European studies blog

8 posts from July 2013

29 July 2013

Registering the registrars

Our summer exhibitions Propaganda: Power and Persuasion and Poetry in Sound: The Music of Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) exhibit items from our own rich collections as well as items borrowed from other heritage institutions, in the UK and abroad. At the same time the Library contributes to exhibitions by other libraries and museums, such as The Lindisfarne Gospels in Durham and Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure in the National Gallery.

When I recently travelled to the J.P. Getty Museum in Los Angeles, escorting a  collection item for their exhibition ‘Looking East: Rubens’s Encounter with Asia’, I got an idea of how much work goes into arranging loans and the vital role the registrars play in this. They deal with the huge amounts of paper work that comes with every single loan request, including all travel arrangements. They pack up the items to go out on loan, so all I had to do was turn up with my paperwork and hand luggage and enjoy the trip.

Collaborating with other libraries and museums on exhibitions gives us a great opportunity to present our collection items to the outside world and to foster relationships with other heritage institutions. I found it very interesting to meet with the Getty’s curators, especially the lead-curator Stephanie Schrader, who specialises in sixteenth- to eighteenth century Dutch and Flemish art. She and her colleagues did a stellar job in putting together the small, but exquisite exhibition around the print by Peter Paul Rubens of a ‘Man in Korean Costume’ (ca. 1617), which is part of the J. Paul Getty’s collections.

The exhibition was a great hit, especially with the Korean community in Los Angeles and it attracted some very high profile visitors. The Library’s contribution consisted of a copy of the first eye-witness account about Korea known in the West. It was written by Hendrick Hamel, survivor of a shipwreck of a Dutch East India Company (VOC) vessel, in September 1653. The ship had been on a journey from Batavia to Taiwan, when it ran into a heavy storm and stranded on the coast of Korea. Hamel and some 30 other surviving crew members spent 13 years in Korea, being prevented from leaving the country by the authorities. In 1666, after several failed attempts to escape, Hamel and seven other men succeeded to get away and sailed in an open boat to Nagasaki in Japan and from there to Amsterdam (exchanging their open boat for a VOC ship!).The Board of the VOC commissioned Hamel to write an account of Korea, its people and society, which was published around 1670. It became very famous throughout Europe, as well in Korea and saw several editions in a short period of time.

The Dutch National Archives hold the original account. The British Library holds three editions of the published version (shelfmarks 10057.dd.32.  10057.dd.28, and 1295.c.28 the copy present in the exhibition).

Hamel, Voyage gedaen in Oost-Indien
The shipwreck from Hamel's account of his Voyage

Hamel has become an important ‘ambassador’ in fostering relationships between the Netherlands and Korea. Exchanging collection items between heritage institutions can do the same and without the registrars this would not be possible.

Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch Language Collections

26 July 2013

La Unua Libro

126 years ago, on 26 July 1887, a modest little  book was published in Warsaw. The book appeared under the pseudonym “Dr Esperanto” and was entitled (in Russian) “International Language. Introduction and Complete Textbook for Russians”. The title-page explained: “In order that a language may be worldwide, it is not enough to call it so”, adding the price of 15 kopecks and the imprint “Warsaw: Printing House of Ch.Kelter, Nowolipie street no.11 1887”.

The first book in esperanto

"The First Book" in Russian (image from Wikimedia Commons)

This “harmless eccentricity”, as the author’s father called it, succeeded in changing the lives of millions of people all over the world and still continues to do so. Esperanto speakers of the world lovingly talk about “La Unua Libro” [“The First Book”], and 26 July is recognised as Esperanto Day.

