THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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106 posts categorized "Publishing and printing"

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

 

16 July 2018

Antoine Vérard’s early printed books in the British Library

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The library of the English King Henry VII contained about 40 copies of editions produced by the Parisian publisher and bookseller Antoine Vérard, most of them on vellum and illuminated, although only a minority of those contain marks of provenance such as textual modifications, the heraldic arms of England, the HR monogram, or numbers from the later inventories of the Royal Library made at Richmond Castle or Westminster Palace in 1535 and 1542. At the time, these copies on vellum were bound in red, blue or black velvet, and though most of the original bindings have disappeared, the later British Museum bindings have replicated this feature.

Fig 1 C.22.d.1
Prologue to Vincent de Beauvais, Miroir Historial, tr. Jean de Vignay (Paris: A. Vérard, 1495-96) C.22.d.1.

In 1492, Henry VII appointed Quentin Poulet, a scribe and illuminator from Lille, as official librarian, keeper of the newly founded Royal Library. Poulet’s ornate signature features at the end of the paper copy of the 1499 edition of the prose version by Jean Gallopes of Guillaume de Diguleville’s Pelerinage de l’ame (IB.41186).

Fig 2 IB.41186
Last leaf of Pelerinage de l’ame with Poulet’s signature

Illuminated copies of Vérard’s editions printed on vellum were produced for individuals such as Charles VIII of France, his most important patron, as well as other members of the French royal family and aristocracy: Charles d’Angoulème, Louise de Savoie, etc. In a few cases, the name ‘Charles VIII’, ‘roy de France’, which features in many prologues of Vérard’s editions, has been manually replaced by ‘Henry VII’, ‘roy d'Engleterre’ in the copy made for him, as in the opening of the 1494 vellum copy of the French version of Boethius’ De Consolatione philosophiae.

Fig 3 C.22.f.8
Prologue in the British Library vellum copy of De Consolatione philosophiae (Paris, 1494) C.22.f.8

Vérard also produced a few editions for the British market, such as an English translation of a book first published in French in 1492, The book intitulyd the art of good lyvyng and good deyng (1503; C.70.g.14.) and a Book of Hours for the use of Salisbury (Horae ad usum Sarum, c. 1505), whose profuse illustration in quarto format needed an impressive amount and assemblage of woodcuts. The British Library copy (C.35.e.4) bears traces of the Reformation (several images of saints have been crossed out) but has ironically been rebound with paper waste made of several leaves of the Protestant Book of Common Prayer. Although Vérard almost only used woodcuts to illustrate his editions, he occasionally combined them with metalcuts, as demonstrated by the different types of damage to the blocks visible in these images. While woodcuts tend to crack, metalcuts bend and are distorted (probably through human manipulation rather than the pressure of the press).

Fig 4 damage
Examples of woodcut (blue) / metalcut (red) damage from Horae ad usum Sarum, C.35.e.4, f. e1

Vérard’s printed books are well known for the importance of their illustrations but also for the widespread reuse of woodcuts, which was facilitated by the use of generic scenes. It can create meaningful associations, or lead to discrepancies between texts and images. Vérard did not always produce illuminated editions on vellum with a particular patron in mind (he probably had some ready to be purchased in his Paris bookshop), but when he travelled to England himself in 1502, he probably offered some to the English king in person: there is a record for a payment made to ‘Anthony Verard’ for a paper copy of the Jardin de santé. In this encyclopaedic text (a French translation of the Hortus Sanitatis) published between 1499 and 1502, while the familiar strawberries are accurately depicted, the woodcut used for the peach tree is more generic and reused for all kinds of exotic trees bearing fruits (C.22.f.9).

