THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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28 posts categorized "Rare books"

26 May 2017

Commemorating Russia’s last coronation

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On 26 May 1896 (14 May old style) Nicholas II was crowned ‘Tsar of all the Russias’ in the Cathedral of the Dormition in Moscow. Nicholas had acceded to the throne in November 1894, on the death of his father Alexander III. The long period between his accession and coronation was not unusual in Russia. It allowed time both to mourn the previous Tsar and to prepare the new ruler’s coronation.

By this time in the history of the Romanov dynasty a coronation involved a long and elaborate series of events and festivities. A lavish souvenir album, published by the Russian Ministry of the Imperial Court, both captures and reflects the scale and grandeur of the coronation and accompanying events. It is illustrated with photographs and with drawings in both black-and-white and colour, and the pages of text include decorative borders and attractive vignettes.

Coronation Album titlepage
Decorated title page of Les Solennités du saint couronnement (St Petersburg, 1896) L.R.25.c.20.

The British Library’s copy of the album is one of 350 published in French. It was originally presented to one Colonel Waters who later donated it to the then British Museum Library. Waters attended the coronation as attaché to Arthur, Duke of Connaught, the official representative of the British royal family. His handwritten note records that the Duke and other British dignitaries also received copies.

Coronation Album provenance
Colonel Waters’ handwritten note recording the provenance of the album

Some of the pictures in the album show the solemnities of the actual coronation ceremony: 

Coronation Album arrival
Above: The Tsar and Tsarina arrive at the Cathedral. Below: The Coronation regalia, and images from the service

Coronation Album regalia

Coronation Album Tsar and priest

Coronation Album altar

Coronation Album Crown

Other images show the celebrations that continued over the following days. There are reproductions of menus for formal dinners and programmes for theatrical performances: 

Coronation album menu

Coronation Album Menu 2

Coronation album programme

There is even a page illustrating some of the invitations to these and other events:

Coronation Album cards and tickets

Most of these events, like the coronation service itself, were largely reserved for royalty, aristocracy and visiting dignitaries. But there were also festivities laid on for the wider populace. Contemporary paintings and photographs show crowds gathered to watch the processions to and from the cathedral, and on the night of the coronation people thronged to watch as the Kremlin was illuminated.

Coronation Album Red Porch
Crowds gathered to watch the Tsar and Tsarina appear in the Red Porch of the Kremlin

Coronation Albun illuminations
Illuminations in Moscow

Four days later another crowd assembled for a planned ‘people’s feast’ and celebration on the Khodynka field in Moscow. Gifts of food, drink and souvenirs were to be handed out and the Tsar and Tsarina would appear before the people. But this supposedly joyous event turned into an unprecedented tragedy when rumours began to circulate that the gifts were running out. There was a rush towards the souvenir booths and in the ensuing stampede over 1300 people were trampled or crushed to death and a similar number injured.

Coronation Album Khodynka
The packed crowd at Khodynka field

The royal couple were shocked to hear of the tragedy. They promised compensation and assistance for the bereaved and wounded and later visited some of the casualties in hospital. But the same evening they also attended a lavish ball at the French Embassy. Nicholas had wanted to cancel in the light of what had happened, but his advisors persuaded him not to. The Tsar’s instinct was wiser in this case: his attendance at the ball was seen as a display of callous indifference to the deaths of ordinary subjects. And whatever his personal feelings, he continued with the planned round of dinners, receptions and balls in the following days.

Coronation Abum Ball
The Tsar and Tsarina arriving at a ball

The coronation album shows the world of the Russian Imperial court at its most elegant, celebrating the power and glory of a dynasty. But the very celebrations it records were tainted by a tragedy which, with hindsight, seems like an omen of greater upheavals and disasters to come. This would be the record of the last Imperial coronation in Russia’s history.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Further reading:

Greg King and Janet Ashton, For the life of the Tsar: Triumph and Tragedy at the Coronation of Nicholas II (East Richmond heights, CA, 2016). YD.2016.b.891.

Mary Hickley, Gold, glitter and gloom: recollections of the Coronation of Czar Nicholas II and later travels in Russia, with a foreword by Brenda Marsault (Devon, 1997)  YC.1998.a.242

Aylmer Maude, The Tsar’s Coronation, as seen by “De Monte Alto,” Resident in Moscow (London, 1896) 9930.b.26.

Coronation Album night scene

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website

08 May 2017

Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages 2017

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The annual Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages will take place at the British Library on Monday 5 June in the Eliot Room of the Library’s Conference Centre, with the usual varied range of speakers and topics. The programme is as follows.

11.00     Registration and Coffee

11.30     David Shaw (Canterbury): The impact of the Aldine octavos on sixteenth-century paper for printing the classics.

12.15     Lunch (Own arrangements).

1.30     Pardaad Chamsaz (London): A murky business: the composition of Honoré de Balzac’s Une Ténébreuse Affaire.

2.15     Rhiannon Daniels (Bristol): Where does the Decameron begin? The editorial ‘problem’ of the paratext and the question of rubrics.

3.00     Tea

3.30     W. A. Kelly (Strathclyde): The Book trade in Moravia.

4.30     Barry Taylor (London): Allegorical title pages.

The Seminar will end at 5.15 pm.