The creator of Esperanto –  27-year old Ludovic Zamenhof –  published his book first in Russian as it was much easier to receive permission from the severe Tsarist censors for Russian books. His father, Marcus Zamenhof, persuaded his friend A. Lagodovsky, then censor for Russian books in Warsaw, to give permission. Versions in other languages – French, German and Polish – followed the same year. The British Library holds two first editions of “The First Book”: Langue Internationale: Préface et manuel complet por Francoj [12902.aa.45] and Internationale Sprache. Vorrede und vollständiges Lehrbuch por Germanoj [12902.aa.46], both also published in Warsaw in 1887.

The first manual for English speakers was published a year later, again in Warsaw: Dr. Esperanto's International Tongue: Preface and complete method, edited for Englishmen by J St. [12902.aa.55.(1)]. In the words of Zamenhof’s British biographer Dr Marjorie Boulton, the editorial work of J.St. was not a total success: “one of his early converts, Julius Steinhaus, though himself qualified and produced a disastrously bad translation.”  This poor translation was suppressed by Zamenhof himself and is now a great rarity. Fortunately, an extremely gifted Irishman, Richard H. Geoghegan,  “who at the age of twenty-two had just finished a four-year course in philology at Oxford and received a university prize in Chinese” (Boulton), adapted further manuals for English speakers and became one of the most fervent pioneers of Esperanto.

Portrait of Zamenhof

Portrait of Zamenhof (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Zamenhof, of course, was not the first man to offer a new language of international communication to the world. Volapük, created only seven years before by Roman Catholic priest Johann Martin Shleyer, was still in fashion. But the genius of Zamenhof was already evident in “The First Book”. It included the“promise form” (“Promeso”) for purchasers: “I, the undersigned, promise to learn the international language proposed by D. Zamenhof, if it appears that ten million people have publicly given the same promise” and eight reply coupons which could be cut out and mailed to the author. It also presented translations into the new language and original poems by Zamenhof himself.  In the words of Geoffrey Sutton, “Zamenhof understood the vital importance of the role of literature from the outset, undertaking the lonely task of testing the language with translated and original writing even before anyone outside his family could share his thought in it”.

How did the new “international language” sound? Here are some examples from “The First Book”: Translation: “Patro nia, kiu estas en la  ĉielo, sankta estu Via nomo, venu reĝeco Via, estu volo Via, kiel en la ĉielo, tiel ankau sur la tero” (opening of the Lord’s Prayer);
Original poetry from year 1887 “Oh, My Heart”: “Ho, mia kor’, ne batu maltrankvile, / El mia brusto nun ne saltu for! / Jam teni min ne povas mi facile / Ho, mia kor’!”
Esperanto speakers from the USA, China, Brazil, Israel, Poland, Lithuania, Slovenia and Ukraine, meeting together, can recite this poem of Zamenhof’s by heart. I witnessed this myself in the London Esperanto Club.

One of the biggest linguistic experiments in the history of humankind is still going on. Happy birthday, Esperanto! Feliĉan naskiĝtagon!

Olga Kerziouk, Curator of Esperanto Studies

Further reading:

Boulton, Marjorie. Zamenhof: creator of Esperanto. (London, 1960) [W63/5649]

Star in a Night Sky. An Anthology of Esperanto Literature.  Edited by Paul Gubbins. (London, 2012).

Concise encyclopedia of the original literature of Esperanto, 1887-2007. Edited by Geoffrey Sutton.  (New York, 2008). [YC.2008.a.12495]

22 July 2013

Multiculturalism in 18th-century Portuguese India?

A Portuguese pamphlet in the British Library reports the Feliz noticia da conversam de hum jogue, que na Caza Professa do Bom Jesus de Goa recebeo o santo bautismo em 8. de Setembro de 1735 ... [The happy news of the conversion of a yogi, who in the religious house of Bom Jesus in Goa received holy baptism on 8 September 1735] (Lisboa Occidental: na Officina Joaquiniana da Musica, 1737) BL shelfmark: RB.23.a.21030

The yogi lived ‘like an anchorite’ in a cave in Anjediva and kept silent as a penance. The text explains that there are two types of yogi (or sannyasi): ‘those who shave their heads and are contemplatives, and others who let their hair grow down to their knees and wear it tied around the head like a mane and do extraordinary penances’. 

