THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

9 posts from May 2018

21 May 2018

‘A Trustworthy Indian in Stockholm’: A. Yusuf Ali’s Mission to Scandinavia, 1918

A hundred years ago, Stockholm was the centre of Indian anti-colonialism and, at the same time, British counter-intelligence operations. In late April and early May 1918, the Indian lawyer and administrator A. Yusuf Ali gave a series of lectures on Indian culture in Scandinavia, including Copenhagen, Stockholm, Uppsala and Oslo.

A Yusuf Ali 1A. Yusuf Ali from Træk af Indiens Kultur

Delivered in English, the lectures dealt with modern Indian poetry, Indian religion and the role of women in Indian, and they were translated into Danish and published as Træk af Indiens Kultur (Features of Indian Culture) in 1918. In the Foreword, Ali conceded that the lectures were not intended to be published in book form, but ‘valuable friends’ persuaded him to do so. What Ali did not admit was that these ‘valuable friends’ were the British Foreign Office (FO).

A Yusuf Ali 2Træk af Indiens Kultur 

In fact, as reports from the FO show, the British were so worried about the anti-colonial activities of the Indian National Committee (INC) among the socialist delegates assembled in Stockholm for the proposed peace conference that they considered ‘the possibility of sending a trustworthy Indian to Stockholm who could put the case from a loyalist point of view’.

As it happened, the two Indian revolutionaries Virendranath ‘Chatto’ Chattopadhyaya and M.P.T. Acharya from the Berlin-based Indian Independence Committee had arrived in Stockholm in May 1917 and set up the INC. They met the organising Dutch-Scandinavian Committee in July 1917, putting their demands for independence to the socialists, but they were met with little sympathy. The Dutch socialist Pieter Jelles Troelstra noted that ‘the Indian question is important, but it is a distraction’ from the peace negotiations.

However, Chatto and Acharya remained in Stockholm and carried out extensive propaganda in the Swedish newspapers in the next couple of years. For instance, when Finland achieved independence in January 1918, the INC sent congratulatory wishes through the Swedish newspapers Svenska Dagbladet and Aftonbladet, hoping for Finland’s support for Indian independence.

It was such articles that prompted the FO to send Ali on his mission to Scandinavia. In response to the propaganda of the INC, Ali wrote in Stockholms-Tidningen in April 1918 that the Indian revolutionaries were wrong, there was no desire for independence in India, and that the ties between India and Britain had been strengthened during the war. Furthermore, he claimed that the Indian revolutionaries had no support in India, and he referred to them as ‘anarchists’. Chatto denied these accusations, in an article in Stockholms-Tidningen in May 1918, and asserted that they enjoyed widespread support in India, particularly from Bengal.

In his reminiscences of the time in Stockholm, Acharya later wrote that they used to attend Ali’s lectures and hand out their own material to the audience. This meant that many thought that Ali belonged to the INC and subsequently approached him for more information. Ali’s mission had failed, claimed Acharya, and the British called Ali back in the summer of 1918.

The British felt differently, however, as is clear from a review of Ali’s book from The Times Literary Supplement: ‘If it was the object of our Foreign Office to give the Scandinavian public an opportunity of knowing better and valuing more highly the genius of India it would appear that this aim has been excellently fulfilled’ (5 September 1918).

Ole Birk Laursen
Lecturer at NYU London and a Research Associate at The Open University

Further reading:
M. Yusuf Ali, Træk Af Indiens Kultur (Copenhagen: V. Pios Boghandel/H Branner, 1918)
M. A. Sherif, Searching for Solace: A Biography of Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Interpreter of the Qur’an (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 1994)
British Library, India Office Records/L/PS/11/126, P 3449/1917 The War: Stockholm Peace Congress; attitude of Oriental delegates

 

18 May 2018

Royal weddings at Windsor Castle

Royal weddings at Windsor Castle have a long history.  Five of Queen Victoria’s children married in St George’s Chapel between 1863 and 1882: Edward, Helena, Louise, Arthur and Leopold.  Contemporary newspaper reports of these weddings focus on many of the same aspects found in the coverage of the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – the courtship, the bride’s looks and character, the guest list, the gifts, the ceremony, the outfits.