The seminar is open to all and attendance is free, but please let Barry Taylor (barry.taylor@bl.uk) or Susan Reed (susan.reed@bl.uk) know if you would like to attend.

Narrenschiff 1499 Unnutzen Bücher

20 March 2017

Actaeon was not a voyeur

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The current small exhibition about Ovid in art (primarily ceramics) at the Wallace Collection reminded me of an earlier one at the National Gallery. Here some artists of our time paid homage to Actaeon on the entirely bogus grounds that he was a voyeur, and regaled us with a mock-up of a peep-show and similar treats.

But let’s back to the text, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, book III: Actaeon was out hunting and stumbled on Diana, goddess of chastity and the hunt, bathing with her nymphs.

Actaeon MS Harley 4431

Actaeon surprising Diana at her bath, miniature from Christine de Pizan, L’Épître Othéa, part of MS Harley 4431.

In Mary Innes’s translation for Penguin Classics (1955 and much reprinted):

The nymphs, discovered in their nakedness, beat their breasts at the sight of a man ... Crowding around Diana, they sheltered her with their bodies, but the goddess was taller than they, head and shoulders above them all

Vengefully, the goddess sprinkles Actaeon with water, turning him into a stag and causing him to be killed by his hounds.

Actaeon Emblemata 12305.bbb.37 Actaeon transformed, and pursued by his own hounds, from Andreas Alciatus, Emblemata (Lyons, 1551). 12305.bbb.37

Ovid gives the message right at the start:

Fortunae crimen in illo,
non scelus invenies; quod enim scelus error habebat?
(Destiny was to blame for Actaeon’s misfortunes, not any guilt on his part; for there is nothing sinful in losing one’s way.)

Ovid himself likens himself to Actaeon in Tristia II. Explaining why the Emperor Augustus exiled him to Romania, he says “Like Actaeon, I saw something”. What we don’t know, but Ovid obviously thought Actaeon was innocent, which meant that he was innocent too.

Actaeon 833.l.1

Diana and Actaeon from Ovid, Metamporphoses (Venice, 1513) 833.l.1.

But later authorities couldn’t help wanting to put the blame on Actaeon.

Fulgentius (5th century) said that Actaeon wasted all his time on money on leisure (hunting) and was therefore consumed by his hobby.

Actaeon IB.23185

 The story of Actaeon, from Ovidio methamorphoseos vulgare, translated and allegorised by Giovanni di Bonsignore (Venice, 1497) IB.23185.

Giovanni di Bonsignore (14th century) said he turned into a stag because his love of the solitary pursuit of hunting had made his proud and anti-social, like the stag.

Camões in the Lusiads (16th century) says much the same about Actaeon, but this is interpreted by Manuel de Faria e Sousa in the 17th century as something to be applied to the young King Sebastian.


Actaeon King Sebastian 10631.c.4
 The headstrong King Sebastian of Portugal from Fray Bernardo de Brito, Elogios dos reis de Portugal (Lisbon,
1603) 10631.c.4

Headstrong young Sebastian, like Actaeon, was too keen on sports and neglectful of the need to find a wife. And of course he died young, at the battle of Alcacer Quibir, because of his hot-headedness and left Portugal without an heir, leading to what the Portuguese call the “Philippine Domination” of 1580-1640.

So, be careful when you go down to the woods.

But whatever his mistakes Actaeon was not a voyeur.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References:

Barry Taylor, ‘O mito de Actéon: interpretação e poetização’, in Mythos: a tradição mitográfica portuguesa; representações e identidade séculos XVI-XVIII, ed. Abel N. Pena (Lisbon, 2008), pp. 55-66. YF.2012.a.29085

The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Translated and with an introduction by Mary M. Innes (Harmondsworth, 1955) W.P.513/58.

Gerlinde Huber-Rebenich, Sabine Lütkemeyer, Hermann Walter, Ikonographisches Repertorium zu den Metamorphosen des Ovid : die textbegleitende Druckgraphik (Berlin, 2004-), I.1, pp. 38-39. YF.2008.b.1354

 

14 February 2017

There, on the Other Shore of the Amur: Stories from Russian Life in China

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A historian of Sino-Western relations with a special interest in China’s relationship with Russia, I came to the British Library with a shopping list of titles I had found in the Library’s catalogue and which were unavailable anywhere else. One of them, a rarity and a witness to an era, is the subject of this post.

Measuring only 10 x 14 cm, the little book of stories by I. Georgievskii, Tam, na drugom beregu Amura (‘There, on the Other Shore of the Amur’), is kept in an envelope marked “fragile item, please handle with care”. I hope readers will enjoy a synopsis of the contents; some thoughts on the book will follow.

MarkGamsaGeorgievskii cover
Cover of I. Georgievskii, Tam, na drugom beregu Amura (Harbin, 1930) British Library 012590.a.24

The title story describes a young woman who, with her three-year-old son, makes a desperate attempt to escape Soviet Russia and join her lost husband. Other than the Amur, the river separating Russia and China, no place names – not even the word China – are mentioned. Smugglers take the two over the Amur at night in a small rowing boat. There is great suspense, but then a happy end: mother and child having somehow transferred to a steamboat, they dock on a bright June day at a friendly wharf. By chance, Lina’s husband happens to be there, awaiting a cargo delivery. The city, into which he then whisks them away in a chauffeur-driven Packard looks more like glamorous Shanghai than Harbin, the Russian-founded railway city in Manchuria and subsequently a haven for Russian refugees from the Revolution and Civil War, where the book was published.

