Museum 7801.d.6
The Národní Muzeum, Prague, from Národní museum 1818-1948, ed. by Gustav Skalský and others (Prague, 1949) 7801.d.6.

In his early twenties Nebeský had already begun to publish poems in almanacs such as Česká Vcela (The Czech Bee) and Vesna (Spring). His great success came comparatively early with the publication in 1844 of Protichůdci, a long poem whose title is difficult to translate but conveys the sense of ‘those who go against the grain’ or in a direction opposed to conventional ideas of progress, as exemplified by its protagonist, the world-weary Wandering Jew Ahasuerus.

Nebesky Protichudci X.907-8652
Illustration by Jan Konůpek from Václav Bolemír Nebeský, Protichůdci (Prague, 1924) X.907/8652).

He was also an exceptional translator, and his classical training enabled him to produce fluent and highly readable versions of authors including Aeschylus, Aristophanes, and Plautus’s Captivi (Pleníci; Prague, 1873; 11707.b.5.). Indeed, he was heard to say that he often wished that he had been born a modern Greek, a desire which led him in 1864 to publish an anthology of Greek folk-songs in his own translations, Novořecké národní písně. He also brought out a similar collection of Spanish romances, Kytice ze španělských romancí (Prague, 1864; 11452.b.9).

Nebesky binding 1568-4251Binding of Václav Bolemír Nebeský, Novořecké národní písně (Prague, 1864) 1568/4251.

At the same time, Nebeský was involved in many areas of public life. During 1848, the Year of Revolutions, he was politically active and was elected to the Austrian Parliament; the following year he qualified as a university lecturer in Greek and Czech literature, although he never exercised this function professionally. In 1850 he was appointed editor of the Museum’s journal Muzejník, and the following year he became Secretary of the Museum itself, continuing in office until ill-health forced him to step down in 1874.

Nebesky Museum 1609-4911 Dějiny Musea Království Českého (Prague, 1868) 11852.g.2, Nebeský’s history of the National Museum

Nebeský married comparatively late in life, in 1859, but before then he had had a close relationship with another of the National Revival’s most beloved authors, Božena Nemcová (1820-1842), best known for her novel Babička (1855). Unhappily married, she found an outlet in her friendship with Nebeský, with whom she shared not only literary but patriotic interests. Her tomb is close to the gates of Prague’s Vyšehrad cemetery where many of the great cultural figures of 19th-century Czech cultural life are buried, and when he died on 17 August 1882, the day before his 64th birthday, Nebeský himself was laid to rest nearby in the company of Karel Hynek Mácha, the poet whom he so much admired, and many of the friends who, with him, had done so much to shape their country’s future.

Susan Halstead (Subject Librarian, Social Sciences) Research Services

 

09 August 2018

East European newspapers in the British Library collection

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The rapid growth of the British Museum Library from the 1840s onwards brought about the expansion of its collections of foreign material. Books, journals and newspapers in East European languages were also regularly acquired, initiating the future development of the individual countries’ collections. Newspapers, though relatively small in numbers of titles, constituted a vital part of them. The Catalogue of the Newspaper Library, Colindale (London, 1975; HLR.011.35; all records are now also available in our online catalogue) records numerous 19th-century papers from around the world. Among them the oldest titles in East European languages are:

Russkii Invalid 1815

Russkii invalid (St Petersburg, 1813-1917; NEWS13712) a paper of the Russian military.

Dostrzegacz Nadwislanski 1824

Dostrzegacz nadwiślański / Der Beobakhter an der Vayksel (Warsaw, 1823-4; NEWS15170).  A bilingual Polish and Yiddish weekly, the first Jewish journal published in Poland. Only 44 issues appeared, of which the BL holds three copies for February 1824.

In 1932 the Newspaper Library was established in Colindale and overseas titles were moved there from the British Museum building. Eastern European newspapers were part of this process. In the 1950s there were 74 titles in Slavonic and East European languages acquired annually by the Library. In 2014 a new reading room for all forms of news media opened in the St Pancras building, where these titles can now be consulted.

Political, social and economic transformations in Central and Eastern Europe following the revolutionary wave of 1989 had a huge impact on the publishing industry. Such phenomena as the free market economy, freedom of expression and the rapidly growing political movements, all new to Eastern Europe, also greatly influenced the newspaper output, giving rise to many new titles or title changes. In the early 1990s there was an explosion in the number of papers published, and at its peak the British Library was receiving about 300 titles per year. Many were short-lived and produced only one or two editions. In such chaos it became necessary to get an overall picture of the situation, especially since other UK libraries experienced a similar influx of newspapers. A Union List of Slavonic and East European newspapers in British libraries (YC.2018.b.1946), which was put together in 1992, aimed to provide information about the availability of any particular title in the UK libraries. It should be noted that there were no online library catalogues at the time, so the printed list was the most effective way of communicating.

The collection of newspapers for this period represents the whole spectrum of political colours, social movements and cultural diversity in Eastern European countries. Examples include:

Respekt 1992

Respekt (LOU.F631G) began publication in November 1989 as one of the first independent journals in Czechoslovakia. It was a pro-Havel liberal weekly reporting on domestic and foreign political and economic issues with a focus on investigative journalism. It is still running.

Spotkania 1991
Spotkania (NEWS13748) attempted to act as the Polish Newsweek and aimed to be an informative paper with no political bias; it lasted only from 1991 to 1993. BL holds 93 issues for the years 1991-2.

