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129 posts categorized "Slavonic"

15 June 2018

From Sokol to Symbolism: the short life of Karel Hlaváček

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

29 May 2018

Janusz Korczak – the champion of children

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Elizabeth Gifford’s novel The Good Doctor of Warsaw (London, 2017; ELD.DS.232274) was the subject of a recent British Library event. It is based on the true accounts of Misha and Sophia, two young Polish Jews who helped Janusz Korczak in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War. Korczak is best remembered for his heroic death march with 200 orphan children to the gas chambers in Treblinka on 6 August 1942.

Janusz Korczak from the King of the children YC.1989.a.4207Janusz Korczak, from Betty Jean Lifton, The king of children: a biography of Janusz Korczak (London, 1988). YC.1989.a.4207  

Janusz Korczak was born Henryk Goldszmit into a wealthy Jewish family in Warsaw in 1878. He was a doctor by profession, an educator at heart and a gifted author. In his early years he experienced adults’ lack of respect and concern for children, an experience that greatly contributed to the choice of his later path in life. Henryk’s childhood was disturbed by his father’s mental illness. His premature death left the family impoverished and the 18-year-old Henryk began tutoring to support his mother and younger sister. He then discovered that he liked working with children. At that time he published his first pedagogical articles about raising and educating children and tried his luck as a writer under the pseudonym Janusz Korczak.

 

Janusz Korczak Big business Billy 12825.eee.5 Title-page and frontispiece from the English translation of one of Korczak’s children’s books, Big Business Billy (London, 1939). 12825.eee.5

However, two years later he enrolled as a medical student at Warsaw University. He decided to be a doctor, not a writer; as he said in his journal “literature is just words, while medicine is deeds”. In 1904 he graduated as a paediatrician and took up work at a Jewish hospital for children in Warsaw.  Korczak was also active as a tutor at summer holiday centres and continued to write children’s novels which reflected his experience both as a doctor and educator. In 1912 he gave up work at the hospital to devote his life to poor orphaned children.

Korczak lectures
Korczak pictured with some of the children in his care, cover of Janusz Korczak: the child’s right to respect: Janusz Korczak’s legacy: lectures on today’s challenges to children (Strasbourg, 2009). m11/14075

Korczak established an orphanage for Jewish children, implementing his pedagogical ideas of treating children with fairness, justice, respect and empathy. The children had their own parliament, court and newspaper and all felt valued as equal members of the community.  Korczak emphasized the importance of giving the child a voice and in that he was a precursor of modern child psychology.  He wrote a number of books based on his daily observations of the children’s development.  His 1919 publication Jak kochać dziecko (How to love a child) formed the basis for the first International Declaration of the Rights of the Child in Geneva in 1924. His later booklet of 1929 Prawo dziecka do szacunku (The child’s right to respect) is considered his pedagogical manifesto. The child is the greatest asset of society. The child has a right to dignity as much as the adult has. Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people of today.

Korczak Matthew the Young King1Page with an illustration by Irena Lorentowicz  from Janusz Korczak, Matthew the Young King (London, 1946). 12593.i.26.

In more than 20 books Korczak  expressed his great love and concern for children. His best-known novel Król Maciuś Pierwszy (King Matt the First, also translated as Matthew the Young King), first published in 1922, was inspired by his own childhood memories, contemporary political events in Poland and the children of several orphanages he successfully ran in Warsaw. The book tells the story of a boy king’s adventures and his attempts to bring social reforms to his subjects. Written in the form of a fairy tale, the book addresses the difficulties of adult life and the responsibility for decisions they have to make. But at the core of this story is a child with the loneliness, dilemmas and struggles it faces in its daily life.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further reading:

Janusz Korczak, Jak kochać dziecko. Internat, kolonie letnie (Warsaw, 1948). 8313.bb.15

Janusz Korczak, Prawo dziecka do szacunku (Warsaw, 1948) 8313.bb.16.

Janusz Korczak, A voice for the child: the inspirational words of Janusz Korczak (London, 1999). YK.1999.a.3347

 

23 May 2018

Do not lean out of the window – especially in Prague

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Halstead Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

21 May 2018

European Literature Night at the British Library: identity and translation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

 

16 April 2018

Montenegro in 19th-century Maps and History Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

References/Further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Đorđe Popović, Istorija Crne Gore (Belgrade, 1896) 9135.de.13.