The next story, ‘Shuran’ is about a Russian team transporting a herd of 100,000 sheep to Mongolia through a terrible snow storm, the shuran of the title. The men manage to revive the animals, which had been covered by the snow, but not their old Mongol guide, who had predicted the storm and been frozen to death on his horse.

The rest of the collection has more humour than drama. The hilarious ‘Oy Vey, Masha!’ is about a Jewish colourman, who had escaped the Revolution to China with his wife and two daughters; alas, the family’s new servant Masha, put up in the daughters’ bedroom, turns out to be a young male impostor, a former tsarist officer-in-training. ‘A Night of Horrors’ takes place in Siberia during the Civil War: the ‘horrors’ are merely the very human fears of a soldier guarding an isolated hay warehouse: at first, he is alarmed by an impoverished peasant, then by two dogs, and he displays compassion towards all three. In ‘Crud’, set in tsarist Russia, an elderly shop assistant gets bullied by the senior staff for his shabby appearance and sacked for no fault of his own. However, he soon makes a surprising return in gentleman’s clothes: he was in fact the shop’s owner, who had wanted to test his employees. Another variation on the impostor theme is ‘The Waltz “On Manchurian Hills”’: an inebriated middle-aged man is allowed a dance to a tune made popular after the Russo-Japanese War, but the tender lady who accepts his invitation is a circus strongwoman, and ends up whizzing her poor suitor away to a splashing fall on the dance floor.

There follow four ‘miniatures’. ‘The Sage Fa-Tsai’ is about an old Chinese, whose pearls of wisdom astound his simple-minded employers: thus he suggests to a farmer, who seeks advice about marriage, that he would be better off taking two 20-year-old wives than one 40-year-old. ‘Blood and Sand’ describes a native peddler, apparently a Mongolian, trying hard to sell off a long-suffering marmot in an unidentified small town in Manchuria: haggling over the creature’s price with a potential buyer is conducted in Russo-Chinese pidgin before the sudden appearance of a fierce dog ends the marmot’s life along with the peddler’s hopes for a profit. ‘St Nicholas – Our Saviour on the Waters’ mirrors a perception among Harbin Russians, that the Chinese in town venerated the icon of St Nicholas of Myra, a patron of seafarers in the Russian Orthodox faith which was prominently displayed at the Harbin Central Railway Station. Finally, ‘A Lady from Rouen’ is a sketch of an old Frenchwoman, who was once married in Russia. Speaking funnily in broken Russian, she says she would rather live on as a ‘Russian émigré’ in China than return to her native France, which by now seems alien to her.

Nothing is known about the author of these stories and even his initial cannot be deciphered. The 106 pages of text contain many typos, as well as occasional remnants of Russian pre-revolutionary orthography. The back matter of the book advertised two other forthcoming titles by I. Georgievskii, but apparently neither came out: bibliographies of Russian publishing in China do not list them.

MarkGamsaGeorgievskii back matter
The back cover of Tam, na drugom beregu Amura, advertising further works by the author.

Georgievskii’s book is both a reminder of China as a place of escape from the suffering unleashed by the Russian Revolution a century ago and, in its own little way, is testimony to the new tribulations that awaited émigrés in their unexpected refuge. Russian life in Manchuria was to be severely tested by the Japanese occupation of the region that began in 1931. The Chinese Communist takeover in 1949 signalled the end of the Russian diaspora in China, when its members were dispersed between the Soviet Union and numerous other countries.

Mark Gamsa, Tel Aviv University

 

07 November 2016

Knud Leem and the Sami People of Finnmark

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In a recently broadcast episode of the Sky Arts series Treasures of The British Library Professor Robert Winston looked at an 18th-century book from the King’s Library that includes some delightful images of Sami skiers.

Leem Skiing
Sami skiers. From Knud Leem, Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper, deres Tungemaal, Levemaade og forrige Afgudsdyrkelse. (Copenhagen, 1767) British Library 152.f.17.

In the illustration chosen, the skiers can be seen on a downhill run, one nonchalantly balancing a pole on his shoulder, the other manoeuvring his skis to break his descent. As the author Knud Leem (in the 1808 English translation of the original text) describes it, ‘by a certain wooden machine, of an oblong figure, fastened to their feet, commonly called wooden sandals, they are carried with such rapidity over the highest mountains, through the steepest hills …. that the winds whiz about their ears and their hair stands on end’.

Leem Titlepage
Title page of Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper.

The book in which the illustration appears, Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper, published in 1767, is a long and detailed (over 600 pages in the original) description of the Sami people of Finnmark  in northern Norway and was written by the Norwegian missionary and linguist Knud Leem who lived amongst the Sami for a number of years. The parallel text in Danish and Latin is accompanied by over a hundred illustrations by O.H. von Lode based on Leem’s descriptions, and together they provide a fascinating insight into how the Sami lived at this time. The subject matter ranges from the basics of everyday life such as shelter, clothes and food to reindeer herding, marriage customs and religion, the latter covering both the religion which Leem pointedly describes in the original title as that ‘previously’ practised by the Sami, and the Christian conversion which was the focus of his work.

