THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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79 posts categorized "Romance languages"

18 September 2017

Bertillons and others: some language textbooks of the past

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Back in 1979 my introduction to the French language – and indeed to learning any foreign language – came via a textbook entitled Le français d’aujourd’hui (‘Today’s French’) and its central protagonists, the Bertillon family, whose adventures were generally recounted in picture stories, with commentary and vocabulary, opposite a page explaining new grammar points with related exercises.

Bertillons 1
‘Voici la famille Bertillon...’, from P.J.Downes [and others] Le français d’aujourd’hui (London, 1966) Cup.1254.w.31.

La famille Bertillon consisted of Papa, Maman and three children: Philippe, Marie-Claude and Alain. They lived in the – presumably fictional – town of Villeneuve, complete with Miquet the cat and, a little later, Kiki the dog, a stray adopted by Alain in an early adventure. M Bertillon (Jean) was a customs officer at Orly airport while Mme Bertillon (Annette) was a stay-at-home mum.

Bertillons 2
Alain acquires a dog

After M Bertillon caught a smuggler at work – leaping athletically over his desk and crying ‘Au voleur!’ – he was rewarded with a bonus, enabling the family to move closer to Paris and the authors of the textbook to introduce the future tense: ‘When we are living in Sceaux I will…’. The imperfect tense was introduced in a rather less obvious way, with Philippe, inspired by a history lesson, falling asleep and dreaming of the life he would have led at various periods in the past. Our French teacher actually apologised to us for this chapter.

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M. Bertillon springs into action

After the move the Bertillons also acquired a car, which Mme Bertillon (who already had one cycling accident under her belt) managed to crash while taking Marie-Claude and Alain for a day out. On seeing the damaged car, M Bertillon, who had been at a rugby match with Philippe, exclaimed ‘Sacrebleu!’, translated by the book as the surprisingly mild ‘tut-tut’. Our teacher had another translation: ‘Never say this,’ she warned us, ‘It is the French equivalent of “Gadzooks.”’

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Mme Bertillon’s transport misfortunes: a cycling accident and a damaged car

Although not usually so mediaeval, Le français d’aujourd’hui, was certainly outdated by the time it fell into my generation’s teenaged hands, having been first published shortly before we were born. One of the chapters not featuring the Bertillons was a plug for ‘Concorde – l’avion de l’avenir’ and the lesson when we studied it was almost certainly interrupted by ‘the aeroplane of the future’ passing over us on its regular daily flight, its sonic boom rendering audible speech briefly impossible.

For German we had something rather more up-to-date, illustrated for additional verisimilitude with photographs taken in the city of Göttingen where the stories were set – although the wing collars and flared trousers of its mid-1970s characters seemed as hopelessly outmoded to our mid-1980s sensibilities as the Bertillons’ badly-drawn 1960s outfits.

Audio-lingual German 1
C.C.B. Wightwick and H, Strubelt, Longman Audio-Lingual German. Stage 1 (London, 1974) X.0900/404. The cover features, clockwise from top, regular characters Herr Körner, Dieter Kollwitz, Jürgen Starnberger and Frau Schütze 

As the title (surely one of the dullest for a textbook ever) implies, Longman Audio-Lingual German was also more up-to-date in its use of audio material. Listening to stories and dialogues, following the spoken narrative of wordless picture stories, and repeating phrases and sentences, all using reel-to-reel tapes in the classroom, were an integral part of the course.

Audio-lingual German picture story
A picture story from Audio-Lingual German, designed to make more sense when you heard the accompanying tape

Unlike the nuclear Bertillon family of Le français d’aujourd’hui, Audio-Lingual German featured a wide cast of characters. There was teenager Dieter Kollwitz and his friends, but the main focus was actually on adult characters, notably journalist Herr Körner and his landlady Frau Schütze.

Audio-lingual German Dieter
1970s teenager Dieter, in his 1970s bedroom, with his 1970s mother: ‘hopelessly outmoded to our mid-1980s sensibilities’

Most of these characters’ adventures, like those of the Bertillons, were fairly humdrum, except on the occasions when the writers introduced the two bizarrely useless petty criminals, Adolf and Hermann, who were presumably meant to add comic relief. In a particularly ridiculous episode, Hermann was smuggled into Herr Körner’s rooms inside a new sofa, in order to raid the premises. When this plan failed, he and Adolf, having no money for food, broke into a car to steal a sausage, only to discover that it was a plastic theatre prop. Like Philippe’s dream, this whole story triggered an apology in advance from the teacher.

We all rather assumed that Herr Körner and the widowed Frau Schütze would eventually get together, but it was not to be. At the end of Book 2, Herr Körner got a publishing deal and left Göttingen for Berlin, although his departure was inevitably hampered by Adolf and Hermann stealing his motorbike at a motorway service station, where several key characters from the books had conveniently converged.

Audio-lingual German Bike theft
Adolf (pillion) and Hermann (driving) make their final getaway, pursued by Herr Körner and friends

Looking back at these two textbook series, published approximately ten years apart, it is clear how much the approach to language learning, and indeed to the kind of material likely to engage the interest of secondary school children, had changed between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s. With modern language studies sadly declining in UK schools, it is to be hoped that today’s textbook writers and selectors are finding ways to engage modern schoolchildren in new ways with the pleasure of learning a language.

 Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

07 September 2017

‘The father of evolutionism’: Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon

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For someone who would be among the first to examine heredity from a scientific viewpoint, the origins of a little boy born in Burgundy on 7 September 7th 1707 were not promising. His father, Benjamin François Leclerc, was a very minor official administering the much-resented gabelle, or salt tax, and his mother Anne-Christine came from a similar background of civil servants. They might have expected that their son, named Georges-Louis after his godfather Blaisot, might follow the family tradition. However, prefiguring the career of Alexander von Humboldt, he grew up to reject the civil service in favour of the far more colourful world of travel, scholarship and natural history. His final break with his heritage was symbolized by his adoption of the name by which he is known to history – Buffon.

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Portrait of Buffon, from  Nouveaux morceaux choisis de Buffon (London, 1827) 07209.aa.33.

Young George-Louis’s life exemplified Perrault’s sage remarks in his Contes about the value of influential godparents. When he was seven his godfather, a wealthy tax-farmer, died without issue and left him a fortune. Despite the family’s sudden elevation (his father bought an estate containing the village of Buffon), there was no thought of raising him in luxury and idleness, and he was sent to study law in Dijon. In 1728 he transferred to Angers to pursue medicine and mathematics, and two years later accompanied the young Duke of Kingston on the Grand Tour through the south of France and into Italy. He made a hasty return to Dijon in 1732, as his mother had died, his father was about to remarry, and he feared that his inheritance might be in jeopardy. Having secured it, he set off for Paris to establish himself as a scientist – but not before buying back the village of Buffon which his father had sold, and whose name he had added to his own.