The Warsaw Voice
The Warsaw Voice (NEWS3057) is an English-language newspaper published in Poland, providing news on Poland and neighbouring countries with the focus on business and the economy. First published in 1988, it is still running; our holdings include the years 1992–2017.

Oslobodenje 1993Oslobođenje (LOU.F710D) is the oldest daily newspaper in Bosnia, which began in 1943. The paper received many international awards for continuous publication throughout the 1992–95 siege of Sarajevo. During the war, the editorial board consisted of Bosniaks, Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Croats, reflecting the multi-ethnic society of Bosnia.

At present our collection includes newspapers held in print form, as microfilm and in digital copies. With hard copies and microfilms creating storage and preservation problems, the policy of the Library is to subscribe to aggregated newspaper databases or link to online resources. We currently still receive 17 newspaper titles in print from Lithuania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Romania and recently Poland. A number of Russian, Ukrainian, Moldavian, Belarusian and Baltic newspapers are available online through the commercial supplier Eastview, but currently there is no newspaper coverage for the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Albania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia, mainly because of distribution problems and a lack of aggregated databases.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

 

06 August 2018

Devout diplomat and dramatist: Paul Claudel (1868-1955)

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Visitors to the recent exhibition Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece at the British Museum will have seen, among the photographs of the sculptor at work in his studio among his disciples, the image of a dark-haired young woman whose gaze was equally intense when fixed on the master or on her own work – Rodin’s pupil, model and mistress Camille Claudel.  Her stormy relationship with him and her reputation as a pioneering woman sculptor, depicted in biographies, plays and films, have raised her profile outside her native France, where, despite this, the name Claudel is more readily associated with her younger brother Paul.

Together with their sister, Camille and Paul grew up in Villeneuve-sur-Fère (Aisne) in a family with solid roots in farming and banking. The young Paul’s approach to spiritual matters was equally rational and prosaic, tending towards atheism, until at the age of 18 he underwent a profound conversion experience while hearing the choir of Notre-Dame singing Vespers on Christmas Day. He remained a devout Catholic for the rest of his life, and considered becoming a Benedictine monk. Instead, however, he went into the diplomatic service, and found an outlet for his religious fervour in poetry and drama.

At the same time, his experiences of living in other countries provided him not only with inspiration but also with a deeper understanding of their cultures than the mere taste for exoticism. and especially for Oriental culture, common in France at the turn of the century. He made rapid progress in his career, rising from first vice-consul in New York and Boston to become French consul in China, living in Shanghai, Fuzhou and Tientsin, before being posted to Prague in December 1909.

Claudel Portait YF.2016.a.2114

 Paul Claudel during his time as consul in Prague, reproduced in Paul Claudel et la Bohême: dissonances et accord, ed. Didier Alexandre & Xavier Galmiche (Paris, 2015) YF.2016.a.2114

Czech artists and authors had already established a thriving community in Paris in the 19th and early 20th century, and Claudel’s time in Prague similarly contributed to the deepening of cultural relationships between France and Bohemia. One of his most important contacts was with the Czech artist Zdenka Braunerová, who introduced him to her circle of friends, including Vilém Mrštík, Julius Zeyer and Jan Zrzavý. She had spent part of every year in Paris during the period 1881-1893, promoted Czech culture in France, and invited Auguste Rodin to visit Bohemia and Moravia in 1905. Claudel chose her as godmother to his daughter, born during his residence in Prague, and their lasting friendship enhanced the understanding of Czech art in France and of French literature in Bohemia.

Inspired by his exploration of the Czech spirit and its expression in art, Claudel composed a sequence of poems, Images saintes de Bohême, of which the British Library possesses a bilingual edition in French and Czech a testimony to the deep impression made on him by a city which he had initially greeted with distaste as an ‘icy bivouac’.

Claudel St Ludmila

 ‘St Ludmila’, illustration by Miroslav Šašek from Paul Claudel, Images saintes de Bohême = Svaté obrázky České (Rome, 1958) 11517.p.35.

Claudel subsequently served as consul in Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg, as ministre plénipotentiaire in Rio de Janeiro and Copenhagen, and as ambassador in Tokyo, Washington, D.C. and Brussels. Several of his works were published abroad, including his translation of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon (Fuzhou, 1896; YA.1986.a.1815) and the exquisite edition of his poem ‘Sainte Geneviève’, composed in Rio de Janeiro in July 1918 and issued in a limited edition with Japanese woodcuts executed in Tokyo from drawings by Claudel’s friend Audrey Parr.

Claudel Ste Genevieve tpTitle-page (above) and illustrated fold-out page (below) from Sainte Geneviève (Tokyo, 1923) Cup.410.c.170

Claudel Ste Genevieve Cup.410.c.170

Although initially influenced by Rimbaud and the Symbolists, Claudel struck out in a different direction, deeply imbued with his Catholic faith. Not surprisingly, the saints frequently figured in his work; for example, he provided the text for his friend Arthur Honegger’s oratorio Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher (s.l., [1935]; Music Collections I.1650), and also wrote a poem on St Thérèse of Lisieux, published in another limited edition with illustrations by Maurice Denis.

Claudel Ste Therese 11483.h.49 Opening of Sainte Thérèse ([Paris], 1916) 11483.h.49.

Among the treasures in the British Library’s Stefan Zweig Collection of Manuscripts  is a fair copy of Claudel’s play L’Annonce faite à Marie (1911), signed by the author and presented to Zweig in 1913. Like his other dramas, such as the Everyman-like Le Soulier de satin (Paris, 1929; 12516.v.27), set in the age of the Conquistadores, it explores the timeless themes of human responsibility, guilt and divine grace.

