THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

7 posts from October 2017

19 October 2017

Grimaldi family correspondence

Louisa Edmeads was the wife of a curate at Over, Cheshire. We’ve recently catalogued a collection of her letters to her brother William in London, chiefly 1819 to 1829, dealing with domestic matters – health, clothing, family, neighbourhood gossip, work, and, above all, money. Money for goods from London, for cloth to make William shirts, for postage and transport by canal, for lodgings. This in itself provides a fascinating glimpse into the affairs of an early 19th-century family in straitened circumstances.

Grimaldi letters versos
Letters of Louisa Frances Edmeads (1785-1873) to her brother William Grimaldi (1786-1835). Add MS 89258

The family was, however, an unusual one. Louisa was the daughter of William Grimaldi (1751-1830), descendant of Alessandro Maria Grimaldi, head of the Genoese Grimaldi family, who left Italy for England in 1684. William senior was a renowned miniaturist whose customers included members of the aristocracy, but his finances were a continuing cause for concern to his children. Louisa was particularly anxious for him to leave his unsatisfactory lodgings and set up home with William, or their younger brother, Stacey Grimaldi (a successful barrister):

LFE to WG 9 June 1819 Merely to get rid of this rent
'Merely to get rid of this rent' (Letter from Louisa Edmeads to William Grimaldi, 9 June 1819)

There were other problems. William senior’s enthusiastic 'Methodising' and going out every evening caused friction with Stacey, but there was no hope of inducing him to change his habits. As Louisa writes: 'The arrangements between these two personages keep my mind in a constant state of anxiety & suspense, both by night & by day' (28 June 1819).

At one point Louisa even suggests a stealthy departure from his lodgings:

LFE to WG 17 Aug 1819 to abscond (2)
‘It would be a most unpleasant & painful thing for my Father to abscond but I do not really see any other means by which Mr W. can be brought to any kind of terms' (Letter from Louisa Edmeads to William Grimaldi, 17 August 1819)

There is affectionate exasperation over their father’s ways: 'As long as I can remember he has found occupation in arranging his Enamel Colors - & I doubt if he would ever complete that job if he had 50 years to do it in' (10 August 1822).

Despite tensions, the family worked together to try to solve problems. Louisa constantly urges William to find a better situation  than the one he held with Josiah Wedgwood, at St James’s Square, and issues frequent invitations to Over, and Cricklade, Wiltshire, their home from 1821. Though she writes only disparagingly of her own artistic efforts (she was herself a miniaturist of some ability), there is often a practical side to the letters. She asks William to admire her visiting card box and get his 'varnish person' to finish it; she draws a plan of her new house at Cricklade ('We hope to get in by Sept. – but workmen are great plagues' (9 June 1829)); and she describes in great detail the fabric, cut and style of the shirts she sews for him.

Tantalisingly, there are no letters at all from 1821, perhaps because of some disagreement with Stacey Grimaldi, into whose hands the letters later passed. In that year he published The Toilet, a significant early example of movable book publishing. Designed by William Grimaldi senior, each illustration showed an article from a lady’s dressing table or toilette (apparently sketched from Louisa’s dressing table), in the form of a flap, which the reader could lift to reveal a specific virtue. Despite the correspondence gap, earlier and later letters show that Louisa took a keen interest in The Toilet, which was a great success, even selling copies to local acquaintances.

A fine lip salve crop

A fine lip salve (open - cheerfulness) (3)
A fine lip salve – hand coloured illustration from The Toilet, by Stacey Grimaldi (2nd ed, 1821). When the flap is opened, we see 'cheerfulness' (British Library shelfmark: Cup.410.d.29).

Other highlights include a trip down the salt-mine in Winsford, treatment of her brother-in-law for lunacy, and the protracted process of finding a new curacy ('I write this from Salisbury – which is already swarming with clergymen on the watch for all the crumbs from the Bishop’s table … Edmeads is out for a long morning’s fishing' (30 July 1820)). The letters are a useful new source for local and social historians, and for anyone interested in the untold lives of women of the early 19th century.