Mingling with Voltaire and other Parisian intellectuals, Buffon was admitted to the Academy of Sciences in 1734 in recognition of his achievements in calculus and probability theory. He was also taken up by the Comte de Maurepas, Secretary of State of the Navy and of the Maison du Roi, who was impressed by research which he carried out on timber for shipbuilding. With Maurepas’s help he was appointed to the directorship of the Jardin du Roi in 1739, expanding it by land purchases and the acquisition of numerous botanical and zoological specimens.

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Kingfisher, from  Buffon’ s Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, nouvelle édition (Paris,  [1798]-1808). 1149.a-e

A true polymath, Buffon cultivated not only exotic species but literary style, and was admitted to the Académie Française in 1753, delivering his Discours sur le style before his fellow Academicians. The work which made his reputation was his 36-volume Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière (1749-88; 971.f.2-9.). It rapidly achieved a wide readership, and as well as several volumes in the original, the British Library holds a number of translations, including The History of Singing Birds (Edinburgh, 1791), in which we find ‘directions for choosing a Canary-Bird, and to know if he be in health’ (readers were advised not to select a German specimen, as they were ‘tender and short-lived’ on account of the ‘suffocating heat of the stoves’ in their native country).

Buffon 1486.d.30 Canaries
Canaries, from the 1791 translation History of  Singing Birds; 1486.e.30

Turning his attention to greater subjects, Buffon commented on the distinctive species to be found in different areas with similar climates, later systematized as Buffon’s Law, and suggested that the many varieties of quadrupeds derived from thirty-eight prototypes, as well as that their development might have been influenced by climate change. Climatic considerations also led him to claim that the mephitic vapours gloomy and forests of the New World caused its denizens (both human and otherwise) to be inferior to their European fellows – despite these tactless remarks, in 1782 he was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His theories proved too audacious for the Sorbonne, and he was compelled to retract some of them, including his estimate that the earth was 75,000 years old, and, in his Les époques de la nature (1778), that the solar system had come into being when a comet collided with the sun. At Court, though, his popularity was invincible, and in 1772 Louis XVI made him a count (in compensation for having to withdraw from an undertaking that Buffon’s son, then aged eight, should succeed his father at the Jardin du Roi in the event of Buffon senior’s death).

Buffon 1149c Toucan
Toucan, from Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, nouvelle édition 

Despite concluding that humans and other primates were not closely related, Buffon’s theories bore certain similarities to those of Charles Darwin on the subjects of heredity and the survival of the fittest. He died in 1788, and his posthumous life was as curious as his earlier adventures; his tomb was broken open during the French Revolution, and the only remnant of his body known to survive was his brain, preserved in the statue by Pajou which now stands in the Musée d’histoire naturelle in Paris. However, through his influence on Lamarck, Cuvier and other natural historians of the 18th and 19th centuries, his intellectual legacy and scholarly reputation long outlived his scattered remains.

Susan Halstead, Social Sciences Subject Librarian, Research Services.

04 September 2017

No mean achievement: the first Basque New Testament

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The British Library possesses a fine copy of the New Testament in Basque, printed at La Rochelle in 1571. The principal translator was Joanes Leizarraga (1506-1601). Born at Briscous in the French Basque province of Labourd, he trained as a Catholic priest. However, by 1560 he had converted to Protestantism, later taking refuge in the territory of Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre. She herself had converted to Calvinism in 1559 and was the leading promoter of the Huguenot cause.

Leizarraga undertook the translation in 1563 at the behest of the Synod of Pau of the Reformed Church of Navarre-Béarn. The work is dedicated to Jeanne d’Albret, who financed the translation, and her coat of arms appears on the title page. Subsequently, in 1567, she appointed Leizarraga minister of the church of Labastide in Lower Navarre in 1567.

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Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre-Béarn, by François Clouet (1570) (Image from the Gallica Digital Library via Wikimedia Commons)

As elsewhere in Reformation Europe, making the Bible available to the laity in the vernacular was a priority. Leizarraga, however, faced particular difficulties. The earliest surviving book in Basque was printed in Bordeaux as late as 1545. No copy has survived of a reported second book, a Spanish-Basque catechism, printed in Spanish Navarre in 1561. He was thus unable to draw on an established form of written Basque in producing his translation. Moreover, at this period Basque was spoken in a number of dialects and varied noticeably from village to village, ‘almost from house to house’ as Leizarraga himself remarks in the preliminaries addressed to ‘Heuscalduney’, the speakers of Basque. He resolved to create a generalized form of the language, based on three dialects: largely that of Labourd, plus Lower Navarrese and Souletin.

He was assisted in this by four other Basque ministers, of whom at least two came from Soule. Leizarraga and his collaborators based their text on a version of the French Geneva Bible but with regard also to the Vulgate and to the Greek. In so doing they effectively created a Basque literary language, although one that took many words directly from Latin. This is evident in a comparison between the opening verses of the Lord’s Prayer in Leizarraga’s version (L) and one in modern Basque (B). The borrowings from Latin are in bold:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew VI: 9-10).
L: Gure Aita ceruëtã aicena, sanctifica bedi hire icena. Ethor bedi hire resumá. Eguin bedi hire vorondatea ceruän beçala lurrean-ere.
B: Gure Aita zeruetan zaudena, santu izan bedi zure izena. Etor bedi zure erreinua, egin bedi zure nahia, zeruan bezala lurrean ere.

Subsequently, Basque developed in a less learned, more popular direction. Nonetheless, the work is of considerable value to grammarians and philologists when studying the language of Leizarraga’s day and its subsequent evolution.

The 1571 volume contains a number of additional texts. These include glossaries (e.g. of Hebrew and Greek proper names); a topical index to the New Testament; instructions on conducting various religious ceremonies, e.g. marriage; and a catechism for children. Two smaller works by Leizarraga were also published by the same press in La Rochelle in 1571: a religious calendar, including Easter Tables, and a Protestant catechism.

Basque NT
The Basque New Testament, Testamentu berria (La Rochelle: Pierre Hautin, 1571) 217.d.2.

It has been estimated that some 25 copies of the 1571 Basque New Testament survive. Four are in the UK: at the British Library, Bodleian Library, John Rylands Library and Cambridge University Library (from the collection of the British and Foreign Bible Society, presented by Louis Lucien Bonaparte). The BL copy is in the King’s Library and was thus acquired for George III’s collection and then donated to the British Museum in 1823. Its earlier history is unknown. In recent years, two copies have been auctioned in London and acquired by institutions in the Spanish Basque Country. The copy that belonged to the Marquis of Bute was sold at Sotheby’s in 1995 and bought by a Spanish bank, the Caja de Ahorros de Navarra. Since 2014 it has been deposited in the Biblioteca Nacional de Navarra. In 2007 another copy was purchased at Christie’s by Euskaltzaindia, the Basque Language Academy. The high prices paid for these copies at auction, particularly in 1995, indicate the iconic status that Leizarraga’s translation now has for the Basque people.