Fig 5 C.22.f.9
‘De fragaria/freizier’ , the strawberry plant (part 1, r1v) and ‘De Cozula’, the peach tree (part 1, n2) from Jardin de santé (C.22.f.9)

Vérard worked with many artists and engravers. Among them, the styles of Jean d’Ypres and Guérard Louf are very representative of the Parisian aesthetics of that time. Apart from designs for woodcuts and metalcuts, the workshop of Jean d’Ypres produced illuminated manuscripts and tapestry and stained glass designs. Guérard Louf and his collaborators, who also produced illuminated manuscripts, were inspired by northern French and Flemish painters. This group of artists was responsible for more than half of the 2000 woodcuts and metalcuts used in Vérard’s editions. Woodcuts could be modified in order to fit better the text they accompanied. Vérard’s edition of the Bataille judaïque by Flavius Josephus, printed after December 1492, contains a woodcut showing Bishop Ananus leading his troops. The bishop’s mitre was erased and replaced with a crown, to represent King Gontran meeting his nephew, in the 1493 edition of the Chroniques de France. This crown was then transformed back into a hat around 1502, so that the main character could be recognized as the Duke of Burgundy organising a meeting in Vérard’s first edition of Enguerrand de Monstrelet’s Chroniques.

Fig 6 modifications
Alterations to woodcuts (BnF, Rés. H 10, f. a8v; BnF, Rés. FOL L35 7 (1), f. h4v; BnF, Rés. Fol. LA14-1 (1), f. x3v)

For his copies on vellum, Vérard employed artists such as the Master of Jacques de Besançon (recently identified as François, the son of Maître François / François le Barbier), the Master of Robert de Gaguin or the Master of Philippe de Gueldre, who best known for their manuscript illuminations while their contribution to the illustration of books printed on vellum has often been neglected. Many of the illuminations in Vérard’s vellum copies still lack artistic attributions. The practice of collaborative work, the homogeneity of style, and the commonplace use of illustration templates within Vérard’s workshop all accentuate the difficulty in identifying the artists involved.

Fig 7 C.22.d.6 8 and IC.41248
Copies of Enguerrand de Monstrelet, Chroniques on paper (IC.41248; left) and vellum (C.22.d.6,8; right)

The use of illumination brought different degrees of modification to the illustrations produced for the paper copies: in some cases, the woodcut is printed and hand-coloured, in others, the design is modified by the illuminator, or a completely new scene is produced, whether the underlying woodcut is printed or not (as in the frontispiece of the vellum copy of Vérard’s 1498 Merlin). In longer narrative works like romances or chronicles, vellum copies include extra illuminations located in the spaces used for chapter headings in the paper copies. This is not systematic but greatly increases the number of illustrations and can lead to a new (though often stereotyped) iconography. The nature and location of the illustrations varies from one vellum copy to the other, as in the two illuminated British Library copies of the  Monstrelet’s Chroniques published between 1501 and 1503. While the execution of Jehan Coustain, Philip of Burgundy’s Master of the Wardrobe, accused in 1462 of plotting to poison the Count of Charolais, is dramatically depicted at the bottom of folio 222 in IC.41248 (the image uses the space of the lower margin, and the chapter heading has been copied by hand on the right), it has not been illustrated in the royal copy, C.22.d.8.

Louis-Gabriel Bonicoli (NY State University, Albany)
Irène Fabry-Tehranchi (Romance collections, British Library)

This blog was written in relation with a workshop on Antoine Vérard’s French early printed books held on 28 June 2018 at the British Library, in collaboration with the Early Modern Book Project. It was organised by Louis-Gabriel Bonicoli (NY State University at Albany), Irène Fabry-Tehranchi (BL) and Karen Limper-Herz (BL), and received the support of the Friends of the British Library.

References/Further Reading:

Guy Bechtel, Catalogue des gothiques français. 1476-1560 (Paris, 2008). RAR 094.20944

T. A. Birrell, English Monarchs and Their Books: From Henry VII to Charles II (London, 1987) 2719.e.1586

Louis-Gabriel Bonicoli, La production du libraire-éditeur parisien Antoine Vérard (1485-1512): nature, fonctions et circulation des images dans les premiers livres imprimés illustrés (unpublished), 3 vol., 2015.

James P. Carley, The Books of King Henry VIII and His Wives (London, 2004) YC.2005.a.7799

P. R. Harris, A History of the British Museum Library, 1753-1973 (London, 1998) 2719.k.2164

Libraries within the Library: The Origins of the British Library’s Printed Collections. Edited by Giles Mandelbrote and Barry Taylor (London, 2009) YC.2010.a.1356

The Library of the British Museum: Retrospective Essays on the Department of Printed Books, Edited by P. R. Harris (London, 1991) YC.1992.b.1600

John Macfarlane, Antoine Vérard (London, 1900) Ac.9670/2.