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

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

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

 

11 April 2018

The British Library’s Russia in the UK Web Archive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06 April 2018

Singing in the rain with Vítězslav Nezval

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

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

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

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

Nezval H

Nezval ABECEDA

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

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

Nezval Cemetery

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

Nezval signature

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

Nezval Surrealismus RF.1999.b.2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

03 April 2018

Literature of the Baltic countries in English translation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BalticBlogTuglasTitlepage

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

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

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

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

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

Baltic montage

Christopher Moseley, Teaching Fellow in Estonian, SSEES, UCL

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

 

25 March 2018

The Centenary of the Belarusian Democratic Republic

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I remember very vividly my confusion when in March 1990 I found myself on a park bench reading a thin samizdat publication, Dzien Voli (‘Freedom Day’), dedicated to the anniversary of Belarusian independence. It was delivered to Minsk from Vilnius where much Belarusian samizdat was published at that time. In the Soviet Union, we were told that Belarus and Belarusians had always been part of something else – of other countries and peoples.

From Dzien Voli I learned for the first time a story of the Belarusian Democratic Republic (also translated as Belarusian People’s Republic; BNR in its Belarusian abbreviation). It was proclaimed independent by representatives of civic and political organisations and parties in Minsk on 25 March 1918. They used a very short window of opportunity – just a few days – between the Russian Bolshevik army leaving Minsk and the advancing Germans entering the city.

Belarus Nationalemblems8296tt46
Flag and state coat of arms of the Belarusian Democratic Republic, frontispiece from Za Dziarzhaunuiu Nezalezhnasts' Belarusi = For national independence of Byelorussia (London, 1960). 8296.tt.46

Neither the occupying German authorities nor the Russian Bolshevik government fully recognised the BNR, though both had to take its existence into account. The BNR government in Minsk attempted to form its own army, school system, local authorities, trade and diplomatic missions. It was most successful in building relations with the Ukrainian Democratic Republic, which had declared its independence three months earlier and secured recognition from the occupying German authorities. The BNR’s main income came from forest wood sold to the Ukrainian government in exchange for cash and food supplies. The BNR government managed to established diplomatic missions in several other countries and took part in the Versailles Peace Conference after the First World War.

BelarusGovernment_of_BNRNational Secretariat (the first government of the Belarusian Democratic Republic). Reproduced in  Uladzimir Arloŭ, This country called Belarus: an illustrated history. (Bratislava, 2013). YD.2013.b.892

In January 1919, the BNR government left Minsk before the advancing Bolshevik army. It later operated in Vilnius, Hrodna (Grodno), Berlin and Prague. After the Second World War the Belarusian diaspora sustained its existence. Its role as a government in exile has always been symbolic, but symbols are capable of communicating memories and inspiring the strongest feelings.

Without BNR, the Bolshevik government might never have permitted the creation of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR), which was among the founding members of the Soviet Union in 1922. Having their own state entity as part of the Soviet Union, though powerless in many respects, allowed the Belarusians to survive and develop further as a nation until full independence in 1991.

The BNR’s proclamation of independence was preceded by two other charters from the same body of civic and political representatives in February-March 1918. They confirmed the intention to build the future national state on democratic principles which can be easily found in the contemporary Constitution of the Republic of Belarus. The BNR government adopted the ancient Grand Duchy of Lithuania’s coat of arms as the state emblem and the white-red-white flag as the state flag. The independent post-Soviet Republic of Belarus initially adopted the same symbols. They were replaced, however, with variations of the BSSR symbols four years later –society was not yet ready for radical changes.

Belarus StampPahonia_(25_Hrošaŭ _Blue) _Stamp_of_Belarusian_People's_Republic

Pahonia: Stamp of Belarusian Democratic Republic (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

For decades, the BNR was the subject of ideological wars and myths. The discourse started acquiring a more evidence-based form when in 1998 two monumental volumes Arkhivy Belaruskaĭ Narodnaĭ Rėspubliki (‘Archives of the Belarusian Democratic Republic’) were published. These contained about 60 percent of documents from the early years of the BNR government. These documents survived in the State Historical Archives of the Lithuanian Republic  in Vilnius. Until the end of the Soviet Union, only selected and approved researchers had access to them. After Lithuania regained its independence, Siarhiej Šupa, a talented  journalist and translator (among his translations into Belarusian were George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984), stumbled upon them almost by chance and spent six years preparing their publication.