This particular yogi was a figure of great gravity; he was naked, with his hair covered in ashes, and in his right hand he held a bundle of peacock feathers and held his left hand closed and raised behind his head in an act of penance he had performed since childhood.

Yogi BT
‘The true portrait of the yogi’ in a typical posture. (BL RB.23.a.21030)

The sympathetic treatment of the yogi is notable, and must be due in part to the fact that the Portuguese saw in him a parallel with the classical philosophers Socrates and Seneca, with whom he is explicitly compared. His contempt for worldly things and his analogy to a desert father chimed with a Christian culture imbued with contemptus mundi and populated by flagellants.

But the yogi’s greatest act of wisdom, in the eyes of the Portuguese, was surely that he converted to Catholicism.

He was taken before a Jesuit in the viceregal palace and entered into discussion, with the aid of an interpreter. After many debates he was won over and was baptised with the name of Pedro, in honour of the Viceroy, Dom Pedro Mascarenhas, his godfather, who marked the occasion with a banquet.

We must not deduce from this account that Portuguese India in the 18th century was a forerunner of multiculturalism. After all, the author sets out to prove that the Gospel is superior to 'Paganism'. But when we bear in mind that the Inquisition was not to be brought under state control until the era of the Marquês de Pombal in 1774, and that the Portuguese language bequeathed us the term auto da fe, this pamphlet is a reminder of a moment of kindlier interfaith dialogue.

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanc Studies

18 July 2013

The Glory of Slovenia

Iconotheca Valvasoriana, a copy of which the British Library acquired recently, is a facsimile edition of the collection of prints and drawings from the library of Johann Weichard Valvasor (1641-1693), a historian and scientist from Carniola (Kranjska, a western region of present-day Slovenia).
Johann Weichard Valvasor in 1689. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

In 1685 Valvasor arranged his collection of prints and drawings into 18 large folio albums to which letterpress title pages were added summarizing the content of each album. Later he sold this collection of prints and drawings, which is now held at the Metropolitan Library in Zagreb, except for one volume which is missing.

The Janez Vajkard Valvasor Foundation at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Ljubljana and the Metropolitan Library in Zagreb published a limited edition of 100 copies of Iconotheca Valvasoriana in 2004-2008. This critical edition consists of 17 large folio volumes which contain 7752 facsimiles of European prints and drawings from the 15th to the 17th centuries. It forms a catalogue of the collection of prints and drawings in which each entry has a catalogue description, commentary, bibliography and provenance note on facing pages in Slovenian, Croatian and English in parallel texts. The edition has a bibliography, an index of names (of engravers, monogrammists, inventors, printers, artists, publishers and previous owners), and an index of titles at the end of each volume.

The first three volumes contain prints on religious and sacred themes; volume four is the missing volume; volume five contains prints on popular allegorical themes; volume six comprises prints on secular themes; volume seven contains maps, topographical representations and views of towns; volume eight is dedicated mainly to illustrated broadsheets; volume nine depicts plants and animals; in volume 10 prints of classical works and mythological texts predominate; volume 11, with prints of scenes from classical mythology, continues the content of the previous volume. All these volumes are arranged by theme. The remaining six volumes are arranged by individual artists, such as Callot, Dürer, and Rembrandt as well as many other well- known or less familiar printers and artists, or by technique. All the woodcuts are in volume 16, which also contains coats of arms. Volume 17 contains drawings and volume 18 watercolours of plants and animals.