Claudel zweig_ms_139_f002v dedication

 Dedication to Zweig and opening of the prologue, from the manuscript of L’Annonce faite à Marie. Zweig MS 139. Ff.2v, 3r  (below)

Claudel zweig_ms_139_f003r

The careers of Camille and Paul Claudel appeared to diverge widely; while one plunged into an unconventional milieu and died in an asylum, the other was outwardly a pattern of respectability, representing his country abroad and forming part of the Catholic literary tradition continued by Mauriac and Gide. Yet both, equally controversially, pursued their chosen forms of art with a passion and intensity which sought to transcend the banalities of everyday life and infuse it, even at its humblest, with a spark of the divine, as may be glimpsed from a few lines of one of Paul Claudel’s poems in the metre that he devised:

Now winter has come in earnest, and St Nicholas trudges again
Through the firs; two sacks on his donkey, full of toys for the young of Lorraine.
There’s an end to mouldering autumn, and the snow is here with good reason;
There’s an end to the autumn and summer, and all the other seasons.
(O all that was still not finished, where this black soaked path, yesterday, went
Under the ragged birch in the mists, and the great oak with its strong scent!)
[…]
But in a white world there are only angels completely at ease;
There is not a living man in all of the diocese,
There is not a soul awake, not even a small boy breathing,
O mighty Bishop of Myra, at the hour of your coming at evening!

‘St. Nicolas’, from Corona benignitatis anni Dei (1915).
This translation © Susan Reynolds, 2011.

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

30 July 2018

Wuthering around the world: Emily Brontë in translation

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It is a cliché in the world of publishing that nobody loves a one-book author, but one which Emily Brontë  proved wrong with a defiance wholly in keeping with her character. When Maria, the wife of the Irish-born clergyman Patrick Brontë, gave birth to her fifth child and fourth daughter on 30 July 1818, she also unwittingly contributed to a legend which would put the Yorkshire moors well and truly on the map and send hordes of tourists scurrying to the bleak and remote village of Haworth.

200 years later, the flood shows no sign of abating. The short lives of Emily and her siblings Charlotte, Branwell and Anne continue to capture the imagination of readers throughout the world, and their writings are studied by scholars, dissected as set books in schools and colleges, and devoured by those captivated by the fortunes of Jane Eyre or the passions of Heathcliff and Cathy. Still others know the Brontës’ works through dramatizations, films or Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’; Emily Brontë’s novel of the same name, first published in 1847, would inspire operas by Bernard Hermann, Carlisle Floyd ([United States], 1958; 11792.bb.78) and, in French, by Thomas Stubbs to a libretto by Philippe Hériat (Paris, 1961; 11303.i.103), as well as a 1996 musical starring Cliff Richard as a somewhat unlikely Heathcliff.

Later novelists drew on them for fantasies such as Rachel Ferguson’s The Brontës went to Woolworths (Harmondsworth, 1940; 12208.a.1/245) and Jennifer Vandever’s The Brontë Project (London, 2006; H.2007/2870), while others wittily satirize the Brontë industry. In Milly Johnson’s White Wedding (London, 2012; H.2013/.5979) the sparky heroine Bel visits Haworth and is startled to discover Isabella’s Chilli Con Carne, Linton Trifle and Wuthering Heights Bakewell Tart on the menu in Cathy’s Café, while Charlie Rhymer, the narrator of Trisha Ashley’s Every Woman for Herself (Long Preston, 2002/2003; LT.2013.x.1215) and her siblings are the products of her eccentric father’s ‘breed your own Brontës’ project, designed to prove his theory that Branwell actually wrote his sisters’ works (it goes awry – his own Branwell turns out to be an expert on Amharic and Anne no meek governess but a feisty war correspondent).

Before any of this, however, the first medium by which Wuthering Heights conquered the hearts of readers worldwide was translation. The British Library holds a wide selection of versions in 13 languages, including Assamese and Burmese, Polish and Hungarian, testifying to the novel’s power to overcome the boundaries of space, language and culture. It shares this with the work of an author equally skilled in evoking the landscape of northern England on the other side of the Pennines – Beatrix Potter. Yet while the biggest hurdle facing Potter’s translators might be the unusual names invented for her characters, those attempting to tackle Emily Brontë’s novel are confronted with a major obstacle in the very first word on the title-page: how best to convey the eerie, haunting and very specifically Yorkshire nature of ‘wuthering’? Add to this the impenetrable dialect of the old servant Joseph, which many a native English speaker finds barely intelligible, and you have a challenge capable of reducing even the most skilful linguist to wails as despairing as those of Cathy’s ghost as she seeks to find a way back into her old home.

The names of the characters are less of a problem; they mostly remain as they are, with the only question being whether to leave Cathy and young Catherine, her daughter, with their original names or transform them into a Slavonic Katka and Kateřina Lintonová, as Květa Marysková does in her translation Na Větrné hůrce.

Wuthering Heights Czech tpAbove: title-page and frontispiece by Zdeněk Brdlík from Emily Bronteová, Na Větrné hůrce (Prague, 1960; YF.2012.a.25773). Below: a brooding Heathcliff by the same artist, pictured later in the book.