Geoff West, former Curator Hispanic Collections

References/Further reading

Historia de la literatura vasca. Ed. Patrizio Urquiz Sarasua. (Madrid, 2000) HLR. 899.92

Lafon, René, Le système du verbe basque au XVIe siècle. (Bordeaux, 1943) X.902/3245

Leizarraga, Ioannes, Iesus Christ gure iaunaren Testamentu berria… ed. Th. Linschmann & Hugo Schuchardt. (Bilbao, 1990) [A reprint of the 1900 Strasburg edition] YA.2003.a.33511

Olaizola Iguiñiz, Juan María de, El Reino de Navarra en la encrucijada de su historia: el protestantismo en el País Vasco. 2nd ed. (Pamplona, 2011) YF.2011.a.26524

Villasante, Luis, Historia de la literatura vasca, 2nd ed. ([Oñate?], 1979) YA.1986.a.6853.

01 September 2017

‘Le chef de l’école du laid’: Gustave Courbet in 19th-century caricatures.

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1L'Eclipse
Caricature of Courbet by André Gill from L’Eclipse, 2 July 1870 MFM.MF45

Gustave Courbet, who started painting in the 1840s, is well-known for his large-scale realist works focusing on themes and subjects of everyday life. He favoured landscapes and genre scenes (as opposed to religious, historical or mythological topics), without trying to idealise or romanticise them. Courbet was often attacked and criticised in the satirical press for his artistic stance, susceptible to offend the tastes of a bourgeois audience, as his paintings contrasted with the academic works exhibited through the established Parisian Salon, an annual event originally organised by the Académie Royale de peinture et de sculpture in the Salon carré in the Louvre palace.

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Above
: ‘Le Salon dépeint et dessiné par Bertall’, Le Journal pour rire, No 91, 25 June 1853. LOU.F117. Below:
 Gustave Courbet, Les baigneuses, 1853 (Musée Fabre, Montpellier)

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Courbet and his realist paintings led to many caricatures, as from the 1850s onwards they were engulfed in the publicity deriving from the annual Salon and the Expositions universelles, which were accompanied by thorough guides, accounts and widely disseminated reports, often written by personalities of the time such as Daumier, Baudelaire or Diderot. Whether as individual articles published in the satirical press or collected in dedicated Albums circulating in parallel with the official ones, the extent of the humoristic illustrated reviews of the artworks exhibited at the Salons was such that they have been called ‘Salons caricaturaux’. Courbet, who liked to stage himself, and enjoyed society, took advantage of the artistic and political scandal surrounding him. In 1855 and 1867, he organised himself private exhibitions of his work as an alternative to the official Salon. Finally, despite their satirising and comical intent, some caricatures showed him and his works in a positive light.

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André Gill, ‘Courbet’, Le salon pour rire, 1868, reproduced in Charles Léger, Courbet selon les caricatures et les images… (Paris, 1920.) 7860.g.23.

 In Gill’s caricature, shown above, Courbet is portrayed as a bulging, bearded man, wearing clogs and smoking a pipe on top of two pictures exhibited at the 1868 Salon, Le chevreuil chassé aux écoutes, printemps (The Hunted Roe Deer on the Alert) and L’Aumône d’un mendiant à Ornans (The Charity of a Beggar at Ornans), where the beggar is depicted as a scarecrow.

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The two pictures caricatured by Gill. Above: Le chevreuil chassé aux écoutes, printemps, 1867 (Musée d’Orday, Paris). BelowL’Aumône d’un mendiant à Ornans, 1868, (Burrell Collection, Glasgow)

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As an artist Courbet faced the social and moral conservatism of the Second Empire: his realist paintings were criticised as vulgar and dirty and his nudes contrasted with classical models (in 1866, he painted the provocative L’Origine du Monde, focusing on a woman’s genitalia). His political stance, close to the anarchist philosopher Proudhon and to the Socialists, also played a part in the controversy surrounding him. The revolutionary upheaval of 1870 and the fall of Napoleon III led to the Paris Commune, until the French defeat against the Prussians in 1871.

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Caricature by Cham from Le Charivari, 7 April 1851, reproduced in Courbet selon les caricatures et les images…

At the time, Courbet stood as a political candidate and became a Delegate of Fine Arts for the Commune. He ensured the opening of the Louvre and Luxembourg museums and campaigned for the abolition of prestigious but conservative artistic institutions and national prizes. A particular controversy, widely derided in the satirical press, surrounded the destruction of the Napoleonic Vendôme Column, which Courbet had wished to be relocated because of its imperialistic connotations: he was later held responsible and heavily fined for its demolition. Léonce Schérer’s caricature amalgamates the image of Courbet as a déboulonneur (debunker) with a reference to his controversial Les Casseurs de pierres (The Stone-breakers) destroyed during the Second World War

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Above
: Léonce Schérer, Souvenirs de la Commune (4 August 1871) reproduced in Courbet selon les caricatures et les images… Below: Gustave Courbet, Les Casseurs de pierres, 1849 (Image from The Yorck Project via Wikimedia Commons

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Courbet was used as a subject by many caricaturists of the time who published in periodicals such as L’Illustration, Journal pour rire, Journal amusant, Charivari, Tintamarre, La Lune, L’Eclipse... Courbet’s caricatures made him an image of excess, in eating, drinking and smoking, depicting him as a hairy, unkempt, loud and talkative dandified peasant in clogs (originally from the Jura region/Franche-Comté, he suffered from dropsy). Léonce Petit shows Courbet with a bovine face, painting surrounded by farm animals.

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Léonce Petit, ‘Courbet’ from Eugène Vermersch, Les Binettes rimées, Paris, 1868, as reproduced on the cover of Courbet face à la caricature : le chahut par l'image, ed. Thomas Schlesser, Bertrand Tillier (Paris, 2007). YF.2009.a.9419

The caricatures of Courbet crystallise the contemporary reception of the artist and his work, highlighting his modernism and deepening our understanding of his contemporaries, fellow artists and French (Parisian) society in the second half of the 19th century. They make fun of the subject matter chosen by the artist and of his realist style, presented as leading to ugliness (“Pourquoi veut-il forcer la nature de son talent, et se faire le chef de l’école du laid?”, Charles Diguet, Dartagnan, 11 June 1868), profanity, infantilism or caricature (“Etrange artiste que M. Courbet! Il se complaît sept fois sur dix à parodier son talent”, B. de Renjarde). It is artificiality rather than naturalism in the painter’s work which is derided in Nadar’s caricature of Courbet’s Les Demoiselles des bords de la Seine (Young ladies on the banks of the Seine) represented as two manikins knocked on the ground.

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Above
: Gustave Courbet, Les Demoiselles des bords de la Seine (été), 1857 (Petit Palais, Paris). Below: Caricature of Les Demoiselles des bords de la Seine from Nadar, Jury au Salon de 1857. 1000 comptes rendus. 150 dessins (Paris, [1857]) 1256.kk.12.(2.)