It is evident that Valvasor made use of his collection of prints and drawings for his principal study, a pictorial description of the Slovenian lands, which is his four-volume encyclopaedic work Die Ehre des Herzogthums Crain ('Glory of the Duchy of Carniola') published in Laybach (Ljubljana) and Nürnberg in 1689. The British Library has two complete copies (Shelfmarks 985.g.1.and 169.g.8-11.), and a digitised edition is available via the Digital Library of Slovenia. Ehre des Herzogthums Crain
Engraved titlepage of Die Ehre des Herzogthums Crain

The British Library copy of Iconotheca Valvasoriana is number 67 of 100 numbered copies. Each volume is catalogued separately in continuous order and placed at shelfmarks LF.37.b.231 to LF.37.b.247.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-Eastern European collections

15 July 2013

Propaganda from the skies

For the last two years, I have been working on a PhD about propaganda history at the University of Sheffield in collaboration with the British Library. The Library's current exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion has spectacularly advertised the importance of the subject and its impact on our modern society. My own research topic of ‘Allied propaganda in occupied France and Belgium during the First World War’, was triggered in this same institution by the discovery of a typescript and a collection of newspapers given to the British Museum Library in 1919 by Edward Heron-Allen (1861-1943).(C.40.l.21.).

Edward Heron-Allen was an intellectual with interests in Persian literature, science and music but was also one of the propagandists working for what was probably the most mysterious communication unit of the British army during the First World War – MI7b.  Our knowledge of this organisation is limited by the 1919 destruction of their archives. Yet surviving sources reveal varied activities such as attempts to demoralise the enemy, propaganda behind the lines, communication with the press or translation of pamphlets.

The newspapers contained in the British Library, made by the British between 1917 and 1918 and named Le Courrier de l’Air, were written in French in order to be dropped by planes (later by balloon) over the invaded territories of Belgium and France. The typescript attached to this collection describes the creative process behind the conception of this form of propaganda.

Two years after having accessed these documents, my research has allowed me to contextualise them. At the end of 1915, the French decided to drop a newspaper over their invaded departments in order to fight the powerful German propaganda being produced in French. The distribution by plane was partially done by the British over the sector of Lille. The Belgians imitated their neighbours in 1916 and published newspapers both in French and Flemish in an attempt to fight the campaign of division led by the Germans in the country. Le Courrier de l’Air was created by MI7b at the beginning of 1917.

Le Courrier de l'Air 7.11.1918
The masthead of Le Courrier de l'Air (British Library C.40.l.21.)

While there is not enough space to develop here all the findings of my transnational study, it seems useful to answer one of the most intriguing questions surrounding the topic – why did the British bother writing a newspaper specially aimed at the occupied civilians of foreign allied nations? The answer lies in the German propaganda. The content of the occupier’s French-language newspaper, the Gazette des Ardennes,  (BL newspaper Library MF175) was strongly Anglophobic in order to arouse anger at the Franco-British alliance. Daily attacks against the British raised concerns inside the War Office which, when the French refused to offer assistance, decided to create the Courrier de l’Air.

The impact of British propaganda in French will be researched during the last year  of my PhD. In the meantime, the last words will be offered by a Frenchman who experienced the occupation and reflected on the efficiency of German propaganda against the British:  ‘Each piece of literature produced in the last centuries against England is reproduced in the Gazette des Ardennes. Not an issue without a mention of Joan of Arc or Napoleon. It is in vain – each occupied individual realises that he owes the existence of his country to England. And after all… the Hun hates her [England], and that’s reason enough for us to love her’. (P. Stephani, Sedan sous domination allemande 1914-1918, (Paris, 1919) [], pp. 26-27.)

Bernard Wilkin, Sheffield University/British Library Collaborative PhD student

10 July 2013

Mikoláš Aleš

‘Home is the world of our childhood, nature, the people and the creatures in the fields, a girl’s song and a grandmother’s wisdom, men’s work and grandfathers’ learning, the native region, myths, legends and history, people and kings, the blessings of peace and the clash of weapons. Mikoláš Aleš had to draw it all, for he wanted to portray home as a whole, overlooking nothing’.