Wuthering Heights Czech YF.2012.a.25773

Marysková opts for a translation of the title which suggests the windswept nature of the landscape, something which is also conveyed by the stormy notes of the Russian Grozovoĭ pereval (Moscow, 1990; YA.1994.a.3286), the Italian Cime tempestuose (Milan, 1926; 012604.cc.1) and the Spanish Cumbres borrascosas (Barcelona, 1963; W23/2895).

None of these, though, achieves the splendid onomatopoeia of the French translation by Frédéric Delebecque, Les Hauts de Hurle-Vent (Paris, 1925; 012601.dd.23), although the ‘traduction nouvelle de Georges-Michel Bovay’ (Lausanne, 1944; YA.1994.a.8093) breaks off in a completely different direction with Les Hauteurs tourmentées – an allusion, perhaps, to the proud and stubborn spirits of Heathcliff and Cathy? This, however, proved too much for the more prosaic Dutch translator Elisabeth de Roos, who simply rendered the heights ‘desolate’ or ‘bleak’ (De Woeste Hoogte).

Wuthering Heights Dutch X.950-11265

Title-page (above) and vignette (below) from De Woeste Hoogte (Amsterdam, 1941; X.950/11265); wood engravings by Nico Builder. 

Wuthering Heights Dutch vignette

Fittingly, in view of the Brontës’ Irish ancestry, the British Library possesses a copy of a translation into Irish by Seán Ó Ciosáin which very sensibly interferes with the title as little as possible:

Wuthering Heights Irish 875.k.58 Seán Ó Ciosáin’s Irish translation of Wuthering Heights (Baile átha Cliath, 1933; 875.k.58.)

It may be that the exigencies of attempting to grapple with the title or render Joseph’s Yorkshire fulminations comprehensible in plain language (‘Honte sur vous! Asseyez-vous, méchants enfants!’) left translators with little energy for the flights of fancy inspired by another Brontë sister’s most famous creation  but with the British Library’s Translating Cultures study day on the French Caribbean coming up  it is worth noting that in her novel La Migration des coeurs (Paris, 1995; YA.1996.b.3850) Maryse Condé transposes the story of Heathcliff and Cathy (Razyé and Catherine Gagneur) to her native Guadeloupe. It bears the dedication: ‘À Emily Brontë qui, j’espère, agréera cette lecture de son chef-d’oeuvre. Honneur et respect!’ – a sentiment surely shared by Emily Brontë’s readers, translators and admirers throughout the world on her 200th birthday.

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

15 June 2018

From Sokol to Symbolism: the short life of Karel Hlaváček

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The tragic figure of the frail poet dying prematurely of consumption is one which haunts European literature from Keats to Jiří Wolker. Yet there can be few less likely candidates for this role than the Czech poet Karel Hlaváček. He was born into a solidly working-class family in Prague on 29 August 1874, the son of Josef Hlaváček and his wife Antonie. Bright and talented, the young Karel was educated at the high school in the Karlín district of Prague, where he became a keen member of the Sokol movement, founded in 1862 by Miroslav Tyrš and Jindřich Fügner. Ostensibly an organization aiming to promote physical fitness through gymnastics, this actually served as a cover for patriotic activities and provided a focus for national feeling among young Czechs under the oppressive regime of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Such was his enthusiasm that he was one of the founding members of a new branch of Sokol in his home district of Libeň and was chosen as its president.

Hlaváček’s parents could not afford to send him to university full-time, but he was able to attend lectures as an external student, and spent two years studying modern languages in this way. French held a particular attraction for him, and he soon became acquainted with the work of French Symbolist and Decadent writers including Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Verlaine and Mallarmé. At the same time his gifts as an artist were rapidly developing. His drawings and prints revealed his fascination with the morbid and demonic, including studies of devils, malevolent fauns and other supernatural beings. This made him a natural illustrator of works by authors who were in tune with the spirit of Decadence, including Arnošt Procházka, Otokar Březina, Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic and Stanisław Przybyszewski, as well as of his own poems. He had applied to the School of Applied Art (Uměleckoprůmyslova škola) in Prague, but predictably failed to gain admittance, and in fact never settled to any fixed occupation.

A fine physical specimen thanks to his Sokol training, Hlaváček was called up for his compulsory military service and despatched to serve in Trento in northern Italy in 1895. For the last two years he had been writing for the official Sokol magazine and in 1895 had acted as an organizer and publicist for the third pan-Sokol assembly in Prague. Although his departure for Trento interrupted this, it brought him into a new environment which confirmed his belief in the value of international contacts and active cooperation with writers of other nations on equal terms. It was also where he contracted the tuberculosis which was to kill him.

Hlaváček crystallized his ideas on this subject on an essay entitled ‘Nacionalism a internacionalism’, published in Moderní revue V (1896). He considered that Czech authors could only benefit from the spirit of internationalism, which would not dilute their Czech identity but would strengthen it. He had been contributing to this periodical (Prague, 1895-; P.P.4835.ub.) from its inception, and in doing so worked closely with some of the leading Czech literary figures of the fin-de-siècle, among them Antonín Sova, producing portraits and vignettes as well as illustrations.

His own first collection of verses, Sokolské sonety, came out in 1895, although he was later to repudiate it as his efforts to express Tyrš’s ideals in verse gave way to more daring experiments. Inspired by a collection of modern French poetry in translation published by Jaroslav Vrchlický (Prague, 1893; 1608/3839), he began to adapt the spirit of Symbolism and Decadence into Czech. In Pozdě k ránu (‘Late towards morning’; 1896), he created melancholy verses aiming to suggest the deep musical tones of the drum or viola, accompanied by his own illustrations in the spirit of Félicien Rops  and Edvard Munch.

