European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

Introduction

Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

01 December 2021

From Dositej Obradović with thanks: a donation of the first Serbian books

Dositej Obradović (1739-1811) was a Serbian educator and the most prominent writer of the Serbian Enlightenment. Obradović is credited for the revival of Serbian culture and he is regarded as the founder of modern Serbian literature.

Portrait of Dositej Obradović

Portrait of Dositej Obradović from Dela Dositeja Obradovića (Belgrade, 1911) 012265.dd.3.

Obradović was a man of wide interests and great learning. He spent most of his life travelling widely through the Balkans, Asia Minor, Western Europe and Russia earning a living as a private tutor.

Map from The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović

Map from The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović (Los Angeles, 1953) Ac.2689.g/4.

With a great interest in books and learning, Obradović set out into the world in 1760 in search of education and knowledge. His mission was to pass on the knowledge onto others. In Smyrna (Izmir) he studied classical antiquity and learned Ancient and Modern Greek. In Vienna, Modra and Bratislava he became systematically acquainted with Latin, western European languages and the German philosophy of Enlightenment. Finally in 1782-1784 in Halle and Leipzig he fulfilled a long-standing ambition to attend university lectures.

Obradović believed that South Slav peoples living in the Habsburg and Ottoman lands would be able to progress and achieve an independent and free life only in the community of cultured and enlightened European nations. He argued that reason, science and tolerance were a precondition for the emancipation of peoples. He was true to these believes in his original works about his personal life experiences and in all of his translations and adaptations from classical and modern European literature and moral philosophy of the time.

Title page of Život i priključenija Dimitrija Obradovića

Život i priključenija Dimitrija Obradovića (Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović. Autobiography, part 1). (Leipzig, 1783) C.59.d.25.(1.)

In the latter half of his life Obradović was entirely devoted to writing and printing books with the aim of promoting the ideas of Enlightenment among the Serbs. In 1783 in Leipzig Obradović found printers able to print Cyrillic texts and his first four works were printed there in the printing shop of Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf.

Title page of Sovjeti zdravago razuma

Sovjeti zdravago razuma (Common Sense Counsels). Compiled by Dositej Obradović (Leipzig, 1784) C.59.d.25.(2.)

Title page of Slovo poučitelno

Slovo poučitelno (Instructive Discourse). Translation from the sermons of Georg Joachim Zollikofer (Leipzig, 1784) C.59.ff.15.(3.)

These are the first three of Obradović’s books printed in Leipzig by which the modern Serbian literature was created. Obradović presented the books to the British Museum Library in 1785. These books would have the distinction of being the first modern Serbian books acquired by the British Museum Library.

Handwritten note of the donation, signed and dated by John Jackson, Obradović’s friend in London

Handwritten note of the donation, signed and dated by John Jackson, Obradović’s friend in London. The note is inserted in front of the title page of the first part of Obradović’s Autobiography. The note states Obradović’s abode in London. Later on Obradović moved to Rotherhithe in south-east London where he stayed until June 1785 when he left London for Hamburg.

Obradović was not only a social reformer, adopting and promoting the ideas of the Enlightenment, he was also the first reformer of the Serbian literary language. In the 18th century two languages were in parallel use among the Serbs: Russo-Slavonic and Slavonic-Serbian. Obradović opposed the general use of the Russo-Slavonic language in favour of the Serbian national language. In addition to the use of vernacular, Obradović was also an advocate of secular literature in the spirit of the Enlightenment.

VII_IMG_20190602

A plaque on the wall of a house in Clements Lane in the City of London at the site of the house in which Obradović stayed in 1784-85.

In his the second part of his Autobiography (which is inserted in his translation of Aesop’s and other fables, pp. 311-425, C.59.ff.15.(1).) Obradović published an account of his visit to London in 1784-85. In this account he expressed a boundless sympathy for the country and the people. For this early portrayal of London and its inhabitants Obradović is characterised as the first Serbian Anglophile in Serbian literature. Obradović celebrated English literature, commerce, science and the English way of life in general, as well as the friends he acquired and the ordinary people he met in London. His impressions were translated into English as ‘The London impressions of a famous Servian’ by Čedomilj Mijatović in Servia of the Servians (London, 1915) YD.2006.a.3929.

Furthermore in Anglo-Serbian literary connections, Obradović is known as the author who introduced the works of Joseph Addison and Samuel Johnson to Serbian readers.

A 1914 statue of Dositej Obradović

A 1914 statue of Dositej Obradović erected in the Studentski trg square in front of Belgrade University

Education and enlightenment of the Serbian people are Obradović’s main accomplishments. He is celebrated for the creation of a new culture in which the modern literature is written in the national language. Another important aspect of Obradović’s legacy is his commitment to the emancipation of people from spiritual backwardness through general secular education and the opening of schools for everyone. In 1808 Obradović founded a High School in Belgrade which eventually led to the establishment of the University of Belgrade in 1905.