In these words the Czech author Karel Čapek summed up the work of his fellow-countryman Mikoláš Aleš (1852-1913), whose paintings and drawings encompassed ‘national idyll and national epic, the beetle in the grass and the knights in combat, nature and history, children and the king’. Visitors to the National Theatre in Prague  can admire the paintings in its foyer which he executed together with František Ženíšek to decorate the building when it reopened in 1883 after burning down shortly after its inaguration two years earlier. In keeping with the proud inscription over its door, ‘Národ sobě’ – ‘the nation to itself’, the paintings depicted legendary scenes and events from Czech mythology, as did the cycle of six murals, ‘Praha’ which Aleš painted in 1904 for the vestibule of the Old Town Hall – Princess Libuše prophesying the future greatness of Prague, ‘a city whose fame reaches to the stars’, and Prague herself, personified as the queen of the realm of Bohemia or a tragic mourner surveying the execution in 1621 of Protestant nobles in the Old Town Square.  

Libuse's Prophecy
Libuše's Prophecy from the cycle ‘Praha’ [British Library LB.37.b.717]

Aleš, born in 1852 into a modestly prosperous family in Písek, spent some years living and painting in Italy, but throughout his life evoked the spirit, history and landscape of his native country in every format from almanacs, playing-cards and the much-loved collection of children’s rhymes Špaliček [YA.1989.b.4336] to monumental historical paintings showing heroes from Czech history such as Jan Hus.

His murals and mosaics adorn many prominent buildings in Prague, including the Municipal Savings Bank (1891-94) and the Zemská banka (Land Bank; 1985). Their patriotic nature was a visual challenge to the Germanness of their surroundings in the city’s finance district, but created problems of other kinds for the artist. As early as the 1880s Aleš was perceived as being quaintly old-fashioned, and his reputation suffered at the hands of progressive critics when, in the 1880s, he illustrated the collections of ‘mediaeval’ manuscripts from Dvůr Králové and Zelená Hora which proved to be forgeries. The rise of modernism in the new Czechoslovak state, established in 1918, and the appropriation of his nationalism by the Communist regime after 1948, caused it to sink still further: a centenary exhibition organized in Prague Castle in 1952 attracted an average of only 71 visitors per day.

By 1979, though, another retrospective attracted over ten times that number, and nowadays Aleš remains an important figure of Czech tradition, his children’s books as popular as ever, and his wall-paintings an integral part of Prague’s cityscape. In 2005 a poll ranked him as 89th in a list of the most important Czechs.

Susan Halstead, Curator Czech/Slovak Studies

03 July 2013

Chiaroscuro of a Croatian master

On 1 July 2013 Croatia  joined the European Union. One of the events in the Welcome Croatia Festival  held in the run-up to 1 July was Neven Jovanović’s lecture at the BL on Croatian Latin Heritage (3 June), where I picked up Flora Turner-Vučetić’s Mapping Croatia in United Kingdom Collections.

Turner-Vučetić shows very effectively how many Croatian artists are hidden under Italian names, one among them Giulio Clovio,  more correctly Juraj Julile Klović (1489-1578), and points out his illuminations in the Stuart de Rothesay Book of Hours (British Library Add. MS. 20927).

Clovio portrait BT
Portrait of Giulio Clovio (Juraj Julile Klović) by El Greco. Picture from Wikimedia Commons)

 But there is another British Library connection: the Rt Hon. Thomas Grenville. As is well known, the politician and diplomat bequeathed his collection of over 20,000 volumes of printed books to the British Museum Library in 1846, thanks to the Machiavellian machinations of Anthony Panizzi. What is less known is that he also donated fifty-nine manuscripts (now Add. MSS. 33733-33791). 