Hlavacek Pozde k Ranu X.907-10067 Frontispiece from Pozdě k ránu (Prague, 1896) X.907/10067

The book subsequently inspired illustrations by other artists, including a series of lithographs by Karel Štik for a limited edition published to mark the 50th anniversary of Hlaváček’s death. The British Library’s copy, signed by the artist, includes a powerful portrait of the poet himself.

Hlavacek Pozde k Ranu LR.410.k.18 frontis Portrait of Hlaváček by Karel Štik from Pozdě k ránu (Prague,1948) L.R. 410.k.18.

In 1898, the year of his death, Hlaváček published one of his most famous works, Mstivá kantiléna (‘Vindictive cantilena’), widely regarded as the most significant verse work of Czech Decadent literature. Though comparatively short, it encompasses a wide range of European cultural references, including the Abbé Prevost’s Manon Lescaut and the Dutch Anabaptist rebels known as the Geuzen or Gueux, conjuring up a synaesthetic world of failed rebellion, bells which cannot ring, and legends of ‘the sin of the yellow roses’, ‘the moon which went blind through long weeping’ and ‘the beautiful dolphin’. Like his earlier poem ‘Upír’ which portrays an aristocratic vampire flitting through Prague and sorrowing as he plunges down on his pure victims, it captures the resonances of Decadence in a uniquely Czech fashion by exploiting the rhythms and resonances of the language.

Hlavacek Mstiva Kantilena X989-8471Frontispiece to Mstivá kantilena (V Praze, 1916) X.989/8471; a copperplate engraving by the author.

In that same year Hlaváček’s condition worsened and he died on 15 June 1898, just two months short of his 24th birthday. His contribution to Czech literature far exceeds the modest compass of his published work in the inspiration which it gave to those who would go on to build up links between the rest of Europe, especially France, and a country which just 20 years later would achieve not only cultural but national independence.

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

 

23 May 2018

Do not lean out of the window – especially in Prague

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One of the phrases that eager young travellers embarking on an Interrail adventure speedily acquire is the injunction found on most European trains to avoid the perils of hanging out of the window – è pericoloso sporgersi and the like. As they cross the border into the Czech Republic they will see the warning Nenahýbejte se z oken – i.e. ‘do not lean out of windows’. To those familiar with the history of the area, this might well seem to be a particularly timely admonition.

In recent times there were at least two instances of notable Czech figures who met their end in this way: in February 1997 the author Bohumil Hrabal died after falling from a window on the fifth floor of Prague’s Bulovka Hospital, attempting to feed pigeons. More sinister was the death of the politician and diplomat Jan Masaryk, who on 10 March 1948 was found dead, dressed only in his pyjamas, in the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry in Prague. Although the initial investigation by the Ministry of the Interior stated that he had committed suicide by jumping out of the window, a second investigation, carried out in 1968 during the Prague Spring, ruled that it was an accident, while a third, held in the early 1990s after the Velvet Revolution, concluded that he had been murdered by the emerging Communist authorities.

These were only two examples of a tradition that had long been endemic to the Bohemian capital. Today marks the 400th anniversary of the dramatic events of 23rd May 1618 which launched the Thirty Years War. However, it was not the first time that something similar had happened there; the so-called First Defenestration of Prague had occurred in July 1419, when an angry crowd of Czech Hussites stormed the New Town Hall (Novoměstská radnice) on Charles Square and defenestrated the judge, the burgomaster, and several members of the town council, who were all killed by the fall. This demonstration of growing discontent at the inequality between the peasantry, the Church and the nobility led to the outbreak of the Hussite Wars, which lasted until 1436.

Defenstration Bohemia Maps K.Top.89.14. Map of Bohemia with costumes worn by royalty, nobility, merchants and peasants by Pieter van den Keere, from Bohemia in suas partes geographicē distincta (Amsterdam, 1620) Maps K.Top.89.14.

Almost 200 years later the scene was replayed in the imperial chancellery in Prague Castle, though this time with less immediately fatal consequences. For some time previously tensions had been growing between the Protestant nobles and the Catholic supporters of the Holy Roman Emperor. Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia (1576–1612), had increased Protestant rights, but as he became more and more eccentric and reclusive he was regarded as unfit to govern, and his younger brother, Matthias, was declared the head of the Habsburg family in 1606. In 1609 Rudolf ’s Letter of Majesty, which granted Bohemia's largely Protestant nobles the right to exercise their religion, essentially established a Protestant Bohemian state church controlled by the Estates, ‘...dominated by the towns and rural nobility.’

Defenstration RB.23.a.28233 Title page of Evangelische Erklärung auff die Böhaimische Apologia (1618; RB.23.a.28233), containing the text of the Letter of Majesty.

Matthias succeeded to the throne of Bohemia in 1612 and on the advice of his chancellor, Bishop Melchior Klesl, extended his offer of legal and religious concessions to Bohemia. As he was childless, he appointed his cousin Ferdinand of Styria his heir and had him elected king in 1617. Ferdinand, a staunch supporter of the Counter-Reformation, was less tolerant, and in 1618 he forced the Emperor to order the closure of two Protestant chapels on royal lands in the towns of Broumov and Hrob. A meeting was called in Prague to attempt to resolve the dispute, but the protest against the closing of the churches was rejected, and as the argument grew more and more heated the Protestant nobles, incited by Count Jindřich Matyáš Thurn-Valsassina, the deposed Castellan of Karlstadt, threw the Imperial governors Jaroslav Martinic and Vilém Slavata, as well as their secretary Philip Fabricius, out of a window on the third floor of the Castle.