Royal Wedding 1863 Edward & Alexandra Royal CollectionMarriage of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark at Windsor, 10 March 1863 by William Powell Frith. Image courtesy of the Royal Collections Trust

Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, was born in 1853, the eighth child and youngest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  He was a delicate child having inherited the haemophilia gene from his mother, and he also suffered from epilepsy.  Leopold studied at Christ Church College Oxford and was president of the Oxford University Chess Club.  After his student days he continued as a patron of chess, and of the arts and literature.

Prince-Leopold-Duke-of-AlbanyPrince Leopold, Duke of Albany by Lombardi & Co circa late 1870s  NPG x15727 © National Portrait Gallery, London

In 1882 the British press reported that Prince Leopold was to marry Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont.  The bride-to-be was described as ‘a simple and ladylike country girl … very spontaneous and open, recites with taste, … very musical’.

Princess-Helen-Duchess-of-AlbanyPrincess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont by Judd & Co 1881 NPG D33804 © National Portrait Gallery, London

The couple visited a London photographer and had two sittings, formal and informal.  The photographs showing the Prince with his arm around Helena’s waist and her head resting upon his shoulder were intended for family circulation only.  Apparently they were issued in error with the formal portraits and had to be recalled hastily.

The wedding was planned for April but there was speculation that the ceremony would have to be postponed because the Prince was laid up with a painful swollen knee.  The knee joint had troubled Leopold in the past and he had twisted the ligaments earlier in the year.  He then aggravated that injury by falling in the street after slipping on a piece of orange peel whilst holidaying near his mother in Menton, France.  The Prince’s haemophilia was not a secret – the Aberdeen Evening Express of 5 April 1882 explained: ‘there is some deficiency of a certain element in the blood, which make a fall or bruise a more serious matter to him than it would be to an ordinary person’.

However Leopold returned to England, pale and using a stick to walk, determined that the marriage should go ahead as planned.  On 27 April 1882, thousands of people flocked to Windsor for the wedding.  Some had tickets for admission to the Castle grounds, most wanted to see the procession through the town.  The people of Windsor presented a diamond bracelet to Princess Helena.  Queen Victoria gave the couple Claremont, a residence in Surrey.  As the newly-weds left the Castle in the late afternoon, several Princesses were said to have breached etiquette by appearing outside without bonnets to wave goodbye.

Prince-Leopold-Duke-of-Albany-Princess-Alice-Countess-of-Athlone-Princess-Helen-Duchess-of-AlbanyDuke and Duchess of Albany with their baby daughter Alice by Hills & Saunders 1883 NPG x197970 © National Portrait Gallery, London

In February 1883, Helena gave birth to a daughter Alice. Early the following year Leopold went to Cannes to escape the winter weather.  Sadly he had a fall resulting in an epileptic fit and a brain haemorrhage, and he died on 28 March 1884.  He was buried at Windsor on 6 April, less than two years after his marriage.  His son Charles was born in July.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Dundee Evening Telegraph 28 March 1882, Aberdeen Evening Express 5 April 1882, Derby Daily Telegraph 24 April 1882, Hampshire Advertiser 29 April 1882, Windsor and Eton Express 29 April 1882.

 

16 May 2018

The Anti-German Union and the India Office

A file among the records of the India Office Public & Judicial Department shows how the anti-German hysteria that developed in Britain after the outbreak of the First World War came to spread as far as central India.

Anti German Union Museum of Fine Arts Boston CON651696Poster for Anti-German Union 1915 courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

George Makrill was Honorary Secretary of the Anti-German Union  - motto: ‘No German Labour, No German Goods, No German Influence, Britain for the British'.  On 9 August 1915 he wrote to the India Office from the Union's headquarters on The Strand concerning ‘... certain information, which I have received from a source which I know to be trustworthy, and which appears to me to require immediate action’.

This potentially grave matter was then left hanging, as Makrill had forgotten to include in this initial communication a short list of persons with German connections who had worked or were working in the Central Provinces administration.  This was dispatched, with apologies, on 26 August.
 