Tabitha Driver
Modern Archives and Manuscripts

The Grimaldi family letters (Add MS 89258) are available to consult in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Follow us on Twitter @BL_ModernMSS

17 October 2017

The life and loves of a ‘tremendous literary rebel’, Michael Madhusudan Dutt

Dutt’s colourful life included romantic adventures, a change of religion and travel to Britain and France, in keeping with a man describing himself as ‘a tremendous literary rebel’. His exceptional creative talent led his biographer Ghulam Murshid to praise him as ‘the father of modern Bengali poetry’.

Item 14 add_or_5606 compressed
Michael Madhusudan Dutt, (1824-73)
Watercolour on ivory. Undated
Add.Or.5606

Around 1833, Dutt and his Hindu parents moved to Calcutta where his father’s success enabled him to provide his son with a good education. The young Dutt entered a world of culture and debate. He began his own writing career and developed a love of English literature and a longing to visit Britain. Towards the end of 1842 he was horrified when his parents began to plan an arranged marriage for him, declaring ‘I wish (Oh! I really wish) that somebody would hang me!’ Shortly afterwards, Dutt converted to Christianity, possibly motivated at least in part by a wish to evade the marriage.

Dutt baptism 1843 cropped
Dutt’s baptism at the Old Church, Fort William, 09 Feb 1843
IOR/N/1/64 f.101

Obliged to leave Hindu College after his conversion, he continued his studies at Bishop’s College, still supported by his parents, but unfortunately a rift later developed between him and his father. In December 1847 he left Calcutta for Madras where he struggled to find employment until the father of Charles Eggbert Kennet, an old friend from Bishop’s College, helped him to obtain a post teaching at the Madras Orphan Asylum. Aged twenty-four, in 1848 Dutt married seventeen year old Rebecca Thompson from the Madras Female Orphan Asylum. Today, a relationship between a teacher and a pupil would be considered scandalous, but early marriage was then considered entirely respectable for young women such as Rebecca. The Kennet family seem to have remained on good terms with the young Dutts as they appear as witnesses to the baptism of their daughter Bertha Blanche Kennet Dutt. Their contemporaries were much more concerned by the fact that Dutt, an Indian man, was marrying a girl of British descent, as this was possibly the first time that this was known to have happened.

BL-BIND-005137759-00313 cropped
Bertha Blanche Kennet Dutt’s baptism at St Mark’s Church, Madras (Black Town), 15 Nov 1849
IOR/N/2/C/2 f.130

Dutt and Rebecca had four children together, but when he returned to Calcutta after his father’s death in 1855, he left her and started a new life with another European lady, Henrietta Sophia White. Finally achieving his dream of studying law in England, he was called to the bar in London though he and Henrietta spent much time in France. They eventually died within a few days of each other in Calcutta in 1873. I do not know what became of the unfortunate Rebecca and her children.

The watercolour of Michael Madhusudan Dutt is on display in Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. The exhibition and community engagement are a partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham. They have been generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Details of opening hours and events are on the Library of Birmingham website

Connecting Stories with logos

Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and curator of Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage


Further reading
Ghulam Murshid, Lured by hope: a biography of Michael Madhusudan Dutt / by Ghulam Murshid; translated from Bengali by Gopa Majumdar, ( New Delhi ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2003)
Michael Madhusudan Dutt, The heart of a rebel poet : letters of Michael Madhusudan Dutt / edited by Ghulam Murshid, (New Delhi ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004)
Clinton B Seely, The slaying of Meghanada : a Ramayana from colonial Bengal / Michael Madhusudan Datta ; translated with an introduction by Clinton B. Seely, (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004)

Find My Past for British India Office collections 
Asians in Britain 

Untold Lives blogs:
Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage 
Miss Jenny the cheetah visits England
Bevin Indian Trainees during the Second World War 
East India Company trade with the East Indies 
Ranjitsinhji, our glorious hero bold 
First World War Indian soldiers' letters in 'Connecting Stories' exhibition 

14 October 2017

JOLIE bookbinders

Every 19th-century bibliophile worthy of the name would have been proud to own at least one bookbinding from the French workshop of Joly.  Some collectors owned many of them, notably the famous art deco jeweller Henri Vever and the wealthy book collector William Augustus Spencer who was lost on the Titanic.