Leem Reeindeer herding
Herding Reindeer. From Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper.

Leem’s father, also a priest, had worked in Finnmark for a number of years and it is probably from this family connection that Leem’s interest in the Sami people was originally awakened. He studied theology in Copenhagen (Norway was at that time part of the Danish kingdom and was yet to establish a university of its own) and while waiting for an appointment in the mission to become vacant, he spent two years in Trondheim learning the Sami language. In contrast to earlier attempts by missionaries to teach Danish to the Sami, Leem’s belief was that in order for missionary work to succeed, he and future missionaries needed to be able to communicate with the Sami in their own language. He writes that in this way ‘… a much greater progress in the salutary knowledge of the true God is made’. During the years he spent in Finnmark from 1725 to 1733, he would preach and conduct services in the Sami language, at times in the open air.

Leem Preaching
Conducting a service in the open air. From Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper.

As well as his ethnographic work on the Sami people, of which there are three copies in the British Library, Leem also wrote a Sami grammar (En lappisk Grammatica, 1748), a Danish-Sami dictionary (En lappesk Nomenclator, 1756) and an extended Sami-Danish-Latin dictionary (Lexicon Lapponicum bipartitum, 1768-81, the second part of which was completed by Gerhard Sandberg and published after Leem’s death). Copies of the grammar and of the first dictionary form part of the Hannås collection, a collection of Scandinavian linguistic material donated to the British Library in 1984 by the antiquarian bookseller Torgrim Hannås. The Leem titles from this collection have now been digitised and are available online through our catalogue.

Leem Nomenclator titlepage
En lappesk Nomenclator
(Trondheim, 1756) Han.135 

The other substantial piece of work for which Leem is remembered today also has a Hannås connection. It is a study of Norwegian dialect words, Norske Maalsamlingar fraa 1740-aari, which was only published many years after his death, in 1923. The editor of that work was Torleiv Hannaas, a professor at Bergen University and father to Torgrim Hannås. The bookplates of both these distinguished book collectors, father and son, appear in our copy of Leem’s Grammatica.

Leem Hannas bookplate
Bookplates in En lappisk Grammatica (Copenhagen, 1748) Han.110

Knud Leem’s contribution to the area of Sami studies, both linguistic and ethnographic, continues to be important and recognised to this day.

Leem Sami couple
Sami couple in traditional dress. From Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper.

Barbara Hawes, Curator Germanic Studies

References and further reading

Knud Leem, An account of the Laplanders of Finmark, their language, manners, and religion.
(London, 1808) L.R.80.c.1

Knud Leem og det samiske : foredrag holdt ved et seminar i regi av Det Kongelige Norske Videnskabers Selskab 11.-12. oktober 2002. (Trondheim, 2003) Ac.1060(2)[2003,No.2]

Professor Knud Leems Norske Maalsamlingar fraa 1740-aari-handskr. nr. 597. 4to i Kallske samling. Ed. Torleiv Hannaas. (Kristiania, 1923) Ac.5561/27

Treasures of the British Library will be broadcast on Sky Arts at 21.00 on Tuesdays until 22 November 2016.

 

03 November 2016

Samuel Boguslaus Chylinski’s Lithuanian Bible

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On 21 October, to mark the approaching 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and of the start of the Protestant Reformation as well as the 350th anniversary of the death of Samuel Boguslaus Chylinski, the British Library hosted a seminar on the first printing of the Bible in Lithuanian (1660), the legacy of Chylinski and links between British and Lithuanian Protestants.

Samuel Boguslaus Chylinski, the son of a Calvinist preacher, was born around 1633 in Šventežeris, in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Educated in the Calvinist school in Kėdainiai, in 1653 Chylinski was sent to the Franeker Academy  in the Netherlands to study theology in preparation for the translation of the Bible into Lithuanian. Unable to return to the Grand Duchy because of the war, in 1657 Chylinski travelled to England where he received encouragement and financial support from his compatriot Samuel Hartlib as well as English Protestants including Henry Wilkinson, John Wallis and Robert Boyle. Boyle, a scientist and liberal thinker, was preoccupied with the idea of translating the Bible into vernacular languages, among others Irish, Welsh, Malay, Turkish and Lithuanian.

In 1659 Chylinski published an ornate pamphlet An Account of the Translation of the Bible into the Lithuanian Tongue in which he claims to have translated the whole of the Bible. An Account also includes a testimonial from Oxford professors and other prominent public figures supporting Chylinski in his endeavour. The pamphlet was meant for English patrons and was published in order to raise funds for the printing of Chylinski’s translation. The Latin version of the brochure, Ratio Institutae Translationis Bibliorum in Linguam Lithuanicam, was published in Oxford in 1660.

 

Chylinski Account 1214.a.5

Samuel Boguslaus Chylinski, An Account of the Translation of the Bible into the Lithuanian Tongue (Oxford, 1659)
British Library 1214.a.5

On July 12, 1661, Royal letters patent was issued by King Charles II, ordering a collection to be held towards the printing of the Lithuanian Bible and towards the relief for the Lithuanian Protestant churches devastated by the war. Money was to be collected in churches throughout England and Wales; door-to-door collections were also to be organised if necessary. The brief was sent to at least 40 major towns. A Privy Council memorandum, issued on the same day, stated that the brief should not serve as a precedent as the case was unique.