The Catholics hailed the fact that all three survived 70-foot (21-metre) fall without major injuries as a sign that they were protected by the Virgin Mary; the more prosaic Protestants, however, noted that they had landed on the castle midden which had broken their fall. However, the incident exacerbated the tensions between Protestants and Catholics throughout the entire Holy Roman Empire, culminating in the election of Ferdinand II as Emperor in 1619, and inflamed a conflict which left lasting scars across the whole of Europe. Its effects extended even to England, as James I’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband Frederick, the Elector Palatine, who had briefly ruled as the ‘Winter King and Queen’ of Bohemia, had to make a precipitate escape from Prague after the Battle of the White Mountain in November 1620 where the Imperial troops finally crushed the cause of the Protestant nobles.

Defenestration Theatrum Europeaum 800.m.3-5 The Second Defenestration of Prague, from Johann Philipp Abelin and Matthias Merian, Theatrum Europæum (Frankfurt, 1643) 800.m.3-5.

The effects of the Second Defenestration of Prague may not have proved fatal to its victims, but were nearly so for the culture and language of Bohemia. With increasingly rigid suppression of the Protestant cause and the Czech language, the area sank into the period simply known in Czech as doba temná - the Dark Age. German was imposed as the language of public life and Latin was used in the universities, leaving the clergy as the only educated speakers of Czech as they needed it to minister to their parishioners; it was not until the National Revival in the late 18th century that it once more gained ground as a medium for literature and scholarship. It would go on not only to survive but to flourish, proving that whatever was thrown out of the window that day in 1618, it was not the spirit and identity of the Czech people.

Susan Halstead Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

21 May 2018

European Literature Night at the British Library: identity and translation

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The arrival of the month of May can only mean one thing: European Literature Night!

EUNIC  and the European Writers’ Tour, with additional support from the Czech Centre and Flanders House, organised this year’s event on May 10th. As always the British Library hosted the event whereby authors from continental Europe showcased their work translated into English. They  read passages from their books in English and their own language. The readings were followed by a panel discussion with a Q&A session. Afterwards the audience was invited to buy the guest authors’ books and have them signed.

So far, so traditional. However, this year saw some radical changes. There were three authors instead of six or eight, which did the authors more justice. It made the panel discussion possible, which wasn’t there in previous years. A smaller group of authors also made the event more intimate, and this was emphasised by the new location: not the big auditorium in the Knowledge Centre, but a cosy tent in front of it, on the Piazza.

ELN2018PanelfromEUNICTwitterDc6EPL1WsAICyxR
 Panel discussion at European Literature Night, Thursday 10 May 2018 at the British Library. From left to right: Peter Terrin, Sylva Fischerová, Meike Ziervogel, Scott Pack. Taken from EUNIC Twitter feed.

We had a new host: Scott Pack, who replaced the host for many years Rosie Goldsmith. She was still there, but rather enjoying the event, with a nice glass of wine. The theme of the evening was ‘Identity’. The choice of authors obviously reflected this. All three authors share a ‘multifaceted’ identity. Poet/philosopher Sylva Fischerova was born in what used to be Czechoslovakia and is now the Czech Republic. Nothing fundamental changed, life went on. People tell each other the story of the old woman who was born in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, grew up in Germany, lived in the Soviet Union and died in Ukraine, never moving away from her home town. Borders don’t determine one’s identity.

Maybe language plays a more important part in ‘identity’ than geographical borders.
Sylva objected to having her poetry translated into English. When her good friend Stuart Friebert offered to translate her poetry she dismissed it out of hand as being ‘impossible’, but eventually he persuaded her to give it a go. He then not only translated her poetry, but also commented on the poems themselves, sometimes resulting in changes to them. Sylva now thinks the translation is even better than the original Czech version. I can’t judge, because I don’t speak Czech, but I enjoyed Sylva’s readings from The Swing in the Middle of Chaos (YC.2011.a.678)

ELN2018booksSF
Three books by Sylva Fischerová: Bizom, aneb, Služba a mise. (Brno, 2016). YF.2017a24377; The Tremor of Race Horses, transl. by Jarmila & Ian Milner. (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1990). YC.1990.a.10283; The Swing in the middle of Chaos, transl by Stuart Friebert. (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2010). YC.2011.a.678

Next up was Peter Terrin. He read from his 2015 novel Monte Carlo. The story throws up many questions about ‘identity’, such as where the protagonist belongs: in his English village, where he earns a living, repairing cars or on the Formula 1 circuits, as one of the top mechanics?

Peter Terrin sees himself as a ‘European’, rather than as a Belgian, or Fleming. ‘Identity’ is big in Belgium and language plays a major part in this, Terrin doesn’t ‘do’ borders. He speaks Flemish, English, probably French too and writes in Dutch (Flemish is very seldom used in writing). He lives in Belgium and publishes in the Netherlands.

‘This is really good,’ Peter thought, reading David Doherty’s translation of Monte Carlo. It felt almost like a new work. In a certain sense translations are new works. Translators never merely translate word by word; there is a big creative effort involved in translating any text. Still, the question remains what made him think like that. Maybe a foreign language creates the distance required to see one’s own work in a different light.