Ina Nettekoven, Der Meister der Apokalypsenrose der Sainte Chapelle und die Pariser Buchkunst um 1500 (Turnhout, 2004) YF.2005.b.1304

Myra Orth, Renaissance Manuscripts: the Sixteenth Century (London, 2015) LC.31.b.15376 & LC.31.b.15377

Short-title catalogue of books printed in France and of French books printed in other countries from 1470 to 1600 in the British Library (London, 1983). Supplement, 1986.

Mary Beth Winn, Anthoine Vérard: Parisian Publisher 1485-1512 (Geneva, 1997) WP.A.31/313

Caroline Zöhl, Jean Pichore: Buchmaler, Graphiker und Verleger in Paris um 1500 (Turnhout, 2004) YF.2006.b.341

BnF, Base des éditions parisiennes du 16ème siècle, BP16

Incunabula Short Title Catalogue, ISTC 

25 June 2018

Proto-internet trolls’: Johann Friedrich Struensee and freedom of expression in 18th century Denmark

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Ever-present in the cultural imagination of Danish history, the story of Johann Friedrich Struensee — beyond the soap-opera of his rise to power — was a turning point in the history of publishing. The legacy of this Danish episode has been invigorated by the likes of Per Olov Enquist, in his 1999 novel Livläkarens Besök (The Visit of the Royal Physician), and Mads Mikkelsen, who portrayed the once de facto ruler in Nikolaj Arcel’s 2012 film En kongelig affære (A Royal Affair).

Engraving - before and in jailEngravings showing Struensee in charge and then in prison, from a collection of broadsides on Struensee and his downfall. (1881.b.46)

Struensee had accompanied King Christian VII as royal physician on a foreign tour in 1768 and had gained the trust of a regent prone to serious psychiatric episodes. Soon, not only had the doctor risen to become the King’s most trusted advisor in the Danish court, he had also become Queen Caroline Matilda’s lover – which fast became common knowledge. With the ear of the King, Struensee first appointed himself to the Privy Council before dismantling it in favour of a Cabinet in his control, supported by his ally Enevold Brandt. The increasing incapacity of the King gave Struensee the authority to pursue an Enlightenment agenda, which he did by issuing nearly 2000 decrees in his 16 months in power. This ground-breaking transformation in politics ruptured the link between King and people, and in its place offered the liberalizing but authoritarian rule of a non-Danish-speaking upstart. No matter how forward-thinking the legislation, Struensee would always be a German usurper, who had corrupted the royal court.

The very first of Struensee’s reforms was to declare the freedom of the press on 14 September 1770. Immediately, this freedom led to the creation of many new periodicals and newspapers, while also encouraging provincial printing beyond Copenhagen. 1771 saw pamphlets shift ‘in character from a debate on socio-political issues to direct criticism of those in power’ and often ‘the criticisms took the form of lampoons on the themes of sex and power’ (Horstbøll). Struensee took the brunt and so his introduction of the freedom of the press resulted in the use of the press against him.

Struensee's grave

A defaced memorial for Struensee but a memorial all the same, which might go some way to depicting his divided legacy.

As Jesper Mølby puts it in Robert Ferguson’s Scandinavians:

In some ways the most depressing part of it all is that Struensee gave people freedom of expression, and for the most part all anyone did with it was compose endless vulgar and offensive verses directed at Struensee himself and his affair with Caroline. In his bright and visionary Denmark people had been set free to express exactly what they felt and thought, to educate one another, criticize one another constructively, to fearlessly challenge the high and mighty. What he got instead was a society of proto-internet trolls. Shit. Piss. Fart. Willy. The king’s a nutcase. (Ferguson, pp. 153-154)

On 17 January 1772, Struensee and Brandt were arrested for usurping royal authority – the birth of Struensee’s and Caroline Matilda’s daughter, Louise Augusta, couldn’t have helped his case. In the three months during his imprisonment, illustrated broadsheets quickly distributed the popular criticism and hatred of the Counts Struensee and Brandt. The British Library has a collection of these broadsides, along with some leaflets and smaller single-sheet engravings.