The printing of Chylinski’s translation started in 1660 but came to a halt in 1662 due to disagreements among Lithuanian Protestants. Chylinski’s printing expenses were misrepresented as his private debts and doubts were cast on the quality of his translation (it is important to remember that one of the persons appointed by the Vilnius Provincial Synod to check the translation was working on his own version). Chylinski lost the support of his patrons. His manuscript translation of the New Testament, in the British Library’s collections, includes many inscriptions, among others an unaddressed draft letter in which the author, destitute and desperate to return to his mother country, is asking for financial help. It is not known who the addressee was and whether the letter reached them. Chylinski died in poverty in 1666.

Chylinski MS

Manuscript of Chylinski’s translation of the New Testament, 1658. Add MS 41301

Chylinski wasn’t the first person who translated the Bible into Lithuanian. Jonas Bretkūnas translated the Bible between 1579 and 1590. His translation, never published, was based on Luther’s Bible  whereas Chylinski’s one was based on the Dutch Statenbijbel.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were three known copies of Chylinski’s Bible. The so-called Berlin copy has been missing since World War II; the Vilnius copy has been lost since 1918. The only surviving fragment of Chylinski’s printed translation of the Old Testament (Genesis-Joshua), acquired by the British Museum in 1893, is in the British Library’s collections.

Chylinski Biblia

A page from Chylinski’s Old Testament translation, (London 1660-1662 C.51.b.13


Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator, Baltic Collections

References:

Gina Kavaliūnaitė, Samuelio Boguslavo Chylinskio Biblija (Vilnius, 2008- ). ZF.9.b.1272

 

26 September 2016

Il Decamerone – “Corrected” by Rome

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Giovanni Boccaccio, poet, Humanist, orator, narrator and ambassador, father of the Italian novel, is one of the greatest storytellers known. He composed Il Decamerone (The Decameron)  in the mid-14th century and it  was first circulated in manuscript form in the 1370s. Despite being one of the most meddled-with texts to have endured, its ‘Frame story’ structure – ten tales told by each of ten people gathered together for a fortnight – has become canonised as a model for literary prose. Two texts in particular, one prepared by Ruscelli in 1552 and one by Salvati in 1587, are notorious for their meddling emendations. The Decameron is also widely known for its erotic components and it has quite unfairly led to its author and his work bIl eing associated with ‘obscenity’.

A common perception is that it is this supposed obscenity which has led to the book having been banned and suppressed here and there by the usual powerful groupings of offended sensibilities. The Roman Catholic Church did indeed ‘ban’ The Decameron but knew that they could not simply obliterate such a well-known and widely circulated work; the 15th and 16th centuries saw an estimated 192 printed editions alone. Faced with the Reformation, the Catholic Church needed to defend itself and reconsolidate its position of authority. To this purpose, one of the several measures taken by the Council of Trent was to create a commission to assemble and manage a list of forbidden books resulting in the fabled Index Librorum Prohibitorum which  identified books which were heretical, anti-clerical or explicitly sexual.

But how was the Church to manage The Decameron? Quite craftily was how. In the early 1570s, under the leadership of Vincenzo Borghini, a team of clerical scholars in Florence set about emending its text. They cloaked their expurgations by trying to convince people that they had kindly corrected existing editions, enhancing the language and in the process arriving at the ‘true’ text written by Boccaccio; original authorial intent had been revealed, “By Order of the Inquisition”.

So in 1573 the Florentine printers Giunti issued Il Decameron ... Ricorretto in Roma, et emendato secondo l'ordine del Sacro Conc. di Trento, et riscontrato in Firenze con testi antichi & alla sua vera lezione ridotto da' deputati…

Decameron 1573 tp C.7.a.8. The title page of the 1573 Florence edition of Il Decameron (C.7.a.8).

Borghini’s approved edition implied that manuscripts of The Decameron had been mischievously distorted to include outrageous slights against the Church and its servants. The erotic elements, the ‘obscenity’, often key to a tale’s plot and meaning, remained but all the references to the clergy had been removed. The crux of the problem for them was the dignity of the Roman Catholic Church and they managed it by simply removing references to priests, monasteries and so on; generic terms served their purpose with nuns becoming ‘ladies’ or ‘dames’, abbesses becoming random figures of aristocracy.

The British Library has three copies of this ‘corrected’ edition.  One  exposes clearly the motivations of the Church expurgations and emendations. A century after its publication another scholar called Marco Dotto systematically went through it annotating the pages: re-inserting the censored details and re-correcting Borghini’s emendations. Dotto wrote a short explanatory essay voicing his outrage at the mutilation of Boccaccio’s great work by the ‘scalpel’ of the Inquisition. He viewed himself as a ‘physician’ repairing their butchery, healing it and restoring the text to its true, we could say, rude health.