Add. MS  33733 is a volume illustrating a Spanish text on the Triumphs of Charles V over Suleiman the Magnificent, Pope Clement VII, Francis I, the Dukes of Cleves and Saxony, and the Landgrave of Hesse.  Grenville bought it some time before 1817, in London (as he did all his books).  The binding is by Charles Lewis,  whom Grenville often employed: presumably he made for Grenville, it incorporates a magnifying glass.
Clovio Charles V BT
Charles V triumphing over his enemies (BL Add. MS  33733)

Grenville died on 17 December 1846; on 28 January 1847, Assistant Librarian W. B. Rye, with the help of eight Museum attendants and three of Grenville’s servants, set about transferring the 20,240 volumes from Grenville’s home at 2 Hamilton Place, Piccadilly, to Great Russell Street. They numbered the shelves, put the books on trays and placed them in a horse-drawn van which had been fitted with planks to form shelves. Each van was accompanied to the British Museum by an attendant who walked close behind it.  There were twenty-one vanloads. The book-move took five days. 

Rye took the most valuable item, the Clovio manuscript, in a cab: an indication of the importance which attached to it. Modern scholarship has downgraded it to the work of a pupil or follower of Clovio. One wonders if Clovio suffered a dip in appreciation after Grenville’s time: the British Library online catalogue  has five books on him from 1733 to 1894, nothing from 1895 to 1961, and thirteen from 1962 to date.

Grenville is not famous for his love of manuscripts, or for his love of visual culture in general, though he did have a Valuable and Unique Collection of Rare Oriental, Sevres, Dresden, Berlin and Chelsea Porcelain (auctioned at Christie & Manson, 15 June 1847).

The Clovio MS is rarely mentioned in the accounts of Grenville’s library, which focus on the printed books. Like the Croatian identity of Juraj Julile Klović, it has stayed in the shadows. Until now.

References:  Barry Taylor, ‘Thomas Grenville (1755-1846) and his books’, in Libraries within the Library: the Origins of the British Library’s Printed Collections, ed. Giles Mandelbrote and Barry Taylor (London, 2009), pp. 321-40 [BL shelfmark YC.2010.a.1356]

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies

01 July 2013

German Studies Library Group

The German Studies Library Group (GSLG) is a forum for information about German Studies in libraries throughout the UK, and beyond. Are you a librarian working with German Studies collections, or simply interested in German Studies? Would-be members are warmly encouraged to join via the membership page on our website.

To give you a flavour of our activities: our Annual General Meeting takes place on Friday 5 July, on this occasion at the Goethe-Institut in London.  It involves an afternoon programme beginning with refreshments and including a tour and talk about the Institute as well as a guest lecture on German musicians in Victorian Britain from Dr Stefan Manz, Head of German in the School of Languages and Social Sciences, Aston University – and, like me, a German who has lived and worked in the UK for quite a number of years.

In 2011, the Group celebrated its silver anniversary, and since its inception, it has always included representatives from the British Library. Outreach and networking are important aspects of any British Library curator’s role, and groups such as the GSLG enable exchanges of ideas and best practice among curators and librarians alike, across the country, working at a variety of research, university, and other libraries and institutions. The British Library’s German Studies collections constitute a fabulously rich resource, and the GSLG also provides the British Library, and members from other institutions, a welcome opportunity to promote the value and possibilities of significant German-language collections to as wide an audience as possible.

In recent years, the GSLG has organised two conferences in Germany, at Göttingen and Halle where we were guests of the University Libraries in both cities as well as visiting other major German libraries such as those in Erfurt, Gotha, Leipzig, Hildesheim and Wolfenbüttel.

GSLG members Outside the DNB
Group members visit the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek in Leipzig, September 2011 (photo: Susan Reed)

The GSLG also publishes its own Newsletter (held by the British Library at shelfmark ZK.9.b.1089), circulated free of charge to all GSLG members. We welcome articles and news stories both from our members and from writers beyond our membership.  If you have an idea for an article you would like to contribute, or news you would like to share with readers interested in German Studies collections in the UK and further afield, please contact the Newsletter’s editor:
Dorothea Miehe, Curator German Studies