The India Office thus found itself tasked with investigating four of its own civil servants:
• the late Sir Arthur Blumerhassett, former Chief Secretary - what damage might he have done the Allied cause before his death?
• Mr Marten, his successor - had he been ‘turned’ by Sir Arthur?
• Mr Grille, Assistant Commissioner - was he part of the conspiracy?
• Mr Hullah, Third Secretary  - what was his nefarious role?

Mr Makrill might himself have done some elementary checking prior to alerting the India Office, given that he must have meant Sir Arthur Blennerhassett who had died in late January.  It was soon established that the four individuals were all Oxbridge graduates, which before the Cambridge spy ring scandal erupted decades later must presumably have worked in their favour.  Departmental Secretary Malcolm Seton (Repton and Oriel College, Oxford) took it upon himself to deal with the matter, putting the laconic note in the file on 2 September : ‘Mr. J. T. Marten has a German mother, but the Martens are an old Gloucestershire family.  I have known him intimately for over 20 years.  He has always been rather anti-German in feeling’.  He was plainly not impressed by the error over the Blennerhassett surname: ‘Burke or Debrett could have been consulted’.

In retrospect it is clear that the whole episode stemmed from the Anti-German Union having somehow discovered that a handful of overseas civil servants had some German ancestry and/or had married German wives, and were keen for the India Office to investigate their backgrounds.  Seton’s sense of exasperation is plain in another written comment: ‘If the Anti-German Union hopes to proscribe every official who has German blood, its labours will be protracted’.  No further action seems to have taken place, and Messrs Marten (Clifton and New College, Oxford), Grille (Harrow and Jesus, Cambridge) and Hullah (Oundle and Caius College, Cambridge) were sensibly allowed to continue their careers unmolested.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services

Further reading:
IOR/L/PJ/6/1395, file 3304
Papers of Sir Malcolm Seton India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E267

 

14 May 2018

#Happy Birthday, Robert Proctor :)

Anyone with an interest in early printed books should certainly celebrate the 150th anniversary of Robert Proctor’s birth. A debt of gratitude is owed to the librarian and bibliographer, who had a special talent for identifying early printing types and on that basis consolidated a method for arranging incunabula, books printed in the 15th century.

Proctor disappeared in September 1903 whilst hiking in the Tyrol, but his work during his short energetic life did much to make a science of bibliography. The impact of the publication of his Index to the Early Printed Books in the British Museum was figuratively likened to "the launching of HMS Dreadnought". The 'Proctor Order' is still used, giving numbers to printed items arranged geographically and chronologically: first by country, in printing order; then within each country by town, chronologically; then within each town by printer.

 When we are struck by the accomplishments of remarkable people, it’s natural to look for the things that made them click. Proctor’s Diaries written from 1899-1903, provide insights into his day-to-day work, his interests, joys, frustrations, thoughts and opinions. Today Twitter serves this function for many librarians, and so to celebrate Proctor’s birthday we thought we might gift him a Twitter account! What might he have tweeted?

ProctorTwitter1If Proctor had a Twitter account it might have looked like this...

Proctor’s energy and industry is immediately apparent when reading his diaries. We might wonder if he had some kind of thaasophobia – he was never idle. He could have been a prolific Tweeter.

As a librarian he documented his work at the British Museum: cataloguing, acquisitions, visitor interviews, and work on the printed subject index. He also recorded the weather, often with a touch of poetry, aware of its natural magic and dynamism. He could be expected to have tweeted images from the books he worked with, but it’s often illuminating to look at the other interests of people normally associated with a particular area.

For instance, Proctor lived in a house with his mother, and loved gardening. We picture him setting wire fences, chopping logs, picking flowers and making jam.

ProctorTwitter2

He recorded the books he read on train journeys and those he read to his mother; he could have tweeted, “#amreading Zola (to mother)”. Proctor kept up his diary during his holidays, and these contain succinct (tweetable) reviews: “not to be commended, but certainly cheap”, “landlord excellent” etc.