BelarusArkhivyBNR
Arkhivy Belaruskaĭ Narodnaĭ Rėspubliki (Vilnius, 1998) YA.2001.a.24459

In Belarus, the consensus about the Belarusian Democratic Republic is still in its infancy. The topic has been politicised to an extreme degree until very recently. A new political situation, partly prompted by the events in Ukrainian Crimea and Donbas, has forced the authorities to re-examine the nation’s foundational events. The newspaper Nasha Niva recently reported that the Presidential Administration commissioned a report on the role of the BNR from the Belarusian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of History. The report has not been made public, but its essence can be deduced from the book to which the Director of the Institute referred the journalist investigating the story. In the Institute’s collective work Historyia belaruskaĭ dziarzhaŭnastsi ŭ kantsy XVIII - pachatku XXI st. (‘A history of Belarusian statehood from the end of 18th to the beginning of 21st centuries’) the BNR is characterised as the first attempt at a national Belarusian state.

BelarusHistoryiaHistoryia belaruskaĭ dziarzhaŭnastsi ŭ kantsy XVIII - pachatku XXI st. (Minsk, 2011-2012) ZF.9.a.9153

A new generation of civic leaders, more pragmatic than those who led the political opposition in Belarus in the last twenty years, worked on getting permission from the authorities to celebrate the BNR centenary publicly. They also run a large and successful crowdfunding campaign to fund the celebrations. Among the events the authorities agreed on is a large open-air concert in Minsk and the installation of a memorial plaque on the building in which the independence of the Belarusian Democratic Republic was proclaimed on 25 March 1918. It is fascinating to see how a sleepy (until very recently) country gets busy on rethinking its own past and how this past may shape the nation’s future.

Ihar IvanouHead of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London.

Further reading:

D. Michaluk, ‘From the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the Belarusian Democratic Republic: the Idea of Belarusian Statehood, 1915-1919’Journal of Belarusian studies vol 7, no. 2 (2014), pp. 3-36. ZC.9.a.9127

Pers Anders Rudling, The Rise and Fall of Belarusian nationalism, 1906-1931. (Pittsburg, 2015). YC.2016.a.6887

Jan Zaprudnik, Belarus: at a crossroads in history (Boulder, 1993). YC.1995.b.7225

The proclamation of Byelorussian independence, 25th of March 1918. (London, 1968). X.709/26118.

Siarhiej Šupa talks about his research [in Belarusian]: https://www.svaboda.org/a/29048119.html 

16 March 2018

The Russian Love Affair with the Arabian Horse

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The title does not refer to the mythical indiscretions of Catherine the Great, although she indeed kept a number of Arabian horses, but to the enthusiasm which many famous Russian equestrians and breeders have had for the type.

Arabian - CCCP AlbumAn Arabian from an album of characteristic horse breeds of the USSR, 1953. S. V. Afanas’ev, Al’bom porod loshadei SSSR (Moscow, 1953). Cup.1253.dd.28.

Among the British Library’s collections, one book in particular illustrates the aristocratic infatuation with the Arabian. Prince A. G. Shcherbatov and Count S. A. Stroganov’s Kniga ob Arabskoi Loshadi (Saint Petersburg, 1900; British Library 7293.l.33.) combines an overview of the breed with an account of the authors’ journey to what is now Syria, purchasing stallions for breeding back in the Russian Empire. It was translated into English as The Arabian Horse: A Survey, which the Library also holds (London, 1989; YK.1990.b.3731).

Book of the Arabian Horse

Above:  The lavish cover to Shcherbatov and Stroganov’s book. Below: A mare called Latifa, bought by Stroganov in Damascus in 1895.

Latifa

Shcherbatov and Stroganov championed the Arabian against the English Thoroughbred, another popular breed. They considered the Thoroughbred inferior, as it had emerged during a great confusion of equine bloodlines after the English Civil War. Cromwell’s revolution had led to the destruction of stud books and heavy loss of stallions – ‘it turned out to be impossible to reconstitute the pedigrees of the surviving animals’.