ELN2018PT MonteCarloMonte Carlo, Peter Terrin.(Amsterdam, 2015).YF.2016.a. 19205 and Monte Carlo, Peter Terrin, David Doherty. (London, 2017) DRT ELD.DS.163792.

German novelist and publisher Meike Ziervogel certainly seems to think so. She moved from Germany to the UK thirty years ago and writes solely in English. She calls herself a ‘translingual’ writer. She noticed that when writing in German she was hiding her emotions behind complicated words and constructions. At the time her ‘beginner’s’ level of English forced her to write in simpler, more direct language, which did bring out her true emotions. After thirty years English has become a native language to her and I could not help wondering if she ever feels like writing in German, doing the reverse of what she did thirty years ago, to force herself to identify her true emotions.

ELN2018MeikeZ Magda Magda, Meike Ziervogel. (Cromer, 2013). H.2015/.5439

Ziervogel is now on her fourth novel, The Photographer, about her own grandfather living through the Second World War.

ELN2018MeikeZThePhcover
 The Photographer by Meike Ziervogel. (London, 2017). DRT ELD.DS.206566 

I look forward to reading the various books that were discussed this evening, including Ziervogel’s Magda, her debut, about the wife of Joseph Goebbels. I hope I’ll finish them all before next year’s European Literature Night!


Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

 

06 April 2018

Singing in the rain with Vítězslav Nezval

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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.

12 October 2017

Righteous Gentile and honorary Irishman: Zdeněk Urbánek

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When Václav Havel, playwright and future president of the Czech Republic, was imprisoned in the 1970s, he came across a novel entitled The Road to Don Quixote (Cestou za Quijote; 1949), freely based on Cervantes’s experiences in an Algerian prison. As he read it, admiring the prophetically modern quality of the book and the author’s imaginative grasp of what it felt like to be a prisoner, he realised that he had actually met the author. At that time, when he was a young man in his early twenties attempting to break into the world of Czech literature and drama, the older man – a writer of short stories and essays, and a translator of Shakespeare and Joyce – inspired his respect, but little more. It was not until later, as they worked together as friends and co-signatories of Charter 77, that Havel came to appreciate the true qualities of Zdeněk Urbánek.

F_urbanek_zdenek_1917_0001

 Portrait of Zdeněk Urbánek (Image from The Archive of Fine Arts, Creative Commons non-commercial use-Share-Alike 3.0)

Urbánek was born on 12 October 1917 in Prague. After graduating he became an editor, first at the publishing house Evropský literární klub and in 1945 of the periodical Svobodné slovo, before working in the Ministry of Information and the Czechoslovak state film company as a script reviewer. In 1957, however, he contracted tuberculosis and left full-time employment to devote himself to translation. He had a special affinity with Irish literature, describing himself as an ‘honorary Irishman’; his translation of James Joyce’s Dubliners (Dubliňané; Prague, 1959; 011313.kk.22) testifies to this.

Among the many British and American authors whom he translated were T. S. Eliot, Eugene O’Neill, Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Dickens, but his crowning achievement was his translation of seven of Shakespeare’s plays; the British Library holds a three-volume edition of these containing Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, Richard III, Julius Caesar, Hamlet and all three parts of Henry IV (Brno, 1992-95; YA.2002.a.740). Of these, Hamlet retained a place in the repertoire of the National Theatre in Prague from 1959 to 1965.

Urbanek Romeo and Juliet

Frontispiece and tittle-page from Romeo a Julie (Prague, 1964; 11760.a.6),translated by Urbánek, illustrated by Ota Janeček.

The British Library is also privileged to own a copy of Urbánek’s earliest published work, a collection of short stories entitled Jitřenka smutku (‘Mourning star’), which bears a dedication in the author’s own hand.

Urbanek Jitrenka smutku inscription

 Manuscript dedication on the flyleaf of Jitřenka smutku (Prague, 1939; X.909/81940).

At the same time as he was embarking on his literary career and establishing himself in publishing, Urbánek was also becoming active in a very different sphere. Since the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia the previous year he had been living in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and the growing persecution of the Jews was brought home to him in a particularly forceful way when his friend Jiří Ohrenstein, a Jewish poet who wrote under the name of Jiří Orten, was knocked down by a German ambulance in 1941 and died after being denied hospital treatment on racial grounds. Urbánek could not save him, but he could at least preserve his work and his literary reputation, and wrote an introductory essay for a collection of his writings, Eta, Eta, žlutí ptáci (‘Eta, Eta, yellow birds’ ; Liberec, 1966; X.909/8664). On a more practical level, Urbánek and his wife Věra provided temporary shelter in their two-room apartment for several Jewish fugitives on their way to safer refuges, and also offered a collection-point for food parcels being sent to others who had already been dispatched to Terezín. In recognition of his efforts, Urbánek was subsequently designated as a ‘Righteous Gentile’ by the State of Israel.

Urbanek Jitrenka smutku cover

  Cover of Jitřenka smutku.

Urbánek never hesitated to put his personal safety at risk in the service of both humanitarian and literary causes. He was frequently subjected to police questioning, and even his work as a translator exposed him to danger through his choices of authors and the ideas which they expressed, leading him to publish them anonymously or under borrowed names. From 1972 onwards he contributed to various samizdat and exile literary publications, as after 1968 he had been placed on the list of banned writers.