Struensee's power grabThe Almighty steps in to reclaim Denmark from the power-grabbing Struensee and Brandt.

Eventually charged and sentenced to execution on 28 April 1772, Struensee and Brandt had their right hands cut off, then their heads and even genitals, before being drawn and quartered, each body part displayed for the audience, as is shown in the broadsheet below. Horstbøll confirms that the ‘theatrical execution of the count and the exhibition of his corpse’ was ‘the greatest sales success of all’ for its printer, Johan Rudolph Thiele, whose woodblocks were copied by many others.

Struensee's execution‘An accurate view of the execution of the Counts Struensee and Brandt’. The fourth quarter of Struensee’s body is being carried up to its display wheel.

Many of Struensee’s decrees were reversed following his execution and post-publication censorship returned on 20 October 1773. However, the floods of empowered publishers and voices could not be held back. A new publishing energy had been unleashed and the landscape was unalterably changed. As Henrik Horstbøll writes, ‘The period of the unlimited freedom of the press broke the bonds linking printed media to the institutions of the state and a new print culture arose in relation to the traditional literary market, which could not be reversed once freedom of the press became limited again.’

Struensee’s legacy remains therefore divided, as Michael Brengsbo suggests, between those who view him as ‘a cynic usurper, seducer, and fortune hunter’ those who remember ‘a tragic hero who really tried to enlighten the people and improve their lot […]’.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further Reading

Per Olov Enquist, Livläkarens besök  (Stockholm, 1999) YA.2001.a.7907 (English translation by Tiina Nunally, The Visit of the Royal Physician (London, 2002) Nov.2002/1089)

Michael Brengsbo, ‘Struensee and the Political Culture of Absolutism’ and Henrik Horstbøll, ‘The Politics of Publishing: Freedom of the Press in Denmark, 1770-1773, in Scandinavia in the Age of Revolution: Nordic Political Cultures, 1740-1820 (Farnham; Burlington, 2011) YC.2011.a.12626

Robert Ferguson, Scandinavians: In Search of the Soul of the North (London, 2016) YC.2017.a.13228

08 June 2018

The Zagreb magazine ‘Nova Evropa’

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The magazine Nova Evropa (New Europe) was published in Zagreb from 1920 until 1941. Initially it was a weekly periodical, then for 10 years Nova Evropa was issued as a 10-day and bimonthly magazine, and from 1930 as a monthly publication. The founder and editor of Nova Evropa over the whole period was Milan Ćurčin

Exceptionally and almost uniquely in interwar Yugoslavia, Nova Evropa was printed in the two scripts of the Serbo-Croatian language, Roman and Cyrillic. Contributions were either published in the original script or were transliterated into the other at the editor’s discretion, regardless of the contributor’s manuscript, nationality or background. This was done not only for commercial reasons but also with the aim of bringing together different literatures in the newly-created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed Yugoslavia).

I Mestrovicev Hrist

Christ (detail) by Ivan Meštrović. Nova Evropa, 23 December 1920. P.P.4839.fid.

The Yugoslav Nova Evropa was modelled on a British political and current affairs journal, Robert William Seton-Watson’s weekly review The New Europe (1916-20; P.P.3611.abk.). Ćurčin was equally inspired by Seton-Watson’s engaged, informed and critical journalism as by the British press and journalism in general, whose traditions and values he adopted while working in London during the First World War. The liberal, open and progressive political journalism that Nova Evropa had as its high ideal was subsequently promoted in a multicultural society whose traditions, however, were different to British ones.

Like its London predecessor, the Zagreb Nova Evropa advocated the revival of a new Europe in accordance with the League of Nations’ proposals for international cooperation and collective security; reduction of armaments and open diplomacy; an international court and economic, social and cultural cooperation between nations. Nova Evropa was against isolation and provincialism in Yugoslavia and argued for close cooperation with the neighbouring countries as well as for constructive and peaceful international policy, for national self-determination, and the equality of nations in a post-war Europe.

II Marko Marulic Splicanin

 Marko Marulić by Meštrović. Nova Evropa of 1 July 1924.