Some diaries and much of social media can be mundane and turgid. The interesting stuff comes with those things that reflect the deeper and more meaningful sides of a character. Proctor’s diaries offer an interesting record of his views and opinions. It is well known that Proctor was greatly influenced by the aesthetics and politics of his idol William Morris and we see plenty of examples of Proctor’s ‘radicalism’.

ProctorDiary1"The bottom of the sea seems the best place for France - but I doubt whether her injustice towards Dreyfus is a greater crime than the behaviour of our Government & Press to the Boers", diary entry for 9 Sep 1899. Add MS 50190-50196.

Many people with social media accounts which identify an employer state in their profiles, ‘opinions my own’ or ‘not tweeting in an official capacity’. Had Proctor taken to Twitter, the British Museum’s Department of Printed Books may just have insisted on this for @IncunabulaBob: on March 7th 1900 Proctor wrote “London much excited because the loathsome Fatguts is defiling it. She is going to Ireland – may she leave her damned bones there.”

ProctorDiary2Fatguts, and 'the Old Washerwoman of Windsor', were Proctor's insulting names for Queen Victoria.

 

Other pages in Proctor's diaries display quite touching gestures of his sincere beliefs.

ProctorDiary3Liberty, Equality, Fraternity written in red pen at the top of the first page of the second volume of Proctor's diaries.

 Further reading

J H Bowman, ed., A critical edition of the private diaries of Robert Proctor (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, c2010). Open Access Rare Books and Music Reading Room, RAR 027.541

The Private Diary of Robert Proctor. Reprinted from the Transactions of the Bibliographical Society 1951.010856.k.6

Christian Algar,

Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

11 May 2018

Captain Cook's house – a space in memory

Long before the East End became London's working-class quarter, it had a different character.  Walk along the Mile End Road today, you can spot surviving signs of elegance.  By the 1760s the area was becoming built up, with the City spreading its tentacles towards it, but it was still a semi-rural district for comfortably-off people.

It was convenient for those whose interests lay in ships, with the wharfs along the Thames not far off.  A property developer acquired a strip of land in between Mile End Green, and what would later become Jubilee Street, and called his new terrace Assembly Row.  In 1764 a sixty-one year lease on the eight-roomed end house was bought by James Cook.

Cook  James Add_ms_23920_f002rPortrait of  Captain James Cook British Library Add MS 23920 Images Online

He had been living in then-rural Shadwell, with his young wife Elizabeth and their first child, a son who had been born while he was away on his exploratory voyage round Newfoundland.  Now, four years and three more children later, and well established with the Royal Society, he was preparing for the first of his great journeys to the Pacific.  He insured the house for £250, his household goods for another £200, and the family's clothing and silver for additional amounts.  Since £50 a year was then a sufficient income for a modestly respectable family lifestyle, with a servant, these sums suggest considerable comfort.

The voyage Cook set out on in 1768 did not bring him back to the house in the Mile End Road for three years.  He was off again in 1772 and again in 1776, which was the journey that finally carried him to an inglorious death off Hawaii.  His wife did not get the news of this till 1781, by which time their eldest son, a teenage midshipman, had tragically drowned.  She inherited the house and contents and received a pension for life from the king of £200 a year.

Cook Elizabeth - Mitchell LibraryPortrait said to be Elizabeth Cook aged 81 by W Henderson  - image courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales (recent research has challenged whether this is Mrs Cook).

When Elizabeth herself died, over fifty years later, she had long since moved away from the Mile End Road, which had become entirely urban.  In the 19th century the Cook house, like the neighbouring ones, had a shop built out on the ground floor - women's clothing, with `corsets a speciality', later a kosher butcher. 

Cook House 2 sendCaptain Cook's house c.1940- image courtesy of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives 

An LCC plaque commemorating Cook was put up in 1907, but the house was pulled down in 1958 under the Greater London Plan, when two-thirds of Stepney was demolished in the name of Progress. 

Cook House 1 sendThe site of Captain Cook's house today  - image courtesy of Spitalfields Life

Yet the rest of the terrace survived, and is there, protected, to this day.  Sixty years on, with the old London boroughs long superseded, one can only speculate on this bizarre circumstance.  It is thought there was an intention to widen the alley alongside the house, but this never happened.  Nothing significant has ever come to occupy the empty plot.