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Irène Fabry-Tehranchi (Curator, Romance collections)

References/Further reading:

Courbet: a dream of modern art, ed. Klaus Herding and Max Hollein (Ostfildern, 2010) LD.31.b.3260

Courbet: artiste et promoteur de son œuvre, dir. Jörg Zutter (Paris, 1998). LF.31.b.3003

Courbet et la commune: Paris, musée d'Orsay, 13 mars-11 juin 2000 (Paris, 2000). YA.2000.a.15311

Courbet und Deutschland: Hamburger Kunsthalle, 19. Oktober - 17. Dezember 1978 (Cologne, 1978) X:410/7164

Gustave Courbet (New York, 2008). LF.31.b.4666

Gustave Courbet, ed. Ulf Küster (Ostfildern, 2014) LF.31.b.11038

Gustave Courbet: les années suisses, dir. Laurence Madeline (Paris, 2014) LF.31.b.12398

Gustave Courbet et la Belgique: réalisme de l’art vivant à l'art libre, ed. Brigitte de Patoul (Brussels, 2013) YF.2015.a.20099

Klaus Herding, Courbet: to venture independence, transl. John William Gabriel (New Haven, 1991) YC.1992.b.1465

Julia Langbein & Tobias Czudej, Sturtevant & The Salon Pour Rire: Bertall / Cham / Daumier / Gill / Nadar / Oulevay / Sturtevant, 31 March – 6 May, 2017, 139 Lambeth Walk, London http://www.chewdays.com/sturtevant---the-salon-pour-rire.html

 Hélène Toussaint, Gustave Courbet, 1819-1877: the Royal Academy of Arts, 19 January-19 March 1978, transl. P. S. Falla (London, 1978). X.410/10217

 

11 August 2017

Bread as a weapon in two Spanish wars

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In Anthony Mann’s film of El Cid, the hero lays siege to Valencia, held by Al Kadir, in 1093-4. To quote the novelisation by Robert Krepps:

Al Kadir awoke slowly as was his habit. The pangs of hunger already ate away at his swollen belly [...] He heard a confused noise outside the palace; probably the damned machinery of the infidel was hurling stones already, for he could hear between the babbling cries of the people the short thunks of missiles striking tiles and earth.
[...] He could see only people moving at staggering runs through the dark streets below. One of them waved something. It looked like a big loaf of bread, but could not be. [...]
‘What is it? What is it he?’ shouted, rushing across the broad wall to them.[...]
‘The infidels are bombarding the city,’ said one, saluting without straightening up. ‘With food’. (pp. 196-7)

El Cid film tie-in

 Cover of Robert Krepps, El Cid (London, 1961) X.907/3319

The more sober historian Richard Fletcher writes in The Quest for El Cid (London, 1989; YC.1989.b.6501):

Food shortages began to be felt in the city. No relief force appeared. About the end of May Ibn Jahhaf opened negotiations. Terms of surrender were agreed. Rodrigo Díaz had made himself the master of Valencia.( p. 164)

The great Spanish philologist Ramón Menéndez Pidal (1869-1968) was advisor to director Anthony Mann. The plot drew on not only the medieval epic Poema de Mío Cid (1200?) but also the ballads, which supplied the love of the Cid and Doña Jimena.

El Cid 1541

Title-page of a 16th-century printed version of the Cid story ([Seville], 1541) C.39.g.5.

From the 11th century we now move to the 20th, no more civilised.

Here too we find food – bread in particular – as a weapon. Paul Preston writes in The Last Days of the Spanish Republic (London, 2016; YC.2017.a.6495):

It was said that more than 400 people died of inanition each week in Madrid [...]In November [1938], when the Francoists bombed Madrid with fresh white bread, JSU [Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas, actually a communist group] militants denounced this as a insulting gesture and burned the loaves in street bonfires. Alvaro Delgado, a student at the time, told the British historian Ronald Fraser: ‘It came down in sacks with propaganda wrapped round it saying: “This bread is being sent you by your nationalist brothers.” It was beautiful, white bread. Some came through a broken skylight at the Fine Arts School, and when no one was around I and other students ate so much we felt sick.’ On the streets, others trampled the bread in a fury. Despite their hunger, people were shouting: “Don’t pick it up.” Even [Segismundo] Casado recalled later that women and children launched themselves on to some men who were seen picking up the bread. They collected the loaves and took them to the Dirección General de Seguridad, the national police headquarters, whence it was transported to the battlefront and handed back to the Francoists. (p. 41)

Even the most dedicated Waitrose shopper needn’t be reminded that in the 1930s the most prestigious bread was white.

El Cid Bread

Republican soldiers distributing bread in the Spainish  Civil War

I learn from John Aberth’s A Knight at the Movies: Medieval History on Film (London, 2003; YC.2005.a.214) that the medieval film scene was not only fictitious, and modelled on the events of the Civil War:

But even [Menéndez] Pidal, who places great emphasis on the Cid’s humane treatment of his enemies, does not go so far as to say that his hero fed the inhabitants of a city he was trying to starve into submission. Instead, the scene closely follows a characteristic piece of Nationalistic propaganda: that its conquering forces were humanitarian ‘liberators’, as evidenced by carefully staged film footage of female members of the Falange distributing bread and food from the backs of trucks to the outstretched hands of a grateful crowd (p. 140).

We can all appreciate the sacrifice the Republicans made in destroying the loaves, but we should also remember that there is a taboo in Spain on wasting food, particularly bread.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

01 August 2017

Reforming Switzerland

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With 1 August being Swiss National Day and 2017 marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it seems like an good moment to look at the Reformation in Switzerland. The country boasts two of the early centres of European Protestantism, Zurich and Geneva, and the latter city is still in some ways synonymous with Protestantism.

Zurich was the first Swiss city to introduce the Reformation, under the guidance of Huldrych Zwingli, preacher and later canon at the Grossmünster, one of Zurich’s most important churches. From his first appointment in 1519 Zwingli began to introduce reformist ideas, influenced by both Luther and Erasmus, into his sermons and practice.

Reformation Zwingli portrait
Huldrych Zwingli, from Theodore de Bèze, Icones, id est veræ imagines virorum doctrina simul et pietate illustrium ... ([Geneva], 1580). 611.e.3.

But the decisive move, seen as the real start of Zurich’s Reformation, came in March 1522 when Zwingli attended a meal in the house of the printer Christoph Froschauer during which sausages were served. This may sound trivial to modern minds, but the ‘Zürcher Wurstessen’ was no ordinary sausage supper. It took place during the fasting season of Lent when the Church required its members to abstain from eating meat. By condoning the breaking of this fast, Zwingli was openly challenging the Church’s authority. He wrote a defence of the action and general condemnation of fasting, claiming it had no scriptural authority, and followed this up in with an attack on clerical celibacy.

Erkiesen und Freyheit 3905.d.131
An edition of Huldrych Zwingli’s condemnation of religious fasting, Von Erkiesen und Freyhait der Speisen ... ([Zurich, 1522]). 3905.d.131.