While following Seton-Watson’s advice on political journalism, Nova Evropa diversified its editorial concept by welcoming contributions on social, economic and cultural life in the country, neighbouring countries and the rest of Europe. Nova Evropa developed the complex structure of a journal that was open to various topics in any discipline of social sciences, arts, humanities and sciences, and that scrutinized society, economy and politics in high-quality contributions. For example, special thematic issues were dedicated to various domestic topics from the geography and anthropology of the country to the life of immigrants inside and outside the country, and to broader international and current affairs topics such as the Ukrainian question, conditions in Russia, national minorities, prominent public figures, etc.

III Njegoseva grobnicaNjegoš’s mausoleum on Mount Lovćen by Meštrović, Nova Evropa, 1 January 1925

 The central political and cultural concept discussed in Nova Evropa was the Yugoslav question. This political concept was seen in Nova Evropa as an agreement of peoples united by their own will, equal and free in a common national state. Some researchers argue, not quite rightly, that Nova Evropa advocated integral Yugoslav pan-nationalism (Yugoslavness) despite the different ethnic groups and minorities in the country. For Nova Evropa the creation of the Yugoslav state was the irreversible final achievement of all Yugoslavs, but in the cultural sense, however, Yugoslavness was presented as a mosaic of colours and variations, as a celebration of diversity. Nova Evropa of 26 February 1927 pronounces:

Therefore: Yugoslav civilization is one and properly bound together; and Yugoslav culture - mosaic, contrast, diversity. Civilization is a unification and equivalence of segments, culture is a federation of untouched and free elements, according to their programme and their will.

Nova Evropa argued for a concept of ‘Open Yugoslavness’ which was closely related to the idea of social justice, equality, tolerance and ethics. This vision of Yugoslavia and a new Europe bore a close resemblance to the vision of Tomáš Masaryk whose ideas Nova Evropa promoted and celebrated.

IV Goethe
Goethe by Meštrović, Nova Evropa, double issue of 22 March 1932 dedicated to Goethe’s centenary 

This ideology of open Yugoslavness was also advanced through the visual arts and the works of the leading Yugoslav artist Ivan Meštrović, a Croatian sculptor and one of the founders of Nova Evropa. Other prominent Yugoslavs and founders of Nova Evropa were Ćurčin’s magazine co-editors Laza Popović and Marko Kostrenčić, and well-known Yugoslav scholars and writers such as Jovan Cvijić, Josip Smodlaka, Milan Rešetar, Ivan Prijatelj, Tihomir Ostojić, Julije Benešić, Miodrag Ibrovac and Milan Grol among others. In 22 years about 1000 authors published over 3450 contributions in the magazine.

V Mestrovic autoportretMeštrović’s self-portrait. Nova Evropa, 15 August 1933 dedicated to Meštrović’s 50th birthday.

In addition to the magazine, special editions of Nova Evropa were published as offprints or separate publications;  in total 19 such editions were produced and at least two editions remained unpublished.

VI Izdanja NE Advertisement for Nova Evropa books, Nova Evropa, 26 January 1939..

The British Library holds a full set of Nova Evropa: 426 issues, in total about 10,000 pages, bound in 34 volumes.

VII Nova Evropa
The British Library collection of Nova Evropa acquired in 1951

In the interwar period Nova Evropa fostered constructive criticism of the dominant political culture and made an important contribution to the growth of critical and independent thought in Yugoslav society. It worked tirelessly in bringing peoples and communities closer together by understanding and celebrating their cultural differences. It had a distinctive mission to inform the public about events at home and abroad and to collect information and sources about the recent past for future historians. Nova Evropa is not only a useful source for a student of Yugoslav history and culture today; it is a critically important archive for the understanding of the fundamental cultural and political questions of interwar Yugoslavia.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

References:

Ljubomir Petrović, Jugoslovenska država i društvo u periodici 1920-1941 (Belgrade, 2000) YF.2010.a.24536.

Jovo Bakić, Ideologije jugoslovenstva između srpskog i hrvatskog nacionalizma: 1914-1941 (Zrenjanin, 2004) YF.2006.a.37642.