In one of his short stories, ‘The Visit’, translated by William Harkins in On the Sky’s Clayey Bottom: Sketches and Happenings from the Years of Silence (New York, 1992; YA.1993.a.20757), he describes a visit from a State Security representative hoping to recruit Urbánek’s wife to spy on a guest coming to stay with their neighbours. When it turns out to be a mistake (the man was looking for a Party member with a similar name living two floors down), the unwelcome caller departs, grumbling; ‘We’re already loaded down with work and they send me another two floors up. Goodbye then. And keep quiet or you’ll get it.’ In just three short pages Urbánek pithily and trenchantly captures the atmosphere of claustrophobia and distrust which prevailed immediately before the end of communism in Czechoslovakia (the story was first published in May 1992, only months before the ‘Velvet Divorce’ which divided the Czech Republic from Slovakia). He himself had made a significant contribution to the downfall of the old regime through his work with the human rights declaration Charter 77, signed by many leading cultural figures who were punished by imprisonment or dismissal from their posts; Urbánek was forbidden to leave Czechoslovakia after returning in 1969 from a six-month stay at All Souls College, Oxford, and did not do so again until October 1989, when he was finally able to visit the USA as a guest of the Charter 77 Foundation.

Despite the fact that Urbánek was 90 when he died in 2008, Havel declared that he had died before his time. ‘Without him,’ he stated, ‘I can hardly form an adequate conception of what Czech fiction, Czech essay writing, or Czech translation today have to tell us’.

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

 

11 September 2017

International Collaboration: a Dutch Polymath and a Czech Printer in 17th-Century Rome

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We do not often realise just how much collaboration took place between foreigners working abroad rather than in their native countries in 17th-century Europe. One interesting example of such a collaboration is that between a Dutchman, Cornelius Meyer, and a Czech printer, Jan Jakub (or Giovanni Giacomo) Komárek, who worked and collaborated in Rome, a veritable hive of intellectual activity at that time.

Meyer Arte de restituire tp
Title-page of Meyer’s L’arte di restituire a Roma la tralasciata navigatione del suo Tevere (Rome, 1685), 49.h.10 (1).

Little is known of Cornelius Meyer except that he was born in Holland in 1629, was generally accepted to be a polymath and trained as an architect, civil engineer and an engraver. He moved to Rome, one of the most vibrant and active capitals in Europe, in the 1680s and died there in 1701. He is principally remembered for his studies on technology, particularly his masterminding improvements to the navigability of the River Tiber in his L’arte di restituire a Roma la tralasciata navigatione del suo Tevere.

Meyer Nuovi ritrovamenti Dragon
Title-page of Meyer’s Nuovi ritrovamenti, divisi in due parti (Rome, 1689-96) 49.h.10 (2), showing the alleged dragon seen near the Tiber

He is also remembered for his description and detailed account of the sighting of a dragon ‘nelle paludi fuori di Roma’, in December 1691. Despite his detailed and beautiful engravings of the beast’s skeletal remains, Meyer’s account of the dragon was an elaborate hoax not unlike ‘Piltdown man’ but was so skilfully produced and illustrated that he duped many learned men and scientific experts.

Meyer Occhiali
Engraving of three wearers of different kinds of spectacles, from Nuovi ritrovamenti

Meyer’s engraving of spectacles and their wearers for his work on various technologies, Nuovi ritrovamenti, divisi in due parti, printed by Komarek on behalf of the Accademia Fisico-matematica, one of the most important scientific academies in Rome, is extremely finely detailed, recalling similar images by Holbein. It imparts a very human perspective on what could have been a dryish discussion of the important science of optics, which had made very considerable advances since Galileo first used the telescope to study the heavens systematically. Moreover, by depicting the wearers of the spectacles in fine detail, two with fulsome beards, all three wearing caps or bonnets, and two wearing beautifully detailed ruffs, thereby modelling their visual aids, Meyer imparts a sense of scale and proportion to his illustration and is able to show the size of the pince-nez spectacles and their respective lenses he has designed (one set of which is even tinted) to their best advantage and how well they would look and fit on the noses of prospective clients.

Meyer Nuovi Ritrovamenti 1689
Title-page of the 1689 volume of Nuovi ritrovamenti, with Komarek’s imprint ‘all’Angelo custode’.

Despite the Italianization of his forenames to Giovanni Giacomo, the printer Jan Jakub Komárek was born in Hradec Králové, in Bohemia, in 1648. He moved to Rome between 1669 and 1672 and was originally employed as a technician in the papal print works of the Congregazione della Propaganda della Fede, founded in 1622. He set up his own printing press at ‘all’Angelo custode’ and later, ‘alla fontana di Trevi’ and was active until 1700, publishing several liturgical works by Giovanni Giustino Ciampini, Andrea Pozzo’s celebrated Prospettiva, and works for the Accademia of the Collegio Clementino. The work is an excellent example of very effective networking and of the creation of considerable synergy between author and publisher and of truly international co-operation: a Dutchman having his work printed by a Czech printer in Italy.

This co-operation is also a very timely reminder of the very great debt that the whole continent of Europe, and Italy in particular, owes to Germany. It was a German, Johannes Gutenberg, who invented printing with moveable type in the 1450s, something which played such an important role in disseminating new texts and ideas, and created an ever-increasing demand for the printed word. But we should also not forget the debt owed by Italy to German printers and engravers, from Albrecht Dürer to Lucas Cranach. From the first introduction of printing to Italy in 1465 by Konrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz, who worked in partnership at Subiaco, printing was firmly established in Italy by German printers.

Denis Reidy, former Curator Italian and Modern Greek Collections