European studies blog

13 posts from August 2013

30 August 2013

Everything you wanted to know about Russia, but were afraid to "ask a librarian"

Aleksei Sergeevich Suvorin (1834-1912) is well known in the history of Russian journalism, publishing and bookselling.  His articles and short stories appeared in Russkii invalid (The Russian Invalid), Sovremennik (The Contemporary), Otechestvennye zapiski (Notes of the Fatherland), Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti (Saint Petersburg News) and other popular central Russian periodicals. He was owner and publisher  of the well-known newspaper Novoe vremia (The New Times). With a circulation reaching 60,000 copies this newspaper contributed considerably to Chekhov’s success in literature when he started publishing his short stories there.

Suvorin also created a series called Deshevaia biblioteka (The Cheap Library) to  publish Russian and foreign classics - e.g. Hamlet and King Lear (British Library shelfmarks and 11763.a.2). He founded bookshops and had a personal interest in theatre criticism and drama.  To find out more about Suvorin I recommend reading his diaries, published in London in 1999 (YK.1999.a.9774).

However, Suvorin’s ambitious reference projects, such as his 45-volume publication Russkii kalendar’ (The Russian Calendar) produced annually between 1872 and 1916, and multi-volume directories Vsia Moskva (All Moscow), Ves’ Sankt-Peterburg (All St Petersburg) and Vsia Rossiia (All Russia) still can be considered his most valuable contribution to Russian publishing. For example, Vsia Rossiia for the year 1903 (P.P.2458.yd), a 9.5cm thick red volume with a nicely decorated cover, contains information on the Russian imperial family, lists of officers employed by the central governing bodies, ministries and state organisations, full lists of all private enterprises arranged geographically and by industry, lists of landlords with their addresses, and plenty of adverts.

Russkii kalendar’ 1902 - cover

The cover of Suvorin’s Russkii kalendar’ for 1902.

The directory gives a comprehensive overview of Russian society, industry and statistics. Within the geographical section material on the administrative units known as ‘guberniyas’ is arranged alphabetically. Subordinate units and towns form the subsections. There is summary statistical information on the entire guberniya, including numbers of churches, schools and other establishments, figures for the last tax year etc., supported by a transportation map, and a list of high-ranking officials. Each smaller unit, apart from more specific statistical information, would also include notes on the banking system and lists of local businesses (including saunas, libraries and specialist seed shops).

If we remember that the results of the first all-Russia census of 1897  were not fully published until 1905, that the main bulk of the individual questionnaire sheets didn’t survive,  and that those which did are dispersed among numerous local archives, the information published by Suvorin becomes really invaluable. Of course, it is still not possible to trace many people, but if you are searching for a civil servant, academic, landlord or business owner, you stand a very good chance of finding some information. For example, among businesses based in Kiev and entrepreneurs involved in sugar production, I found the names and addresses of the Zaitsevs,  Landaus and Galperins – relatives of the Russian author Mark Aldanov, which was very helpful for my research on him.

I  also did  some personal genealogical research and found several people with my husband’s  family name “Rogatchevski” and four entries  for my maiden name “Vilkov(a)”: one of these owned a grocery in Nizhnii Novgorod, another was a bookseller in the Don region, the third  ran a photographic studio in the town of Sarapul in the Viatka region, and a lady called Sora Leiz.[erovna] Vilkova was owner of a manufactory. Of course, whether we are related, is a separate question altogether which I probably won’t be able to answer with Suvorin’s help.

If your research involves  social history, Russkii kalendar’ (P.P.2458.z.) would be very useful. For example, if you want to find information on calendars of festivals celebrated by most of the religions in the Russian Empire, check a couple of useful mathematical formulas, learn how much capital was declared by various Russian banks, compare European currency exchange rates or know how to calculate pregnancy periods related to the time of conception, these are the books for you. If you are unsure where to go for mineral water treatment or what the symptoms of death are, want to see photographs of  recent events or be reminded of how the solar system is organised, they would also come in handy.

For modern researchers not only are maps, statistics, and lists of names important, but such information as theatre seating plans, prices, railway regulations etc., could also be very helpful. The material on the 19th-century advertising in Russia is also very rich and definitely under-researched, as  designs, advertising techniques and printing types probably deserve more specialist attention. 


A typical advertisment from Russkii kalendar’ for 1897.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator Russian Studies

28 August 2013

Church - Parliament - Monument

As readers of our predecessor blog DACH will know, I have a research interest in the social and political upheavals of 1848 in the German-speaking countries. So a recent trip to Frankfurt am Main had to include a visit to the Paulskirche (St Paul’s Church) where in that year representatives from all over what was then the German Confederation assembled as the first democratically-elected German Parliament to draw up a constitution for a united Germany.

The church was chosen as a venue because of its large size and circular shape: designed so that a preacher could be clearly seen and heard throughout the body of the building, it lent itself well to political speeches and debates.

Frankfurt Parliament 1848
A session of  Parliament in the Paulskirche, 1848  (Picture by Leo von Elliott, from Wikimedia Commons)

As we now know, the work of the Frankfurt Parliament was largely in vain. It successfully drafted a constitution (BL shelfmark RB.23.a.28060), but when in April 1849 the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV refused to become constitutional ruler of the planned German state,  support for the Parliament – already fragile –  began to ebb away. It was finally dissolved two months later and in 1852 the Paulskirche’s Lutheran congregation moved back in and the building returned to its religious function.