Decameron Day 3 story 1 annotated Day Three, Story One (Masetto, gardener at a convent) annotated by Marco Dotto. ‘Garden of Ladies’, or Convent? (C.7.a.8)

The story of Masetto of Lamporecchio told by Filostrato on Day Three is a favourite tale from The Decameron and illustrates  how the book has been meddled with. Masetto, a handsome young man, schemes to get a job as a gardener at a convent by pretending to be deaf and dumb. Two nuns talk of what they have heard rumoured to be the best pleasure a woman can get and scheme to meet Masetto in the garden’s woodshed. Other nuns witness this and insist on their share also. One day, the Abbess passes Masetto, spent and asleep on a bank in the garden. The wind happens to blow his shirt up and reveals all his glory to the head of the convent; consumed with desire she takes him to her quarters believing she can sleep with the young gardener with impunity as, deaf and dumb, he can tell no tale. All this is draining for Masetto so he decides to reveal he is cured. It is claimed as a miracle, nurtured by his tending the convent gardens. We can see how Dotto’s annotations restore the expurgated ‘munistero di donne’ used by Boccaccio which the clerics had rendered as ‘giardino di damigelle’. Borghini frequently anonymised particular named locations to protect reputations and often removed them entirely to places in France.

The last uncensored Decameron of the 16th century was printed in 1558 and with so many early editions it is interesting to make comparisons between them. Here we can see a folio with the start of Masetto’s story in an edition printed in Venice by Manfredo Bonelli in 1498. The text and the woodcuts faithfully assert the setting as a convent and its characters as nuns.


Decameron Day 3 story 1
 Masetto of Lamporecchio in the ‘Garden of Ladies’, Day Three Story 1. (C.4.i.7)

But censorship comes from many sources, individual sensibilities may be offended as much as organised, institutional interests; a fact that can be seen in this mid-15th century manuscript of The Decameron where the concluding sentiment on Masetto’s tale, has been heavily censored and obscured by another hand.

Decameron Add MS 10297
Censored mid-15th century manuscript (Add MS 10297 f.46r)

Such are the fascinations with obscenity and censorship, the simple fact that Boccaccio is one of the greatest storytellers ever to be printed can be in danger of being overlooked. We can celebrate this year’s Banned Books Week  by appreciating a good read of unexpurgated editions of this great collection of stories; though it can be fun to read the censored efforts too. But do remember that original authorial intent should never be taken for granted – sometimes it is wrested away by the operations of power and can be lost forever because of some individual’s  or organisation’s disapproval and assault.

Christian Algar, Curator, Printed Heritage Collections.

Decameron storytellers C.4.i.7
 The storytellers; the woodcut illustrated title page of Manfredo Bonelli’s Decamerone o ver Cento Nouelle, Venice, 1498 (C.4.i.7)

References/further  reading:

Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron. Translated with an introduction by G.H. McWilliam (London, 1972). X.908/23609

Pisanus Fraxi, Bibliography of prohibited books. Index librorum prohibitoru (3 Vols) (New York, 1962). RAR 808.803

David Wallace, Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron. (Cambridge, 1991)YC.1991.a.4224

Giuseppe Chiecchi, Luciano Troisio, Il Decameron sequestrato: le tre edizioni censurate nel Cinquecento. (Milan, 1984) ZA.9.a.636 (4)

Giuseppe Chiecchi, “Dolcemente dissumulando”: cartelle laurenziane e “Decameron” censurato (1573)(Padua, 1992)./WP.16966/53     

Giuseppe Chiecchi (ed.),  Le annotazioni e i discorsi sul Decameron del 1573 dei deputatii fiorentini. (Rome, 2001) YA.2003.a.9884

This blog is part of series for Banned Books Week 2016. See also Melvin Burgess’s blog on Censorship and the Author.

Banned Books Week was initiated by the American Library Association in 1982 in response to an increasing number of challenges in the US to books in schools, bookstores and libraries, and in particular, books aimed at children or young adults. For the first time in the UK we are holding events, activities and publishing a series of blogs, all on the topic of Censorship and Banned Books, made possible by the partnership between The British Library, Free Word and Islington Library and Heritage Services and in association with the ALA.

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13 September 2016

More Virgil than Cervantes

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The British Library has recently purchased a rare copy of a little-known French verse adaptation of Cervantes’ novel Don Quijote. The Abbé Jouffreau de Lagerie (or Lazerie), published his Don Quichote: Poëme héroï-comique, in two parts in 1782-3. Biographical information is extremely scarce and Jouffreau de Lagerie is in fact better known as the anonymous author of a collection of erotic verse, Le Joujou des demoiselles, of which there were several editions. (The British Library possesses three: [Paris, 1750?] (P.C.27.a.35), [Paris, 1775?] (P.C 27.a.39), and one with the false imprint Larnaca, [1881?]( P.C.17.b.15).