 The Reformation progressed in Zurich, but not without controversy. Zwingli was opposed not only by the traditional Church authorities but by more radical reformers who believed he was too compromising in his stance. Zwingli also disagreed with Luther on key points, notably the Real Presence of Christ in the eucharist. A debate between Luther, Zwingli and their respective supporters in 1529 failed to resolve their differences.

Meanwhile, although some Swiss cities and cantons followed Zurich’s reforming lead, others banded together to defend their traditional faith, leading to the first of several confessional conflicts over the coming centuries. Zwingli himself was killed in one of these wars in 1531.

Five years later a young French theologian, Jean Calvin, settled in Geneva. Following a conversion to the reformed faith, Calvin had published Institutio Christianae Religionis (Institutes of the Chrisitan Religion) as an expression of his own faith and an interpretation of reformed religion for new believers, which he would revise and enlarge throughout his life.

Reformation Calvin Institutio
The first edition of Calvin’s Institutio Christianae Religionis (Basel, 1536). C.53.aa.16.

Calvin and his associates began to introduce their brand of religious reform to Geneva. After initial difficulties Calvin was gradually able to develop the city into a centre of Protestantism. It became a magnet for scholars and also a refuge for reformers persecuted in their own countries. Among the latter was William Whittingham, whose English translation of the Bible, known as the ‘Geneva Bible’, became standard in contemporary Protestant Britain and remained popular among noncoformists even after the publication of the King James Bible.

Reformation Calvin portrait
Jean Calvin, From Bèze, Icones...

Another refugee, the Scottish reformer John Knox, described Geneva as ‘the most perfect school of Christ that ever was … since the days of the Apostles’, but not everyone was so impressed. Voltaire would later complain that, by closing down the convents, Calvin and his associates had managed to ‘turn all society into a convent’ and that ‘for more than two hundred years there was not a single musical instrument allowed in the city of Geneva’. Calvin’s Geneva still has a reputation as a rigidly puritanical society run as a near-theocracy, where popular pleasures were banned and moral standards strictly enforced.

Yet like that other European stronghold of Calvinism, the Netherlands, Geneva also developed a reputation in the following centuries for tolerance and would offer refuge to figures such as Voltaire himself, as well as remaining a home of strict Protestant observance. Today the city actually has a higher proportion of Catholic than Protestant residents, but still celebrates its history as ‘the Rome of Protestantism’.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

27 July 2017

Robotic and Quixotic

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The current exhibition at the Science Museum on Robots and their history prompts some thoughts about robots in Spain.

Probably the most famous robot in Spanish literature is the bronze head in the house of Don Antonio Moreno, which appears in Don Quixote (Vol. II, ch. 62). Don Antonio leads Don Quixote into a room with “a table, apparently of jasper, resting on a pedestal of the same, upon which was set up, after the fashion of the busts of the Roman emperors, a head which seemed to be of bronze.” Swearing his guest to the strictest secrecy, he explains:

“This head, Senor Don Quixote, has been made and fabricated by one of the greatest magicians and wizards the world ever saw, a Pole, I believe, by birth, and a pupil of the famous Escotillo of whom such marvellous stories are told. He was here in my house, and for a consideration of a thousand crowns that I gave him he constructed this head, which has the property and virtue of answering whatever questions are put to its ear. He observed the points of the compass, he traced figures, he studied the stars, he watched favourable moments, and at length brought it to the perfection we shall see to-morrow, for on Fridays it is mute, and this being Friday we must wait till the next day. In the interval your worship may consider what you would like to ask it; and I know by experience that in all its answers it tells the truth.”

Quixote Bronze head 1730

 Don Antonio shows the talking head to Don Quixote, from Vida y Hechos del Ingenioso Cavallero Don Quixote de la Mancha ... (Madrid, 1730) 89.b.18.

The next day, Don Antonio takes his wife, Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, and two other gentlemen and ladies to test the bronze head. He approaches first and asks it what he is thinking of:

The head, without any movement of the lips, answered in a clear and distinct voice, so as to be heard by all, “I cannot judge of thoughts.”
All were thunderstruck at this, and all the more so as they saw that there was nobody anywhere near the table or in the whole room that could have answered. “How many of us are here?" asked Don Antonio once more; and it was answered him in the same way softly, “Thou and thy wife, with two friends of thine and two of hers, and a famous knight called Don Quixote of La Mancha, and a squire of his, Sancho Panza by name.”

The guests then ask their questions in turn: one woman wants to know how she can be beautiful and is told, “Be very modest.” The other asks whether her husband loves her and is advised to “Think how he uses thee”

One of the gentlemen asks the straighforward question “Who am I?”:

“Thou knowest,” was the answer. “That is not what I ask thee,” said the gentleman, “but to tell me if thou knowest me.” “Yes, I know thee, thou art Don Pedro Noriz,” was the reply.
“I do not seek to know more,” said the gentleman, “for this is enough to convince me, O Head, that thou knowest everything”.

The other gentleman asks about the wishes of his eldest son and receives the disturbing answer: “to bury thee.”

Don Antonio’s wife wants to know whether she will “have many years of enjoyment of my good husband” and is assured: ‘“Thou shalt, for his vigour and his temperate habits promise many years of life, which by their intemperance others so often cut short.”’

Don Quixote’s turn comes next:

“Tell me, thou that answerest, was that which I describe as having happened to me in the cave of Montesinos the truth or a dream? Will Sancho's whipping be accomplished without fail? Will the disenchantment of Dulcinea be brought about?”
“As to the question of the cave,” was the reply, “there is much to be said; there is something of both in it. Sancho’s whipping will proceed leisurely. The disenchantment of Dulcinea will attain its due consummation.”
“I seek to know no more," said Don Quixote; “let me but see Dulcinea disenchanted, and I will consider that all the good fortune I could wish for has come upon me all at once.”

Finally Sancho asks his questions and is less impressed with the answers than his aristocratic companions:

Head, shall I by any chance have another government? Shall I ever escape from the hard life of a squire? Shall I get back to see my wife and children?” To which the answer came, “Thou shalt govern in thy house; and if thou returnest to it thou shalt see thy wife and children; and on ceasing to serve thou shalt cease to be a squire.”
“Good, by God!” said Sancho Panza; “I could have told myself that; the prophet Perogrullo could have said no more.”
“What answer wouldst thou have, beast?” said Don Quixote; “is it not enough that the replies this head has given suit the questions put to it?”
“Yes, it is enough," said Sancho; “but I should have liked it to have made itself plainer and told me more.”

Quixote bronze head 1755
 Sancho interrogates the head and is rebuked by Don Quixote, from The History and Adventures of the Renowned Don Quixote. …(London, 1755) 12490.k.6.

This episode can be seen as a parody of the talking head of Friar Roger Bacon  but the romances of chivalry which Cervantes mocks consistently are full of automata. Given the magic which pervades the chivalresque genre, all these automata are presented as genuine.

Bronze Head of Friar Bacon
The legendary brazen talking head of Roger Bacon, from Robert Greene, The honorable historie of Frier Bacon and Frier Bongay (London, 1630) 11773.bbb.2.