Gillian Tindall
Writer and historian

Visit our exhibition James Cook: The Voyages
Open until 28 August 2018

 

09 May 2018

Nature and War: Where Poppies Blow

One of our manuscripts is currently enjoying a much-needed change of scene in the Lake District, on display as part of the Wordsworth House and Garden's Where Poppies Blow exhibition.

Add MS 44990 consists of 62 manuscript poems by Edward Thomas, and is featured in the exhibition displaying his poem Adlestrop.

Add_ms_44990_f011rAdd MS 44990, f 11r

Where Poppies Blow explores the themes of nature, the First World War, and the British soldier. Whilst nature was always present in Thomas' work, the latter two themes would become central following his enrollment with the Artists' Rifles in July 1915. Thomas was killed on 9 April 1917 at the battle of Arras.

IWM_SoldierMagpieTommy with pet magpie. Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

Curated by historian, farmer and author John Lewis-Stempel, Where Poppies Blow also features original artworks by John and Paul Nash, items collected by soldiers during the war, and panel excerpts from Dave McKean's graphic novel Black Dog: the Dreams of Paul Nash.

JohnLewisStempelJohn Lewis-Stempel outside Wordsworth House. Photograph by Zoe Gilbert, National Trust.

The exhibition is open now until Sunday 8 July. 

 

08 May 2018

Senior Statesman of British Biology: John Maynard Smith

To publicise our upcoming event Dear John: The 'Kin Selection' Controversy presented by the British Library and Undercurrent Theatre, we present the last of three blogs by PhD student Helen Piel on evolutionary biologists George Price, William D. Hamilton and John Maynard Smith. 

JMS_1John Maynard Smith c1965. © University of Sussex

John Maynard Smith (1920-2004) was one of Britain’s most eminent evolutionary biologists. His career spanned half a century, first at University College London, and then from 1965 at the University of Sussex. Educated at Eton, Cambridge (where he took a first degree in engineering, working as an aircraft stressman during and briefly after the Second World War) and UCL, he showed a remarkable ability to discern and describe biological problems and to ‘do the sums’: Maynard Smith brought his mathematical abilities and trust in models over into biology from his earlier education and training.

At UCL he studied and later worked under J B S Haldane, one of the founding fathers of neo-Darwinism (the merger between Darwin's theory of natural selection and Mendelian genetics). In the laboratory of Helen Spurway, Maynard Smith worked on genetics with the fruit fly Drosophila subobscura and later tackled the questions of ageing and sex. After his move to Sussex he focused increasingly on theoretical questions, and in 1973 published a seminal paper on ‘The Logic of Animal Conflict’, together with George R Price. The paper combined evolutionary biology and an idea taken from economics (game theory) to suggest a new way of studying animal behaviour: in evolutionary game theory, individual animals are pitted against each other like players in a game. In 1999, Maynard Smith was awarded the Crafoord Prize (biology’s equivalent to a Nobel Prize) for his work on evolutionary game theory. 

JMS_2John Maynard Smith c 1984. © University of Sussex

Maynard Smith was also known for his successful efforts to communicate evolutionary biology to a broader public, writing his first book The Theory of Evolution in 1958. He published various essay collections and The Origins of Life (1999), a ‘birdwatchers’ version’ of one of his books aimed more at a specialist audience (both co-authored with Eörs Szathmáry). From the 1960s he regularly appeared on radio and television, and was a frequent guest on the radio show Who Knows?, where a panel answered questions sent in by the public.

Smith also contributed as a scientific advisor to programmes, and narrated the Horizon episode ‘The Selfish Gene’, based on Richard Dawkins’ book of the same name, which itself was based on several of Maynard Smith’s ideas, particularly evolutionary game theory.

Although a theoretical biologist who avoided fieldwork throughout his career - his bad eyesight had dissuaded him from joining fellow undergraduates who went on to study under the famous ethnologist Niko Tinbergen at Oxford - his love for nature was obvious in his avid gardening. During summers he would open his garden to the public, and his Who's Who entry cites 'gardening' as one of his two favourite recreations. The second was 'talking'.