Quichote1
Title-page of Don Quichote. Poëme héroï-comique (Monatauban, 1782-3) RB.23.a.36964

The Poëme is divided into 5 chants or cantos, preceded by a prose introduction. It is composed in the classical French metre of rhyming alexandrine couplets. The narrative draws on Cervantes’ novel but it is not in any way a version of it. It opens with Don Quixote’s distress at Dulcinea’s transformation into a peasant girl by the sorcerer Malembrin who has also carried her off to the Underworld. Encouraged by la Folie (Folly), the knight and Sancho Panza do battle with Malembrin and his army, led by the giant Freston. To save his forces from certain defeat the sorcerer transforms them into windmills, which inflict great damage on both knight and squire. Transformations preserve his army in two subsequent engagements. Folly returns to encourage Quixote, promising the return of Dulcinea and urging him on to new adventures. Spurred on, Quixote rescues Queen Lucinda from a gang of robbers. Malembrin now conspires with l’Amour (the God of Love), to make the knight fall in love with Lucinda. The King of the gods, alarmed at Quixote’s lapse, complains to Folly who, in the guise of a wronged queen, seeks Quixote’s aid. He abandons Lucinda, who takes her own life. Quixote descends to the Underworld, guided by Folly, where with the aid of other knights errant he defeats Malembrin. Dulcinea is rescued and freed from the evil spell.

Quichote2
Quixote leaves his house, led by Folly and Love. From an edition of Francois Filleul de Saint-Martin’s French translation, Histoire de l’admirable Don Quichotte de la Manche (Paris, 1741) Cerv.131. vol. 1, facing p. 11.

Malembrin and Freston both occur in Cervantes’ novel. Malambruno is the giant and sorcerer in the elaborate charade that is the ‘Dueña Dolorida’ episode (Don Quijote, II: 38-41); Frestón is the enchanter whom Quixote blames for his failures. Queen Lucinda, however, is clearly not the beloved of Cardenio (DQ. I: 24-37), but the Duchesse de Médoc from the second continuation of François Filleul de Saint-Martin’s version of Don Quijote (Paris, 1713; Cerv.126.). In Livre III, ch. 42, Don Quixote and Sancho rescue the Duke and Duchess from a band of robbers, as in the Poëme. Sancho’s elevation to the status of knight-errant also derives from the continuations.

In addition to the windmills episode, other notable incidents from Cervantes’ novel appear in the Poëme in a new guise. Malembrin’s transformation of his army into sheep to save them in the second encounter with Don Quixote is adapted from the knight’s mistaking a flock of sheep for an army (DQ, I: 18). The motif of a damsel in distress employed as a ruse echoes the role of Dorotea as the Princess Micomicona (DQ, I, 29-30) and the ‘Dueña dolorida’ episode.

As the opening lines suggest, however, what most characterizes Jouffreau de Lagerie’s work is its imitation of Virgil’s Aeneid. . The first line clearly echoes Virgil’s opening lines: ‘Arms and the man I sing who… exiled by fate’:

Je chante ce Héros qui loin de sa patrie
Fit revivre les lois de la chevalerie (Canto 1, p. 7)
(‘I sing of the Hero who, far from his native land,
revived the code of knight errantry’)

Quichotte3

To the world of chivalry and evil sorcerers is added that of the Classical gods and goddesses. So we have Folly (Greek Atë), Love (i.e. Eros/Cupid) and a ‘Roi des Dieux’, fancifully named ‘Tulican’ who nonetheless has the role of Zeus/Jupiter. Narrative motifs involving the gods can be traced to Virgil. For example, Folly’s tearful plea to Tulican on behalf of Quixote after Malembrin’s magic saves Freston’s army (Canto 2) echoes Venus’s plea to Jupiter to spare the Aeneas and the Trojans (Aeneid, Book I, lines 229 ff). Earlier, Folly successfully pleads with the god for the recovery of her freedom from la Sagesse, goddess of Wisdom (Canto 1). More blatant still, the Queen Lucinda episode, specifically the boar hunt and Lucinda’s suicide, derives from Virgil’s account of the fatal love of Dido for Aeneas (Aeneid, Book IV).

Jouffreau also employs extended similes, so typical of Virgil. Examples include the unlikely description of Sancho in battle as a lion defending his cubs against a hunter (Canto 2, p. 28); the likening of the dust clouds stirred up by Freston’s army to snow whipped up by the North wind (Canto 3, p. 4); and the comparison of the fall of the giant Morgan at Quixote’s hand to the felling of a pine tree (Canto 3, p. 9).

Unlike his Jouffreau’s anthology of erotic verse, this work was not a success to judge by the existence apparently of just one edition. Evidently drawing on the version of Filleul de Saint-Martin and its two continuations, Don Quichote emerges as a scholarly exercise in re-creating Classical Latin verse in French hexameters. Jouffreau’s Sancho is transformed from savvy peasant to knightly hero, as indeed is Quixote himself. He is worlds away from the comedic, but essentially human would-be knight-errant whose bookish ideals clash with the reality of Golden Age Spain. And surely it is only Cupid’s arrow that would have rendered Cervantes’ Don Quixote unfaithful to Dulcinea?

Geoff West, formerly Lead Curator Hispanic Collections

 

06 September 2016

From China to Peru

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Dr Johnson opened his ‘The vanity of Human Wishes’ in 1749 with the memorable:

Let Observation with extensive View,
Survey Mankind, from China to Peru;

Donald Greene argues that Johnson didn’t mean just the eastern and western extremes of the map but that for him Peru signified the atrocities wrought by the Spaniards on the Indians while China represented wisdom and culture.

What possibly underlay Johnson’s view was the synthetic proverb literature, exemplified by this recently-acquired little book, which showed Chinese wisdom to be comparable with European. (There was no such bibliography for Peru.)