But what we know and Quixote and Sancho do not is that Don Antonio’s marvellous head is a fake.

Quixote is easily taken in by humanoids: recall the the puppets of Maese Pedro (I, 22), and the windmills (I, 8).

Quixote puppets 1808Don Quixote attacks Maese Pedro’s puppets, from Historia del Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (Barcelona, 1808) 1070.e.17.

I’ve seen a street performer imitating a living statue of the Man of La Mancha in the streets of Cervantes’s home town of Alcalá.

And in 1621 the guild of silversmiths of Mexico City organised a procession of characters from the novel, in which Quixote himself wore a ‘mask of silver’ (máscara de plata) and carried a silver lance.

Superhuman’, a recent exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, examined how the human body has been improved and extended by prosthetics.

Rendered invulnerable (in his own estimation) by his plate armour, his grasp extended by his lance and his speed multiplied by his horse (likewise armoured), is not the Don himself a type of automaton?

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References:

Miguel de Cervantes, The ingenious gentleman : Don Quixote of La Mancha : a translation with introduction and notes by John Ormsby. (London, 1885). 12489.k.4. (Available online at: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Don_Quixote)

Jesús Duce García (ed.), Antología de autómatas en los libros de caballerías castellanos (Alcalá, 2016) YF.2016.a.16418

José Rojas Garcidueñas, Presencias de Don Quijote en las artes de México (1965)
X.0972/39.b.(1.)

25 July 2017

A rediscovered incunable

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Books in the iconic King’s Library Tower offer the most publicly visible representation of early printed books in the British Library. Specialist, in-depth catalogue descriptions  help us know and use what is there, but one vellum-bound copy of a popular 15th-century work has somehow sat neglected on its shelves for a couple of hundred years. How can this be?

The copy of Modus legendi abbreviaturas has a shelfmark 166.i.21 but has no British Library catalogue record; this effectively means nobody has been in a position to know about its existence.

Modus legendi f.1
The first printed page of Modus legendi abbreviaturas (166.i.21). The stamp used to identify King George III’s books is pressed over its first line of type.

Lists of books must be arranged meaningfully to be useful. Historically, many fashions and rules for description have been followed but key components are expected: authors and titles; the places and dates of printing and the name of the printer. A book’s title page is easily taken for granted – but how do you describe a book without the quickly accessible information contained on a title page or in a book’s colophon?

Modus legendi abbreviaturas is a reference book for studying Roman and Canon law, a glossary for unpicking the thousands of abbreviations, contractions and symbols used in Latin legal manuscripts and texts. It is, perhaps, the first manual of palaeography. More than 40 editions were printed in the 15th century alone; the first is thought to date from 1476.

Our copy that has lurked at 166.i.21 presents a problem because it is ‘Absque ulla nota’, i.e. it has no identifying marks such as printer, location or date. This may be one of the reasons why it was neglected. Past librarians could identify the work from the text but crucially could not specify where, when and by whom the book was printed.

Modus legendi KL cat Entry for 166.i.21 in the Bibliothecae Regiae Catalogus

 The Bibliothecae Regiae Catalogus compiled after George III’s death by F.A. Barnard and privately printed between 1820 and 1829, lists the book under the subject heading, ‘Jurisprudentia’ (its author was unknown at the time). Details about its 34 lines (of type) and 48 pages are given as distinguishing features. The shelfmark 166.i.21 is written in pencil but this information was apparently never carried over into the Library’s main catalogue.

Over the centuries, librarians and bibliographers have collated close studies of printers’ type to help identify where early hand-press printed works may have originated. Our copy here has a note in pencil, ‘Not in Panzer’, a reference to its absence from what was the first comprehensive attempt to catalogue incunabula, Georg Wolfgang Panzer’s Annales Typographici  (1793-1797).

 As closer bibliographic study of print type and other evidence has progressed it has been possible to identify or estimate the people, places and dates associated with elusive ‘unsigned’ works.

Modus legendi GK1

The beginning of the entry for the numerous editions of Modus legendi abbreviaturas in , ‘GK1’ - the first general printed catalogue of books in the British Museum, published in the 1890s. The attribution to the ‘R-Printer’ (now believed to be Adolf Rusch) is an example of how print types are used to identify or describe unsigned editions. The ‘161.i.21’ edition, in the collection for 70 years by this time, is missing from the record.

Research into books printed in the Low Countries suggest that the edition represented in the copy at 161.i.21 is the work of Gerardus de Leempt (active 1473-1488) and that it was probably printed in Utrecht, Nijmegen or even Cologne. De Leempt was a journeyman printer – first and foremost a skilled type-cutter – who collaborated with others to produce books. Few of his books were signed.

Modus legendi Historia colophon

Gerardus de Leempt’s name at the end of his printing of Petrus Comestor’s Historia scholastica (1473) IB.4 7031 – if only he had signed his name at the end of his other imprints, like 161.i.21!

The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue  states that there are ten known surviving copies of this particular de Leempt imprint; the rediscovery of this book happily adds another.

Fittingly for a work dedicated to deciphering texts, further research on the text of Modus legendi abbreviaturas suggests that the author’s identity – Werner von Schussenried, a jurist from Speyer – is concealed/revealed in an acrostic formed by taking the first letters of each line in a section of the book’s text (it doesn’t exactly jump out of the page though!).

The rediscovery of this copy provides opportunity to examine the particular edition more closely and it is quite exciting to see that the watermark on the paper used for de Leempt’s edition suggests that it may actually be the earliest of the 40 or so editions of von Schussenried’s legal glossary.

Modus legendi watermark

Watermark from a page in the 161.i.21 copy of Modus legend abbreviaturas – a bull’s head, curved muzzle, and cross – used on paper in the Low Countries in 1473, perhaps dating Leempt’s book to three years before what is thought to be the first edition from 1476.

 So how was this copy saved from obscurity? Many might think it reprehensible that the book has been missed for so many years, but arguably its rediscovery is also a sign of the Library’s good custodianship. It was found by the Library’s dedicated Collections Audit Officer undertaking systematic checks of shelf ranges against catalogue holdings.

It’s not unusual for ‘unrecorded’ copies of incunabula to be discovered sitting shyly on shelves in other national libraries. A comment in a review of a new catalogue of incunabula in the Summer 2014 issue of  The Book Collector (P.1901/86.), nails it somewhat, “If one wonders how it can be that so many generations have missed incunabula sitting on the shelves ... at the same time one must be grateful that a thorough search is now being made.”

 Christian Algar, Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 Further reading:

Wytze Gerbens Hellinga and Lotte Hellinga, The Fifteenth-Century Printing Types of the Low Countries. Translated from the Dutch by D. A. S. Reid. (Amsterdam, 1966) L.R.412.d.6

Incunabula printed in the Low Countries: a census edited by Gerard van Thienen & John Goldfinch. (Nieuwkoop, 1999). 2745.a.3/36

Victor Scholderer,  ‘The Author of the Modus legendi abbreviaturas,’ The Library, third ser., II, 1911, pp. 181-182. Ac.9670/24.