Joly 1
Gold tooled goatskin bookbinding, cover, end-leaves, and doublure of Edmond Rostond, Les Musardises, Paris, 1890

Both Antoine Joly (1838-1917) and his son Robert (1878-1934) trained at the Parisian firm of Gruel, which was celebrated for embracing new styles whilst preserving traditional skills.  Undoubtedly, this was a fine line to tread, but Antoine negotiated it successfully, continuing to do so later in collaboration with his partner Jules Thibaron.  Robert took charge after Antoine’s retirement in 1892, differentiating his work by signing his bindings; Joly fils (i.e. son).
 
According to bookbinding historian Flety the clientele ‘appréciait la perfection de son travail sans prétention de grand art’; a judgement which seems to damn with faint praise, particularly when one examines the binding recently acquired by the British Library (above) and the stunning examples in the New York Public Library.
 
Joly 2 sig x
The signature of Robert Joly

PJM Marks
Western Heritage Collections

Further reading:

Henri Beraldi, La reliure du XIXe siècle. Available online: http://www.archive.org/details/lareliureduxixes03br
Julien Flety, Dictionnaire des relieurs français ayant exercé de 1800 à nos jours, 1988

12 October 2017

The City of Polish Children

How Isfahan in Iran became the City of Polish Children during the Second World War.

Group photo Isfahan

Group photo of older children at one of the children's homes in Isfahan. Reproduced with kind permission from the personal collection of Dioniza Choros, Kresy, Siberia Virtual Museum (http://kresy-siberia.org/hom/element/gradzik-collection/group-photo-at-isfahan-childrens-camp/)

Intelligence summaries prepared by Britain's Embassy in Tehran during the Second World War record details of the journeys made by Polish military and civilian refugees from the Soviet Union to Iran between 1942 and 1944. In these reports, one poignant statistic stands out: in January 1943 the camp in the city of Isfahan contained 2,457 civilian refugees, of which 2,043 were children.

IOR_LPS_12_3504_f71

Extract of an intelligence summary, prepared by the Military Attaché at the British Embassy in Tehran, 21-26 January 1943. IOR/L/PS/12/3504, f71.

Most of Isfahan's 2,000 children were either orphans or were accompanied by their one surviving parent. They were part of the second wave of the evacuation of 25,000 Polish refugees from the Soviet Union in August 1942, where they had been incarcerated since the Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939. After Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 Stalin signed a Polish-Soviet treaty that freed Polish citizens in Russia. After years of incarceration, violence, malnutrition and disease, and with no homeland to return to, the futures of these Polish refugees remained bleak.

In August 1942 thousands of Polish refugees arrived from Russia at the Iranian port of Pahlavi (now Anzali) on the Caspian Sea. The Red Cross and the Polish Government in Exile assisted in the establishment of transit camps for the refugees. To prevent the spread of disease and lice the refugees’ hair was shaved off, and the rags they wore incinerated. New clothes, shelter and provisions were supplied. From Pahlavi the refugees travelled onwards to Tehran, Isfahan, Ahwaz and Mashhad. Children needing the most care were sent to Isfahan, where the climate was thought more amenable to their recovery.

EAP001_7_1

Portrait of Polish refugee children, taken by Abolghasem Jala between 1942-1944. Abolghasem Jala took thousands of portraits of Polish refugees during his time in Isfahan at the Sharq photographic studio. Abolghasem Jala Photographic Collection, Endangered Archives Programme, EAP001/7/1 (http://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP001-7-1)

Memoirs indicate the sympathetic reception given by Iranians to the Polish refugees. One man recalled that the Iranians he met at Pahlavi were ‘well-wishing, very cordial and presented the Polish youth with sundry delicious tidbits’. Another family remembered being ‘warmly greeted by the Persian people with gifts of food, dates and clothes’ upon their arrival in Tehran.