Chinese Proverbs
Marc-Antoine Eidous, Proverbes et apophthegmes chinois, comparés avec les proverbes des autres peuples; pour faire suite aux Moralistes Anciens (Paris: A. J. Dugour, an 5 de la République) British Library RB.23.a.36863

The proverbs first appeared in Marc-Antoine Eidous’s Hau kiou choaan, ou Histoire Chinoise traduite du Chinois (1765).  Or  rather, that’s what it says here in the ‘Avertissement’.  In fact, it was ‘traduit du chinois en anglais’ by James Wilkinson, edited by Thomas Percy (he of the Percy Ballads), and put into French by Monsieur Eidous. By the way, this was a ‘pleasing history’ story rather than hard history.


Pleasing History frontispiece

Frontispiece and title-page of Hau kiou choaan or the pleasing history. A translation from the Chinese language. To which are added, I. The argument or story of a Chinese play, ... III. Fragments of Chinese poetry. (London, 1774) 243.i.30-31.

Pleasing history tp

Proverbes et apophthegmes prints all the proverbs, but trims some of the notes.

There really is nothing here that an 18th-century French reader wouldn’t recognise:

A boat whose planks are affixed with but bird-lime does not long resist the violence of the waves.

One may remove a blemish from a diamond by polishing it: but that of a prince who does not keep his word is never effaced.

And as an example of the comparative method:

Il est important de bien commencer en toutes choses: la faute la plus légère peut avor des suites funestes.
    Ce proverbe est le même dans plusieurs langues: En latin: Dimidium facti, qui bene coepit habet.  En français: De bon commencement bonne fin.


Chinese proverbs pp12-13
 Two pages of proverbs from Proverbes et apophthegmes chinois


Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

19 August 2016

Olympictures

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As the 2016 Olympics draw towards their close, in the spirit of Olympic internationalism and respect between nations, we thought we’d pay a BL European Studies homage to the successes enjoyed by Team GB with images from our historic collections showing some of the sports in which British athletes have won gold this year.

Britain’s very first medal in Rio was a gold – for swimmer Adam Peaty. Clearly he didn’t learn from the clumsy figures in Melchisedech Thevenot’s manual L’art de nager, first published in 1696, some of whom appear to be drowning rather than swimming successfully:

Olympics Swimming 1568-4677 pl.1 Olympics Swimming 1568-4677 pl.7

Olympics Swimming 1568-4677 pl.18 Olympics Swimming 1568-4677 pl.21
Melchisedech Thevenot,  L’art de nager ...Quatrième édition (Paris, 1782)

The last of these looks as if he might have just executed a rather clumsy dive – not something you would find synchro diving winners Jack Laugher and Chris Mears doing. Diving developed as a sport in Sweden and Germany in the early 19th century, and was linked to the development of gymnastics, a sport where Britain won Olympic gold for the first time in Rio. In honour of Max Whitlock’s two winning disciplines, here are some 19th-century German pommel horse and floor exercises:

Olympics gymnastics 785.f.29 Pommel Olympics gymnastics 785.f.29 floor
Illustrations from Hermann Robolsky und Adolph Töppe, Abbildungen von Turn-Uebungen (Berlin 1845)

It’s been a good year all round for British tennis, with Andy Murray’s second Wimbledon singles title and successful defence of his 2012 Olympic one. In 18th-century France, his sport would have been jeu de paume, illustrated here, with some of the tools involved in racquet making, from an encyclopaedia of arts and professions:

Olympics tennis 1811.c.20 pl. 3
François Alexandre de Garsault, Art du Paumier-Raquetier, et de la paume, from Descriptions des Arts et Métiers, vol. 7 (Paris, 1767) 1811.c.20.(7.)

Tennis is a rather stereotypically British sport, as is anything to do with horses, which brings us to dressage. Many of our books on ‘horse dancing’ are more haute école than modern Olympic dressage, but we think Charlotte Dujardin might recognise these moves from an 18th-century Spanish manual: 

Olympics Dressage 7907.e Circulo Olympics Dressage 7907.e pasear
Salvador Rodriguez Jordan, Escuela de a cavallo dividida en tres tratados… (Madrid, 1751) 7907.e.

Equestrianism has long been seen as the sport of kings, but if there’s one discipline where Britain has ruled in Rio, it’s cycling. This illustration from a late 19th-century German book suggests that this too was once the pastime of princes, here Ludwig Ferdinand and Alfons of Bavaria, though Britain’s lycra-clad winners – too many to name individually – with their lightweight, high-tech machines, might find it harder going with tweeds, bow ties, boaters and heavy bikes.

Olympics cycling  YA.1989.b.4724
Two Bavarian princes and their bikes, from Der Radfahrsport in Bild und Wort (Munich, 1897) YA.1989.b.4724

Finally (and with apologies to all the wonderful medallists whose sports we’ve had to miss out) a reminder that the modern Olympics were the brainchild of a Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin, and that the first modern Games in 1896 were held, like their ancient predecessors, in Greece – although in Athens, not Olympia, as this souvenir album, with Coubertin’s likeness on the cover, makes clear.

Olympics Anamnestikon 1896 1788.d.3
Cover of Anamnēstikon leukōma tōn Olympiakōn Agōnōn tou 1896 (Athens, 1896) 1788.d.3.