19 July 2017

A French Revolution Primer for Bastille Day!

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01 Order de Marche

Ordre de marche pour la Confédération. Qui aura lieu le 14 juillet, & dispositions dans le Champ-de-Mars. ([Paris], 1790). R.659.(32.)

Last Friday, 14 July, the Library’s French Collections curators attended the annual celebrations of the “Fête nationale” at the French Embassy in London. While a current exhibition at the British Library is commemorating the anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution the national celebration of 14 July in France gives us the opportunity to provide a sweeping summary of the events surrounding the 1789 French revolution, highlighting the presence of a major collection of c. 50,000 French revolutionary books, pamphlets and periodicals in the library collections, along with primary sources originating from the library of King George III, and a collection of items (manuscripts and prints, as well as engravings and paintings) relating to the doctor, journalist and revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat, donated by his bibliographer, François Chèvremont, at the end of the 19th century.

08 Te Deum

A political parody, Le nouveau Te Deum français (Paris, 1790) F.R.82.(4.)

In May 1789, in the context of increasing financial difficulties in the kingdom of France, King Louis XVI summoned the Estates General (les états généraux), who met according to their ancient structure of Clergy, Nobility and Commons. An immediate, defining and most contentious issue was how the voting system was to be decided – by head or by Estate. In June, fearing that military manoeuvres around Versailles were intended to disband the Estates General, the Third Estate, together with members of the other two Estates declared itself to be the Assemblée Nationale and vowed, by means of the Tennis Court Oath, not to separate until a constitution had been written for France. By this act, the Assemblée Nationale declared itself to be the supreme legislative authority for a unified Nation-State called France (instead of a collection of provinces with different laws and customs) owing loyalty to the same monarch.

03 Prospectus

 Prospectus d’une souscription civique, proposée aux Amis de la Constitution, pour l’exécution d’un Tableau... représentant le serment fait à Versailles dans un jeu de Paume, par les Députés des Communes, le 20 juin 1789 (Paris, 1790) R.68.(4.)

After the Paris insurrection, which involved the emblematic storming of the Bastille prison, on 14 July 1789, the National Constituent Assembly took a series of measures establishing major legal and administrative changes, promoting liberty, equality and fraternity, abolishing privileges and feudalism, and adopting the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. A first Constitution written by the National Assembly was accepted by the king in September 1791, sealing the end of the absolute monarchy; it was a period of governmental crisis and political discord and upheaval.

04 Adresse

 Pierre Athanase Nicolas Pépin Dégrouhette, Adresse aux Français de la Société fraternelle des deux sexes, défenseurs de la Constitution séante aux Jacobins S. Honoré (Paris, 1791) F.R.82.(17.)

In the summer of 1792, after the invasion of the Tuileries Palace by the Parisian people, Louis XVI and his family were imprisoned in the Temple prison. The monarchy was overthrown and a new constitution and government were needed. Elections led to the creation of the National Convention, which declared France a republic on 22 September 1792. About a year later, a new revolutionary calendar, replacing religious references with seasonal one, was adopted, using this date as its starting point. While France was at war with Austria and Prussia, Louis XVI, who may have hoped a foreign victory against the French army would restore the absolute monarchy, was tried for high treason by the Convention and beheaded on 21 January 1793.

05 Sentinelle

 Revolutionary periodical: no. 73. 21 Novembre. L’An 1er de la République Française. La Sentinelle, sur Louis le Dernier (Paris, 1792) F.902.(15.) ‘Dieu a calculé ton reigne, et l’a mis a fin, tu as été mis dans la balance et tu as été trouvé trop leger…’

A new Constitution was proclaimed on 24 June 1793, the Constitution of the Year I, but it was not enacted: while counter-revolutionary movements spread, especially in the West of France, Maximilien Robespierre and members of the radical Moutain (Montagnards) party, after having ousted the moderate ‘Girondin’ members of the Convention, started a dictatorial reign of Terror led through the Committee of Public Safety.

06 Constitution

Constitution de la République française, starting with the Déclaration des droits et des devoirs de l’homme et du citoyen (Lons-Le-Saunier, [1795/96]). RB.23.a.37642

In autumn 1795, about a year after the fall and execution of Robespierre on 9 thermidor an II (26 July 1794), the new Constitution of the Year III established a new regime, the Directory. It was governed by five individuals, and established two chambers of Parliament (le Conseil des Cinq-Cents and le Conseil des Anciens). It dealt with wars inside and outside of France and lasted until Napoléon Bonaparte’s coup d’Etat in 1799, which was followed by the Consulate and Empire.

07 Robespierre

 L. Duperron, Vie secrette, politique et curieuse de M. I. M. Robespierre... (Paris [1793/94]) R.112.(17.)

The collection of French Revolutionary tracts now in the British Library, the second largest in the world after that of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, was acquired from the politician and writer John Wilson Croker in three stages in 1817, 1831 and 1856: each set starts with a different shelfmark F, FR and R, and is bound in a different colour, brown, red and blue. Croker was a devoted collector and bibliophile, who enabled the first large scale purchase of revolutionary tracts from a bookseller in Paris. The British Museum later acquired some of Croker’s own collection.


02 Basement

The world of print changed dramatically during and after the French Revolution: the intense political debates leading to the birth of the French republic, and the abolition of the ancien régime corporations removed restrictions on setting up presses. Both in Paris and in different cities, towns and regions of France, small presses were used by groups and individuals eager to share their views in the increasingly public debate, thus contributing to the emergence of a public opinion.

09 Nous mourons

 Alphonse Louis Dieudonné Martainville. Nous mourons de faim, le peuple est las, il faut que ça finisse (Paris, 1794) F.357.(1.)

Pamphlets of various sizes could be printed cheaply and quickly in a standard format and disseminated in relation with current concerns and events. The British Library’s French revolutionary tracts, usually short pieces but occasionally involving longer texts (including the first French translation of Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790, FR.327(5)), cover a variety of subjects, and in our collection are bound thematically, grouping political ideas and reports on the activities of public bodies such as the états généraux or the Assemblée nationale, economic thought and discussion of financial issues, the death penalty, military events, religious matters, revolutionary festivals...

10 Discours

 Louis Claude de Cressy, Discours sur l’abolition de la peine de mort (Paris, 1791) F.R.223.(6.)

They bear witness to the development of new legislation, social change, power transfer and use of violence in this turbulent period. Under the Terror, many tracts were printed in defence of accused citizens trying to reach the committees in charge of their fate. The collection also includes many newspaper issues, such as L’Ami du Peuple (1789-93), written by Jean-Paul Marat, or the Journal des Amis de la Constitution (1790-91).