  Naqsh-eJahan Square

Photograph of Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Isfahan, in 1925, taken by Walter Mittelholzer. Source: ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv/Stiftung Luftbild Schweiz (http://doi.org/10.3932/ethz-a-000274599_) Public Domain

With its tree-lined avenues and numerous gardens and parks, Isfahan was ideal for healing young lives damaged by war and exile. 

Twenty-one ‘establishments’ were opened across the city for Polish children, many of which were concentrated around Isfahan’s famous Chahar Bagh boulevard. Royal princes, affluent families and the city’s religious institutions donated their palaces, mansions, monasteries and convents for use as orphanages, hospitals and schools. Many establishments had their own gardens that the children made full use of. One former refugee later recalled walking through a ‘paradise of tall mulberry, fig, and quince trees and pistachio bushes’. Eight primary schools and one secondary school were established for Isfahan’s Polish children, as was a technical school training women in tailoring. Scout and Girl Guide groups also proved a popular activity.

Many of Isfahan’s Polish children remained in the city for the duration of the War. Later on they departed for new lives in East Africa, India, Mexico and New Zealand. Memoirs shared by the Polish diaspora indicate a fond regard for their time in Iran, and for Isfahan in particular which, for many, will always be remembered as ‘the city of Polish children.’

 

Mark Hobbs

Content Specialist: Gulf History, Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Primary Sources:

British Library, London. Coll 28/97 'Persia. Diaries. Tehran Intelligence Summaries', IOR/L/PS/12/3504 *currently being digitised for the Qatar Digital Library*

Further reading:

Irena Beaupré-Stankiewicz; Danuta Waszczuk-Kamieniecka; Jadwiga Lewicka-Howells (eds.) Isfahan, City of Polish Children (Hove, Sussex: Association of Former Pupils of Polish Schools, Isfahan and Lebanon, 1989)

Anna D. Jaroszynska-Kirchmann, The Exile Mission: The Polish Political Diaspora and Polish Americans, 1936-1956 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2004)

Andrzej Szujecki “Near and Middle East” in Tadeusz Piotrowski (ed.) The Polish Deportees of World War II: Recollections of Removal from the Soviet Union and Dispersal throughout the World (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007)

10 October 2017

Advice for ladies in India

In 1847 a book called Real Life in India by ‘An Old Resident’ offered advice to British ladies going to live in India. This covered clothing, equipment for the voyage, household management, and ways of passing the time.

European young lady's toilet

From William Tayler, Sketches Illustrating the Manners & Customs of the Indians & Anglo Indians (London, 1842) Noc

A long list of essentials for the voyage was provided.  Women were told to take dozens of chemises, nightgowns, petticoats, ‘cambric trousers’, handkerchiefs, towels, stockings, and gloves, together with fourteen dresses of different sorts, bonnets  shoes, one warm cloak, and six mosquito sleeping drawers.  Other necessities included bedding, table linen, shoe ribbons, haberdashery, hair brushes and combs, tooth brushes and powder, soap, perfume, stationery and books, candles, and a supply of Bristol water and soda.  A considerable amount of cabin furniture was recommended: couch, swinging cot, chest of drawers, bookcase, chairs, looking glass, lamp, foot-bath, waterproof trunks, and air-tight cases for dresses.

India - ladies' equipment

 From Real Life in India by An Old Resident (London, 1847)   Noc

On first arrival in India, ladies were advised to consult friendly females about the management of domestic affairs.  The ‘Old Resident’ pointed out that a British woman who had been accustomed to performing various household duties would be surprised to find that in India there was nothing for her to do. Everything would be done by the domestic staff. The day’s supplies were purchased by the khansuma (butler) at the market soon after day-break.  Shopping, ‘a source of entertainment and economy in England’, was not an occupation for a lady in India.  An immediate supply of hams, cheeses, or pickles could be obtained by sending a peon with a note to the local store.  Only preparations for the gaieties of the cool season gave ladies an excuse to venture out to visit the milliner or jeweller for new finery.