Marija Cindori-Šinković, Nova Evropa:1920-1941: bibliografija (Belgrade, 2010) YF.2012.a.15665

Marko Nedić, Vesna Matović (editors), Nova Evropa 1920-1941: zbornik radova (Belgrade, 2010) YF.2012.a.18758.

 

16 May 2018

Southern French printing during the Revolution: Le Journal de Marseille and La prise de Toulon

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0IMG_8456a
 The Destruction of the French Fleet at Toulon, 18 December 1793, from Thomas Whitcombe, The naval achievements of Great Britain from the year 1793 to 1817 (London, 1817-18) 748.d.22.

In an earlier blog post, we discussed the recent acquisition of a copy of the revolutionary Journal de Marseille published in 1793-1794, RB.23.a.37976. Now we would like to comment on the collection of pamphlets bound at the end of the volume. They include a revolutionary song, the “Chanson des sans-culottes”, by the comedian, theatre director, song writer and dramatic author Aristide Valcour. 

  1IMG_8223a
Aristide Valcour, Chanson des sans-culottes, ([Paris], 1793) RB.23.a.37976.(5)

It is followed by the left-leaning, Jacobin-inspired Constitution of 24 June 1793, which was never implemented, preceded as is often the case by the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen.  The collection also contains reports and political discourses held at the National Convention and the Committee of Public Safety , discussing topics such as religion, government or public instruction. 

2IMG_8224a Constitution of 24 June 1793, with Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen ([Paris], 1793) RB.23.a.37976.(6)

The volume is very coherent in the way it gathers contemporary revolutionary material from South-Eastern France. Initially, the titles of the additional pamphlets suggested that some were duplicates of existing tracts in the British Library’s collection. However, most of the tracts contained in the Journal volume are from different, often Southern editions, or in some cases have a different type-set. For example, the discourse Aux grands Maux les grands Remèdes by Sébastien Lacroix (the initial editor of the Journal de Marseille), held at F.617.(21.) was first printed in Paris, while the other copy, a reprint published in Marseille by Auguste Mossy in the same year (an II / 1793), is abbreviated, and followed by an order of the General Assembly of the Republican Section des Quatre nations for the printing and distribution of 3000 copies and 500 posters of Lacroix’s petition. 

3IMG_8228aSébastien Lacroix, Aux grands Maux les grands Remèdes (Marseille, 1793) RB.23.a.37976.(10)

Lacroix is the author of another tract in the Journal de Marseille collection: La Religion naturelle, la seule qui convient à des Républicains, published in 1793-94 (an II) by Auguste Mossy (1764-1820): in the compilation, this is a duplicate of BL collection item, R.337.(15.). The Mossy family of printers  seems to have played a key role in the diffusion of Jacobin literature such as that transmitted in the volume (we don’t know who were its early owners: the opening paste-down contains an ex-libris signature which has been crossed out). Auguste Mossy, who printed 3 tracts in the compilation, was a fervent revolutionary who started his own printing business in 1791 and became a municipal councillor for the city of Marseilles until 1793 (he later held other important political functions, under the Consulate and the Napoleonic Empire but was demoted under the Bourbon Restoration).

4IMG_8225a
Sébastien Lacroix, La religion naturelle la seule qui convient à des Républicains (Marseille, 1793) RB.23.a.37976.(7)

The patriarch, Jean Mossy worked with his sons Jean II and Auguste from 1784 to at least 1791. He was a printer for the Navy, the King/the Nation and the City of Marseille, and published important works in the 1770-80s on the antiquities of Marseille and the history of Provence and Comté-Venaissin. Jean II (1758-1835), who published 4 tracts in the Journal de Marseille compilation, inherited his father’s presses and his own son, Jean-Joseph Mossy, succeeded him as a printer and bookseller.

  5IMG_8227a Maximilien Robespierre, Discours prononcé à la Société populaire des Jacobins à Paris, 21 November 1793 RB.23.a.37976.(9)

Other material bound after the Journal de Marseille include several discourses by figures such as Robespierre, Billaud-Varenne, Moyse Bayle  (a member of Marseille’s Jacobins club, deputy for the Bouches-du-Rhône department at the 1792 National Convention, involved in in 1793 with the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security) and Jean-Corisandre Mittié. 