The three series of Revolutionary tracts are currently undergoing conservation to repair volumes whose bindings have been damaged by time and use. These books, periodicals and pamphlets, which tell the history of French constitutional government at the time it was formed, are a printed testimony to the growth, evolution and activity of a newly created Nation-State which owes its existence to a seminal event of the modern world.

11 Chanson civique

 Derante, Chanson civique au sujet de la Fédération du 14 juillet... dédiée à tous les bons patriotes. [Paris, 1790]) F.296.(4.)

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator, Romance Collections

References/further reading:

British Library Collection guides, “French Revolutionary Tracts”. 

Audrey C. Brodhurst ‘The French Revolution Collections in the British Library’, Electronic British Library Journal (1976) 

Jacques de Cock, ‘The ‘collection of Marat's bibliographer’ at the British Library’, Electronic British Library Journal (1993) 

French Revolution Digital Archive (Stanford University Libraries and the Bibliothèque nationale de France) 

French Revolutionary Collections in the British Library: list of contents of the three special collections of pamphlets, journals and other works in the British Library, relating chiefly to the French Revolution. Compiled by G. K. Fortescue; revised and augmented by A. C. Brodhurst. (London, 1979) X.800/31072.

France Diplomatie, ‘The 14th of July : Bastille Day’ (01/07/2017)

L’Elysée, ‘La fête nationale du 14-juillet’ (01/07/2017)

Des McTernan, ‘The printed French Revolution collections in the British Library’, FSLG Annual Review, 6 (2009-10), 31-44 https://frenchstudieslibrarygroup.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/fslg-annual-review-2010.pdf

The Newberry Library's French Revolution Collection digitised on the Internet Archive 

The Oxford handbook of the French Revolution, ed. David Andress (Oxford, 2015) YC.2016.b.1415

 

14 July 2017

Coppet, Constant and Corinne: the colourful life of Madame de Staël

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‘And what does one do on the fourteenth of July? Does one celebrate Bastille Day? […] Might one sing on Bastille Day?’ she asked. ‘Might one dance in the streets? Somebody give me an answer.’

David Sedaris, in his memoir Me Talk Pretty One Day (London, 2000; YK.2001.a.13423), recalls his language teacher’s increasingly exasperated efforts to get her class of foreign students to discuss traditional ways of celebrating France’s Fête Nationale. But although the fall of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 was quickly recognized as a turning-point in the French Revolution, in 1817 there was one house in Paris where the mood that day was far from festive. Within it Anne Louise Germaine, Madame de Staël, lay dead.

DeStaelPortrait.10667.i.4Portrait of Madame de Staël from: J.Christopher Herold, Mistress to an Age. A Life of Madame de Staël (London, 1959). 10667.i.4

Born on 22 April 1766 as the daughter of the Swiss financier Jacques Necker, Director-General of France under Louis XVI, the young Germaine was fortunate in having a mother who hosted one of the most brilliant salons in Paris. Suzanne Curchod, the daughter of a Swiss Protestant pastor, frequently received Edward Gibbon, the Comte de Buffon and other distinguished guests, and planned to raise her daughter according to Calvinist principles but also those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, allowing the little girl to mingle freely with the intellectuals who frequented their home. However, when Necker was dismissed from his post in 1781 the family moved to an estate at Coppet on Lake Geneva, only returning to Paris four years later.

Finding a suitable match for Germaine did not prove easy; not only had she shown signs of precocious brilliance, but eligible Protestants were scarce. Just before her 20th birthday, however, she was married in the chapel of the Swedish Embassy in Paris to Baron Erik Magnus Staël von Holstein, a Swedish diplomat 17 years her senior; despite the social advantages which it conferred, the marriage, though never dissolved, effectively ended with a legal separation in 1797.

After experimenting with drama and publishing a less than impartial volume of Lettres sur les ouvrages et le caractère de J. J. Rousseau (Paris, 1789; R.407. (17.)), Madame de Staël turned to fiction, the field in which she achieved renown with Delphine (1802) and Corinne, ou l’Italie (1807). The first of these suggests a less malicious version of Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons dangereuses: similarly written in the form of a series of letters, it describes the efforts of the eponymous heroine, a young widow, to manipulate the fate of a distant relation, Matilde de Vernon, by arranging a match for her with Léonce de Mondoville, only to become embroiled in a hopeless passion for him which ends in her suicide. The second, composed after the author had travelled in Italy, recounts in twenty chapters the love of the poetess Corinna and a young Scottish nobleman, Lord Oswald Nelvil, alternating between Rome, Naples, Scotland and Florence and depicting not only the landscapes, costumes and artistic glories of Italy but a gifted and independent woman far in advance of her times who nevertheless comes to a tragic end.

MadameDeStaelCorinne
Title-page of  Corinne, ou l’Italie (Paris, 1807) 1578/5030

The author’s life proved no less picturesque and eventful. With the outbreak of the French Revolution, she took an increasingly active role in politics, supporting the constitutionalist cause and rejoicing at the meeting of the Estates-General in May 1789 which launched the events leading to the downfall of Louis XVI. Despite the departure of her father after being dismissed from office yet again in 1790, she enjoyed diplomatic protection because of her husband’s position and took advantage of this to frequent the National Assembly and hold court in the Rue du Bac, where Talleyrand and other prominent figures frequented her salon. It was not until 1792 that she was forced to flee on the eve of the September massacres, first to Coppet where she established another salon and then to England before her husband’s reinstatement allowed her to return to Paris in 1794 after the fall of Robespierre.

Baron de Staël’s death in 1802 set his widow free to embark on further adventures, characterized by a running battle of wits with Napoleon, who put her under surveillance before finally, in 1803, forbidding her to reside within forty leagues of Paris. Accompanied by her lover Benjamin Constant, she decamped to Germany and over the next eight years ricocheted between that territory, Coppet, Italy, Russia, Sweden and England, collecting a train of distinguished friends and admirers including August Schlegel, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Lord Byron and the Duke of Wellington. Her turbulent relationship with Constant, commemorated in his novel Adolphe, ended with his marriage to the less volatile Charlotte von Hardenberg, and in 1811 she privately married a young Swiss officer, Albert de Rocca, three years her junior, producing a son the following year at the age of 46. The next year she published De l’Allemagne  an account of the political, social and cultural conditions which she had noted during her German travels.

MadameDeStaelAllemagneTitle-page of the second edition of De l'Allemagne (Paris, 1814) 1570/2030

Both her health and that of Rocca were in decline, and they travelled to Italy in October 1815. She had already met the Duke of Wellington before Waterloo, and their friendship was instrumental in persuading him to reduce the numbers of the Army of Occupation following Napoleon’s defeat. Despite continuing ill-health, she continued to run her Paris salon until her death from a cerebral haemorrhage on 14 July 1817, shortly after a conversion in extremis to Roman Catholicism.

Madame de Staël’s colourful and productive life has been seen as an example for women throughout Europe who, with the collapse of the old order, seized the heady freedoms which the new one offered. It can certainly be argued that, applauding the principles of the French Revolution, she embraced to the full the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity which it proclaimed.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Services