Ladies could combat the lassitude caused by the Indian climate by reading, painting, music, needlework, intelligent conversation and occasional soirées, or taking a morning and evening promenade.  Our ‘Old Resident’ points out the danger of falling victim to ‘indolent habits and coarse indulgences’: ‘the sylph-like form and delicate features which distinguished the youth of her arrival, are rapidly exchanged for an exterior of which obesity and swarthiness are the prominent characteristics, and the bottle and the hookah become frequent and offensive companions’.

Painting and needlework equipment should be taken out from Britain. Silver knitting needles were best as steel ones tended to rust from the warmth of the hand.  Ladies who were accustomed to riding should take out saddles, bridles and a riding habit as prices were higher in India.

The author ends his chapter devoted to information for ‘the weaker sex’ with detailed advice about the care of pianos in India. He encouraged ladies to learn the art of tuning since piano tuners and instrument repairers were not found at every station in India. 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

05 October 2017

The quest for El Dorado

Have you seen Werner Herzog's 1972 film Aguirre, Wrath of God?  Although historically wildly inaccurate, it has always been a hugely popular cult film. TIME magazine included it in its list of 'All-Time 100 Best Films'.  Herzog tells the story of the Spanish descent of the Amazon in 1560 – a quest for El Dorado.

The movie starts well, with the huge expedition winding its way down from Andean foothills to where they built their boats. But the later part of the film, with a handful of men and a horse on a raft, is wrong in every way – the expedition had no horses, hundreds of men, and two or three proper boats.

Spanish explorer

Spanish explorer from Edward Eggleston, The Household History of the United States and its people (London, 1889) BL flickr Noc

El Dorado was an elusive rich kingdom, now thought to be associated with the Omagua people on the main Amazon near the present Brazilian-Peruvian frontier, rather than in forests east of Quito.  In 1560 a great expedition led by Pedro de Ursúa built boats and embarked on the Amazon in northern Peru. But it found heavy rains, little food, and no wealth. The venture was hijacked by the embittered Basque arquebusier Lope de Aguirre.  Ursúa, his officers, and his beautiful mistress Inéz de Atienza were all murdered.  Aguirre wanted to descend the river as fast as possible, sail up the coast to Venezuela, and then march south to conquer Peru for his band of traitors.  The voyage down the Amazon became a bloodbath, with the paranoid psychopath Aguirre killing a third of the Spaniards and marooning hundreds of native Andean porters.  The story of the expedition was sensational, with El Dorado gold, Amazonian adventure, treachery, sex, class warfare and scores of murders.  But it added almost nothing to knowledge of Amazonian geography or indigenous peoples.

In 1570 Richard Hakluyt published Lopez Vaz's first-hand account of this disastrous descent of the Amazon by Pedro de Ursúa and his murderer Lope de Aguirre.  Hakluyt's English translation of this important source is the only known version, because the Spanish original is lost.

   Bollaert front coverNoc

 In 1861 the Hakluyt Society published The Expedition of Pedro de Ursua & Lope de Aguirre in Search of El Dorado and Omagua in 1560-1.  It is unfortunate that William Bollaert chose to translate from the Franciscan friar Pedro Simón, whose Noticias historiales de las conquistas de Tierra Firme (Cuenca, 1627) were entirely plagiarized without acknowledgement from earlier sources.  There were four eyewitness accounts by members of the ill-fated journey: Lopez Vaz, Captain Altamirano, Gonzalo de Zúñiga, and Francisco Vázquez,  Summaries were also written soon after the event by Diego de Aguilar y Córdoba (1578), Toribio de Ortigüera (1581), and Juan de Castellanos (1589).

  Pedro Simon Noc
Clements R. Markham wrote a stirring introduction to the Hakluyt Society edition - 
‘The blood-stained cruise of the “tyrant Aguirre”… is by far the most extraordinary adventure in search of El Dorado on record.  The dauntless hardihood of those old Spaniards and Germans, who, undismayed by the reverses and sufferings of numerous predecessors, continued to force their way for hundreds of miles into the forest covered wilds, is sufficiently astonishing; but in this cruise of Aguirre all that is wildest, most romantic, most desperate, most appalling in the annals of Spanish enterprise seems to culminate in one wild orgie of madness and blood’.