6IMG_8232a Title page of Jean-Corisandre Mittié, La prise de Toulon (Marseille, 1794) RB.23.a.37976.(14)

Mittié succeeded Lacroix as editor of the Journal de Marseille from issue 44 onwards. He was an author of dramatic works like La prise de Toulon, fait historique en un acte et en prose, the last item in the collection, and went on writing plays performed in Paris, such as the farcical La descente en Angleterre, prophétie en deux actes (performed on 24 December 1797 at the Cité-Variété theatre) or L’anniversaire, ou La fête de la souveraineté, scène lyrique et mélodramatique, mêlée de pantomime, combats et danses, et dédiée au peuple (performed in March 1798 at the Ambigu-Comique theatre). The newly-acquired Prise de Toulon is a copy of the first Marseille edition, published by Jean Mossy, while the library already owned the second edition (Paris, 1794; 11738.f.25.(7.).

7IMG_8234aInstructions for the actors; Scene 1 from La prise de Toulon

Mittié, who was sent by the Committee of Public Safety to Marseilles in 1794, asserts on the title page of La Prise de Toulon that he travelled to Toulon to be able to provide the most “exact”, “detailed information, the most authentic account and knowledge of the character and genius of the men who contributed to this memorable event”. The Siege of Toulon  led to a wealth of dramatic and lyrical revolutionary creations written by professional authors and enthusiastic revolutionaries and performed mainly in Paris at the beginning of 1794. The victory of the Republicans (including the young officer Napoléon Bonaparte) over the Royalists and a coalition of British, Spanish and Italian troops in the city of Toulon, with its strategic port and arsenal, was celebrated throughout the country. 

8Les_coalises_evacuent_Toulon_en_decembre_1793 A. Forand, ‘Evacüation des puissances coälisées du port de Toulon. Le 18 decembre 1793’ (1793). (Image from Prints, Drawings and Watercolors from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library)

The list of characters and instructions to the actors give an idea of the ideological bias of Mittié’s play. The drama is represented as “useful” with its “patriotic influence”, because it “consecrates the most memorable period of the Revolution, the most decisive for the fate of Liberty”. On Republican side the Generals and Representatives of the people (including Fréron, Barras and Robespierre), who after the flight of the English and the fall of the city, stop the pillage and execute the traitors, must have a “strong voice and physique”, and the female heroine, “citoyenne Lapoype”, who was captured but eventually liberated, “the most touching voice and accent”. 

9IMG_8233aCharacter list and Preface from La prise de Toulon

On the side of the Royalists, depicted as reactionary and dissolute, the Marquis de Sombreuil, the type of the coxcomb, must have a “tone leading to ridicule” and the Knight of Cazalés corresponds to the type of an old man. The play highlights the eventual execution and “guillotine” of “conspirators” and “traitors”. It ends with the ominous announcement by Fréron of the intended destruction of the city of Toulon (which in the end was not implemented by the authorities): “only ashes and rubble” will remain as “the hand of vengeance will erase up to the last remnant of Toulon”. It closes with the enthusiastic salutation: “the genius of Liberty hovers over us. Woe to the Royalists, war to tyrants, peace to the cottages and LONG LIVE THE REPUBLIC”.  

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator, Romance collections

References:

Jacques Billioud, Le Livre en Provence du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle (Marseille, 1962). 2704.e.4.

Hervé Guénot, ‘ Le théâtre et l'événement : la représentation dramatique du siège de Toulon (août 1793’, Annales littéraires de l'Université de Besançon. Littérature et révolution française, 354, 1987, Ac.282/6

Hubert C. Johnson, The Midi in revolution: a study of regional political diversity, 1789-1793 (Princeton, 1986). YH.1987.b.380 

Michael L. Kennedy, The Jacobin Club of Marseilles, 1790-1794 (Ithaca, 1973). 73/13539 

 

26 April 2018

Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages

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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

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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

09 April 2018

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

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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

 

02 February 2018

Arians in the age of the Polish Reformation

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In the 16th century the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual country and was renowned for its religious tolerance. It provided safety for religious refugees fleeing from prosecution in their own countries. Although Poland was predominantly a Roman Catholic country it quickly absorbed the new religious ideas and a Protestant movement was steadily growing. German citizens were followers of Lutheranism while native Poles adopted Calvinism.