In his lifetime Obradović didn’t succeed in having all his works printed. A total of 21 works: original editions, reprints and translations into different languages were printed before his death in 1811. The British Library holds five original editions and two posthumous editions of Obradović’s main works. This collection also includes the first edition of his complete works (Zemun, 1850. 012264.e.4) and a facsimile edition of Obradović’s preserved autograph manuscripts (Novi Sad, 1961. 11880.aa.13). Literary criticism, research and scholarship of all periods about Obradović are well represented in the collection.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South East European Collections

Digitised books

Aesop's Fables. Translated and edited by Dositej Obradović (Leipzig, 1788) Digital Store C.59.ff.15.(1). 

Dositej Obradović, Song about the liberation of Serbia (Vienna, 1789) Digital Store C.59.ff.15.(2.) 

Dositej Obradović, Mezimac. A collection of essays on morale and practical philosophy (Budapest, 1818) Digital Store 869.h.34. 

Bukvice (Vienna, 1830) the abbreviated text of Obradović’s manuscript ‘Prvenac’ the first-born of Dositej Obradović written in 1770. Digital Store 8311.eee.64. 

A collection of Dositej Obradović’s 15 digitised books by from the Digital National Library of Serbia

References

Pavle Popović, Dositej Obradović u Engleskoj (Oxford, 1919) 010795.c.10.

Pavle Popović, ‘Serbian Anglophil, Dositheus Obradović’ The Quarterly Review, no. 461 (London, 1919) P.P.5989.ab.

The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović. Translated and edited by George Rapall Noyes (Los Angeles, 1953) Ac.2689.g/4.

Dositej Obradović, Sabrana dela. Introduction by Vojislav Đurić (Belgrade, 1961) 12521.w.35.

 

26 November 2021

Two new fine editions of Georgia's national poet

Shota Rustaveli is the most admired poet in Georgia and an iconic figure in Georgian national literature. He is the author of the medieval epic poem Vepxistqaosani (The Knight in the Panther's Skin). The poem was composed during the reign of Queen Tamar and is dedicated to her. The poem exemplifies the medieval knightly ideals of chivalry, friendship, courtly love and courage, and yet has contemporary relevance as its humanistic values are timeless. It is recognised internationally as a masterpiece and has been translated into many languages in both verse and prose. It was first published in Tbilisi in 1712 at the printing press established by King Vakhtang VI of Kartli at his initiative. Several manuscripts exist, written both before and after that date.

The British Library holds a number of editions of The Knight in the Panther's Skin including translations into English and other languages. Unfortunately, we do not hold any manuscripts. Recently, however, our collections have been enriched by generous donations from the Art Palace of Georgia - Museum of Cultural History.

We have received two beautiful facsimiles of manuscripts of The Knight in the Panther's Skin. Both have been recently published in limited editions by Bakmi Publishing in Tbilisi. The originals are preserved in the Korneli Kekelidze National Centre of Manuscripts in Tbilisi.

Cover of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2018)

Cover of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2018) HS.74/2506

The first of these manuscripts was created in 1680 at the behest of King George XI of Kartli by his secretary, Begtabeg Taniashvili. For this reason, the manuscript is generally known as ‘Begtabeg’s manuscript’ (Begtabegiseuli khelnatseri = ბეგთაბეგისეული ხელნაწერი). Each page of this manuscript is enriched with stylized, gold-plated decorations consisting of images of animals, birds and flowers. Every page is unique as none of the designs is repeated in the 523 pages. The facsimile of the manuscript is bound in navy blue leather and decorated with gold lettering.

Page 19 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani

Page 19 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani

Page 113 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani

Page 113 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani

Page 391 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani

Page 391 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani

The other manuscript was created between the 17th and 18th centuries and is known as ‘Tsereteli’s manuscript’ (Tseretliseuli khelnatseri = წერეთლისეული ხელნაწერი). It bears the name of its owner, the Tsereteli family. Among the many manuscripts of the poem, it is the most richly illustrated. It contains 87 miniatures. Some of them appear to have been influenced by Persian miniature painting, while others reflect national Georgian traditions. The different styles present in the manuscript suggest that they were executed by several artists, all of whom are unknown.

The slip-case of the facsimile is handmade and has been decorated using cloisonné enamel. Very expensive materials, including silver, gold-plated brass and enamel, were employed. It was designed and created by the traditional Georgian jewellery company, Zarapxana.

Slip-case of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2019)

Slip-case of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2019) RF.2021.a.20

Page 22-23 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2019)

Page 22-23 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani

Page 83 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2019)

Page 83 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani 

Page 381 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2019)

Page 381 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani 

The donation of this book has been made possible by a contribution from Tamar Latsabidze, Zarapxana, Giorgi Kalandia and the Art Palace of Georgia.