John Hemming
Hakluyt Society

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Richard Hakluyt, The Principall navigations, voiages and discoveries of the English nation (London, 1589) volume 8.
The Expedition of Pedro de Ursua & Lope de Aguirre in Search of El Dorado and Omagua in 1560-1, (from Pedro Simón, Sixth Historical Notice of the Conquest of Tierra Firme), translated by William Bollaert with an introduction by Clements R. Markham, Hakluyt Society, 1 ser., 28, 1861.

 

03 October 2017

Angus Wilson - ‘the most unconventional librarian’

In the entrance of the Humanities reading room at the British Library hangs a painting of a man. It’s easy to overlook this somewhat shady portrait rendered in oil paint of autumnal tones.

  Angus Wilson Hum 1Portrait of Angus Wilson hanging near the entrance to Humanities 1 (with apologies for the reflection off the glass) Noc

The man is Sir Angus Wilson - librarian, socialist, decoder, novelist, and gay rights campaigner.

Wilson was born in 1913 in Sussex, the youngest of six boys. He and one of his brothers dyed their hair and wore makeup and red nail varnish in public. Angus became renowned for his flamboyant dress and he developed a love of acting, performing in a school production of The Importance of Being Ernest attended by none other than Lord Alfred Douglas.

Oxford University widened Wilson’s social circle and sharpened his political thinking. He then joined the British Museum library as an assistant cataloguer. During the 1930s Wilson became an established bohemian figure within London’s left underground, attending anti-war demonstrations and socialist league activities.  After the outbreak of World War II, he was called up to work at Bletchley Park. His time there was not happy and he resisted rules and started to rebel. He eventually had a breakdown causing him to seek psychotherapy where he was advised to try writing.

After the War, he returned to the Museum where he was in charge of replacing the 300,000 books that had been destroyed. Other duties included reader enquiries: old ladies trying to track down nursery rhythms from their youth, or people claiming law suits. One female reader fell in love with him and was banned from the reading room.

In her biography of Wilson, Margaret Drabble describes how he sat ‘conspicuously on a raised dais in the centre of the Reading Room beneath Panizzi's beautiful dome, a colourful bird in a vast circular cage, bow-tied, blue-rinsed, chattering loudly to readers and staff and friends on the telephone’.  Wilson’s description of the library is less glamorous: ‘Dickensian’, ‘mummified’ and ‘a sad fog of Victorianism’ where staff wore sober suits and bow ties, although the then keeper of books was the last member of staff to don a top hat in the reading room.

In the mid-1950s Wilson left the Museum to pursue his writing. Homosexuality was still illegal, yet he wrote freely and authentically about the world in which he moved, questioning public and private morality and introducing new social characters. Some public libraries refused to stock his novels on the grounds of them being morally objectionable.

Sir-Angus-Frank-Johnstone-Wilson

Sir Angus Frank Johnstone Wilson by Godfrey Argent (commissioned 1969) NPG x166054 © National Portrait Gallery London  CC NPG


When a government committee was set up to review the law on homosexuality, Wilson was one of the few to stand up and give his personal evidence.  He enjoyed safe domesticity with his life companion Tony Garrett, a colleague he met at the museum, always insisting that Tony was acknowledged as his partner.  He was a republican who accepted a knighthood. An advocate and voter for a classless society, yet he moved in exclusive circles.

Angus Wilson died in 1991. His portrait by Barbara Robinson was donated to the British Library by Tony Garrett.  It greets readers as they enter the reading room where LGBT books can now be freely browsed. Flamboyant dress and a blue rinse would no longer cause eyebrows to be raised, although a top hat might!

Rachel Brett
Humanities Reference Specialist

 #BLGayUK

 Further reading:
Angus Wilson Papers Add MS 79507-79516
Angus Wilson Photographs Add MS 83700-83728
Photographs of Angus Wilson by Fay Godwin in her archive at the British Library
Portrait of Sir Angus Wilson (1913-1991) by Barbara Robinson (b. 1928) is on display in the entrance to Humanities 1 Reading Room at the British Library St Pancras
Margaret Drabble, Angus Wilson: a biography (London, 1995)
Angus Wilson in Explore the British Library