Calvinism resonated well with the Polish nobility because of the egalitarian structure of the Calvinist Church. Furthermore, Jan Łaski, the leading Polish reformer, significantly contributed to the spread of Calvinism in Poland, which reached its zenith in the middle of the 16th century. However, 1562 marked the division of the Calvinist Church with the formation of the most radical group called Polish Brethren, also known as Christians, Arians, Antitrinitarians or Socinians. As a result of the split the Minor Reformed Church was created attracting the most outstanding theologians. 

Arians Portrait Socinus
Faustus Socinus, reproduced in David Munroe Cory, Faustus Socinus (Boston, 1932) 4868.f.14 

Among them was Faustus Socinus, an Italian refugee who arrived in Poland in 1579. He united the group ideologically but never formally belonged to the Church for his objection to water baptism. However, under his influence the Arians rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, infant baptism, the divinity of Christ and the doctrine of original sin.

Arians Vita Socinus
Title page of Samuel Przypkowski’s biography of Socinus, Vita Favsti Socini Senensis (Raków, 1636) 4887.aa.60 

The Warsaw Confederation of 1573 granted religious freedom to Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and Bohemian Brethren, but not to the Arians. In addition, the latter were strongly opposed by both Catholic and Calvinist clergy. In Cracow the Arians were prone to attacks by Catholic mobs at the instigation of the clergy. Taking advantage of the tolerance promoted by the Polish kings the Arians left the unfriendly city and moved to the provincial town of  Raków, some 100 km away from Cracow.  The town became a religious and intellectual centre of the dissidents. The famous Racovian Academy, established in 1602, provided excellent education not only for fellow believers but also for Catholics and Protestants. Religion along with other subjects such as foreign languages, history, law, economics, mathematics, medicine and gymnastics were on the curriculum.

Arians Catechesis
Title page of Catechesis ecclesiarum (Raków, 1609) 3506.a.2 Known as the Racovian catechism, it includes the Socinian doctrine and is dedicated to King James I.

Arian publishing became to flourish when two printing presses transferred from Cracow to Raków. Numerous works in Latin, Polish and German were issued in the presses of Aleksy Rodecki and his son-in-law Sebastian Sternacki. The publications included Arian religious books and lay literature as well as some Calvinist prints. Soon Raków was well known in Western Europe as a printing centre and books with the Latinised form of imprint ‘Racoviae’ were in high demand. Arian religious literature was mainly of polemical character and consisted of theological tracts, catechisms and disputes with their antagonists. The most prolific authors, in addition to Socinus, were Hieronim Moskorzewski, Johannes Crellius, and Valentin Schmalz.

Arians De Vera Religione
Title page of Joannes Volkelius, De vera religione (Raków, 1630) 4225.cc.31 A full account of the Arian doctrine, and the most important Arianwork alongside the catechism 

A period of prosperity for the Polish Brethren ended in 1638 with the closure of the Academy and the confiscation of the printing press. Subsequently, the Arians were expelled from Poland by order of the Sejm (Polish Parliament) in 1658. They moved to the Netherlands and established their publishing centre in Amsterdam with the prominent series Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum, the collection of works of the Polish Brethren. Although small in numbers the Arians made a significant impact on political thought in Poland as well as philosophical thought in Western Europe.

Over 240 works are recorded with the Racoviae/Raków imprint of which the British Library holds 72 titles.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further reading:

Faustus Socinus and his heritage, edited by Lech Szczucki (Krakow, 2005) YF.2007.a.15720

Alodia Kawecka-Gryczowa, Ariańskie oficyny wydawnicze Rodeckiego i Sternackiego (Wrocław, 1974) X.100/12928

Stanisław Kot, Socinianism in Poland: the social and political ideas of the Polish Antitrinitarians in the sixteenth and seventeen centuries (Boston, 1957) 4696.de.23

 Thomas Rees, The Racovian Cathechism (London, 1818) 3554.a18

22 January 2018

Three Alphabets of the Belarusian Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BelarusianAlphabetsПомнік_літары__Ў_

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References / Further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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