By contrast, Bedouin traditions ensured no confusion of bloodlines: ‘Our belief in the pure blood of the Arabian horse stems above all from the importance which the Arabs in horse-breeding attach to blood’. The purity of the Arabian appealed to principles close to the hearts of Russia’s ruling classes, who meticulously traced their own genealogies as well as those of their animals.

Shcherbatov and Stroganov argued that the increasing encroachment of the railway and the disruption of traditional Bedouin ways of life, such as the shift in warfare to the use of rifles from the back of camels rather than lances on horseback, brought the future of this unspoiled breed into question in its native homeland.

It fell to Russia to ensure the preservation of the Arabian’s pure bloodline, for Russia alone remained true to the aristocratic conception of an ideal purity of blood within a perceived sea of international vulgarity. In its turn, they thought, only the pure-blooded Arabian could help breed horses to out-compete the constitutional monarchies and democratic republics in equestrian sports and on the battlefield.

By 1900, the Arabian had already clearly proved its worth for improving the Empire’s stock. In the late 18th century, an Arabian stallion named Smetanka had been used as the basis for one of Russia’s best known breeds – the Orlov trotter.

Orlov Trotter - CCCP Album An Orlov trotter from the album of Soviet horses.

The project to develop a Russian trotting horse had been taken up by Count Alexei Grigoryevich Orlov-Chesmensky, in his retirement after an eventful military career. Orlov had been a central player during the 1762 coup which secured the throne for Catherine the Great, and was rumoured to have personally assassinated the deposed Tsar Peter III. Through his rigorous and experimental breeding programme, the Orlov trotter emerged as one of the leading horses for harness racing and other sporting disciplines of the 19th century.

Orlov PortraitAbove: A portrait of Count Aleksei Orlov-Chesmensky from Sergy Dmitrievich Sheremetev, Alekhan (Saint Petersburg, 1898). 09603.dd.13. Below: Tolstoy based his 1886 work Kholstomer on the life of the Orlov trotter Muzhik I, born in 1805. Leo Tolstoy, Kholstomer (Moscow, 1951). YF.2011.b.1596.

Kholstomer Cover

According to the coaching expert Andreas Nemitz, wealthy Russians typically used Orlov trotters as the centre of a troika to pull their droshkys, flanked by two gallopers. Captain M. H. Haynes, a British observer of Russia’s equine culture at the end of the 19th century, wrote that Orlov trotters ‘admirably suit the requirements of fashionable Russians, who love to go as fast as their coachmen can drive them, even over the roughest cobble stone pavement, which of course does not suit the long fetlocks’.

Orlov Pair A pair of Orlov trotters in harness from Capt. M. H. Haynes, Among Horses in Russia (London, 1900). 07293.i.46.

Russia’s Arabian and Orlov trotter populations declined sharply during the 20th century, harmed by the wars and social upheavals of this time. In 1997, enthusiasts founded the International Committee for the Protection of the Orlov Trotter to secure the future of the breed.

Despite the development of more competitive breeds since its heyday, the Orlov trotter is still well loved by enthusiasts and amateurs alike. As Sherbatov and Stroganov wrote in 1900: ‘One has only to glance at the Orlov-type trotters … to recognise immediately in the proudly-arched neck, the bright, prominent eye, the thin skin, the silky mane, the high-soaring tail and the overall nobility of their bearing, the Arabian blood infused only once, more than a century ago’.

Orlov TodayAbove: An Orlov trotter, image from Wikimedia Commons. Below: 
 the Orlov trotter in action, image from Wikimedia Commons

Orlov in action

Mike Carey, Eastern European Curator.

References

‘A Russian History’, The Arabian Magazine 29.5.2013 [online] available at http://thearabianmagazineonline.com/issue/the-arabian-magazine/article/a-russian-history [Accessed 27.2.2018].

Vsevolod A. Nikolaev & Albert Parry, The Loves of Catherine the Great (New York, 1982). 83/10566.

Andreas Nemitz, ‘Traditions and Styles in the Way of Driving Horses Part One’, The Carriage Journal 36, 4 (Spring, 1999), 152-4. P.P.8003.qn.

‘Orlov Trotter’, International Museum of the Horse (2018) [online] available at http://www.imh.org/exhibits/online/breeds-of-the-world/europe/orlov-trotter/ [Accessed 27.2.2018].