Helen Piel
Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) PhD student, University of Leeds and the British Library

 

Further reading:

Helen Piel (2017). Local Heroes: John Maynard Smith: (1920-2004): A good "puzzle-solver" with an "accidental career". The British Library, Science Blog.

Marek Kohn (2004). A Reason for Everything. Natural Selection and the English Imagination. London: faber and faber.

John Maynard Smith (1985). In Haldane’s footsteps. In: D. A. Dewsbury (ed.) Leaders in the Study of Animal Behavior: Autobiographical Perspectives (pp.347-354). Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press.

03 May 2018

‘Who on Earth is Anthony Meyer?’

Unless you are a political anorak, or one of his constituents, Sir Anthony Meyer’s long, but low key, parliamentary career probably passed under your radar.  However, in November 1989 he was briefly one of the best known men in the country.  His challenge to Margaret Thatcher for the leadership of the Conservative Party, and by extension the prime ministership, captured the public’s imagination: the backbencher versus the ‘Iron Lady’, albeit a backbencher who was ex-Eton, ex-Oxford, ex-Guards, and a baronet to boot.  Meyer was portrayed as David to Thatcher’s Goliath.

MeyerNewcastle Evening Chronicle 22 November 1989 British Newspaper Archive

The British Library recently acquired the thousands of letters Meyer received at the time of the challenge. They are overwhelmingly supportive.  Constituents, non-constituents, Conservative supporters, supporters of other parties, and the apolitical alike lauded his courage and criticised both Thatcher’s leadership style which they saw as increasingly arrogant and autocratic, and her policies, especially the poll tax and water privatisation.  However, Meyer also received a large number of letters opposing his challenge, and it these letters that make most interesting, and let’s face it, most fun, reading.

The opposition to Meyer’s challenge broke down into distinct categories.  The more considered correspondents picked apart his views on Europe and the economy and insisted that Meyer would divide the party, handing encouragement, and possibly the next election, to Labour.  Others preferred to focus on Thatcher herself, both in a political sense - 'the best Prime Minister we have ever had' - and a personal one - 'the greatest woman who has ever lived on the Planet Earth'; 'neat, wears right clothes and is attractive'.  One cannot help feeling that the latter were hardly prerequisites for leading the country.

Some correspondents attacked Meyer the man rather than his message.  He was a nonentity, the unpopular boy at school trying to get noticed.  He was ordered to 'Stop showing off!' and put a stop to his 'childish antics'.  Much was made of Meyer’s low-key career: 'WHO ON EARTH IS anthony meyer?'; 'Dear Sir Anthony Who!!!'   His opponents dispensed with such niceties as getting his name right.  One card was addressed to Sir Thomas Meyers but he was also Myers, Myer, Myner, Mayer.  To be fair, even some of his supporters wrote to Sir Peter, Sir Ian, Sir Robert, Sir Charles, Sir William, and Sir Alfred.

Another category of opponent comprised those who saw Meyer’s challenge as treachery.  He was likened to Julius Caesar’s assassins, Judas, and memorably one letter writer reckoned Meyer 'and Quisling would have been ‘good pals'.  Finally, there were those who simply resorted to personal abuse, but even this had a genteel feel to it.  'Silly old twit', 'a DRIP of the first water', and 'your [sic] nuts' was about as bad as it got.  Even the correspondent who told him to 'get lost' prefaced it, very politely, with 'kindly'.

As a ‘stalking horse’ candidate (predictably changed to 'stalking donkey' and 'stalking sheep' by his opponents) Meyer was never expected to win, and he did not.  He was resoundingly defeated by 314 votes to 33 but, as was the plan, he laid the groundwork for a party ‘big gun’ to mount another challenge at a later date.  Less than 12 months later Margaret Thatcher resigned as Conservative party leader and Prime Minister.

Michael St John-McAlister
Western Manuscripts Cataloguing Manager

Further reading:
The Papers of Sir Anthony Meyer, Add MS 89310.
Anthony Meyer, Stand Up and Be Counted (London: Heinemann, 1990).