The British Library is enormously grateful to Giorgi Kalandia and the Art Palace for the substantial donations to the British Library collections made during recent years. This has resulted in an improved supply of contemporary publications and has also filled some significant gaps in our collection.

We are also very grateful to Tamar Latsabidze and to Zarapxana, the Georgian jeweller, for their support. It has been important for us to establish and develop closer contacts with our partners in Georgia.

The generosity of all who have contributed is very much appreciated. They have evidently taken heed of the well-known quotation from Rustaveli: “That which we give makes us richer, that which is hoarded is lost”.

Anna Chelidze, Curator Georgian Collections

References/Further reading:

Shota Rustaveli, The Man in the Panther’s skin: a romantic epic … a close rendering from the Georgian attempted by Marjory Scott Wardrop. (London,1912) 14003.bb.16.

Kʿartʿuli xelnaceri cigni V-XIX saukuneebi = Georgian manuscript book 5th-19th centuries (Tbilisi, 2012) YF.2014.b.2472

Šalva Amiranašvili, Vepʿxistqaosnis dasuratʿeba: miniaturebi šesrulebuli XVI-XVII saukuneebši (Tbilisi, 1966) YF.2015.b.2110

S. Qubaneišvili, Vepʿxistqaosnis bečdvis istoriidan (Tbilisi, 1975) YF.2017.a.2371

24 November 2021

‘The Unknown Feminist of Fin-de-siècle Europe: Lesia Ukrainka’ at the British Library

On 16 November 2021, the British Library, in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute London, hosted an event to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Ukrainian writer and poet Lesia Ukrainka. The expert panel was chaired by Lucy Delap, Professor of History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Murray Edwards College, and included Sasha Dovzhyk, a Ukrainian scholar and writer based in London, and Oksana Zabuzhko, one of Ukraine’s major contemporary writers.

Photograph of the event panel

The evening was opened by Katie McElvanney, Curator of Slavonic and East European Collections at the British Library. Oksana Zabuzhko, who joined the event remotely from Kyiv, highlighted that the complete collection of Lesia Ukrainka’s works (14 volumes) had only now been published, 150 years after her birth. She noted that Ukrainka was ‘misread’ in Soviet times and stressed the importance of re-reading and reviving her work and legacy.

Speaking about Ukrainka’s family, Zabuzhko emphasised that they were remarkable people who played an important role in the creation of modern Ukraine. She also spoke about the main themes and motifs of Ukrainka’s 21 plays, which were based on European culture and the European Christian tradition. In each of her dramas the main character is a woman and these women possess spiritual leadership, said Zabuzhko.

As part of the event, Olesya Khromeychuk, Director of the Ukrainian Institute London, announced the winner of the Institute’s inaugural Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize. The condition of this year was the translation of Ukrainka’s works. First prize was awarded to Nina Murray for her translation from Ukrainka’s drama Cassandra. Daisy Gibbons received the second prize for her translation of extracts from Ukrainka’s letters to Olha Kobylianska and the short story ‘By the Sea’. Nina Murray, together with Uilleam Blacker, then read excerpts from Cassandra in Ukrainian and English. It should be mentioned that Zabuzhko’s novel The Museum of Abandoned Secrets was also translated into English by Nina Murray.

Continuing the panel discussion, Sasha Dovzhyk told the audience about the Ukrainian Institute London’s short film Fin de Siècle Ukrainian Feminism on Ukrainka, where she was an expert. She also spoke about Ukrainka’s letters to Olha Kobylianska. Among the subjects of their correspondence was the struggle for women's rights. Dovzhyk cited and conextualised the words of another outstanding Ukrainian poet and writer Ivan Franko who remarked of Ukrainka, ‘this fragile and sick woman is almost the only man in the whole of Ukraine’.

Oksana Zabuzhko and Sasha Dovzhyk answered a number of questions from the audience. They also stressed that 19th and early 20th-century European literature is not complete without Lesia Ukrainka. She was a part of European culture, even in her travelling, and it is vital that her work is translated into different languages. Discussing Ukrainka’s relevance and appeal in contemporary Ukrainian society, Dovzhyk noted that she has become part of mass culture in Ukraine; during the Euromaidan her image appeared on the building of the Institute of Literature of the National Academy of Sciences, along with the other prominent figures Taras Shevchenko and Ivan Franko.

Photograph of the event panel and audience

The recording of the event will be available on the Ukrainian Institute London’s YouTube channel.

Nadiia Strishenets, British Library Chevening Fellow working on collections related to the Ukrainian writer, poet and artist Taras Shevchenko

Photos by Anna Morgan and Tetiana Kharchenko. With thanks to the Ukrainian Institute London for allowing us to reproduce the photos in this blog post.