Despite its failure at the time, seventy years later the constitution drafted in Frankfurt  was to be an important influence on Germany’s 1919 Weimar Constitution. During the years of the Weimar Republic, the Paulskirche began to take on a powerful symbolic role for democrats – somewhat to the dismay of its clergy, whose views tended more towards conservative nationalism. Nonetheless the church hosted annual commemorations of the new constitution and a celebration to mark the 75th anniversary of the  Parliament in 1923.

After the Second World War the Paulskirche was an empty shell, seriously damaged but not completely destroyed by bombing in 1944. When the new West German Federal Republic (which also modelled its constitution in part on that devised by the Frankfurt Parliament) was looking for new national symbols of a democratic tradition, the Paulskirche was an obvious choice.  A decision was made early on not to restore it as a church but to turn it into a secular monument, the ‘cradle of German democracy’.

Today the centre of the building is taken up by a large and rather austere hall used for civic and national events. Perhaps the best known of these is the annual award of the Peace Prize of the German Book trade. Another regular award ceremony is that of the Goethe-Prize, named for Frankfurt’s most famous son and awarded on the anniversary of his birth, 28 August – although there will be no ceremony today as the prize is only given every three years and the next award will be in 2014.

The central assembly hall in today's Paulskirche (Picture by Blueknow from Wikimedia Commons)w:en:Creative Commons

Around the outside of the central hall is an exhibition telling the story of the church and the Frankfurt Parliament. This also looks a bit austere and rather wordy at first glance, but is fascinating and well worth spending time on if you’re visiting Frankfurt. On the outside of the building are various memorials to historical figures who embody German and international democratic traditions, and a striking monument to the victims of Nazi concentration camps.

Paulskirche SR
The Paulskirche today (photo by Susan Reed)

The conservative clergy of the Weimar period might be shocked to see their church today, but I like to think that the men who assembled in 1848 to try and create a democratic, united Germany would be delighted.


Stenographischer Bericht über die Verhandlungen der deutschen constituirenden Nationalversammlung zu Frankfurt am Main (Leipzig, 1848-1850). 9335.l.12

Verfassung des deutschen Reiches, einschliesslich der Grundrechte und der Reichswahlordnung.  (Karlsruhe, 1849).  RB.23.a.28060

Von der Barfüsserkirche zur Paulskirche : Beiträge zur Frankfurter Stadt- und Kirchengeschichte / herausgegeben von Roman Fischer  (Frankfurt am Main,  2000). YA.2002.a.7395

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

26 August 2013

Banter reborn

As I recently read in the ‘Trending’ section of the Independent, young people looking for new flatmates have on their list of requirements such qualifications as doing the washing-up and skill in banter.  Wanted: someone who can fire off a zinger.

Banter has a long and illustrious history.

In philosophy, the pre-Socratics, notably Diogenes the Cynic, roamed Greece pronouncing wise words on the spot; they were gathered in gnomonologies such as Diogenes Laertius’s Lives and sayings of the philosophers.  The noble acts of the Greeks and Romans were preserved by Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia.  Two works of erudition to be found on the shelves of any Renaissance man of learning.

Diogenes’s most famous put-down was to Alexander the Great.  Diogenes was at home in his barrel. Alexander asked him, ‘What can I do for you?’  Diogenes riposted, ‘Get out of the way: you’re keeping the sun off me’ (Diogenes Laertius, VI.38). This is the anecdote of his which is most commonly illustrated.

Cornelis de Vos, Alexander and Diogenes
A witty put-down: Alexander and Diogenes by Cornelis de Vos (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Rhetoric, the art of language, has always valued the quick response, especially for its percussive quality.  As Cicero says:  ‘There are two types of salt: the eloquent and the witty.  Use the first for elegance and the second when shooting the arrows of ridicule.’ (Orator, xxvi, 87).

Antonio Beccadelli, scholar at the court of Alfonso the Magnanimous of Aragon (1396-1458) compiled a whole book of his deeds and sayings:

The king was being pestered over his dinner by an importunate old man.  Said Alfonso: ‘Donkeys leave better lives than kings.  When their masters feed them, they leave them to eat in peace and quiet, something kings can never enjoy.’

The genre in question is the Apophthegm, which sketches the circumstances giving rise to a sharp comment: probably the best-known collection was Erasmus’s.

In 1642 Gracián, a Jesuit theoretician of wit, drew on Erasmus (unacknowledged of course) for his chapters on ‘Heroic sayings’ (XXIII, ‘De los dichos heroicos’) and ‘Quick ingenious answers’  (XXXV, ‘De las respuestas prontas ingeniosas’).

Two formative influences from my boyhood reading were ‘Useless Eustace’ in the Daily Mirror by Jack Greenall (1905–1983) and Mad Magazine’s ‘Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions’, by Al Jaffee, published from 1964 on. In ‘Useless Eustace’ the joke was in two parts: the situation (rendered visually) and Eustace’s obiter dicta, in the caption.

Looking at a fishmonger’s stall showing a sign reading ‘Smelt’, Eustace says to the fishmonger: ‘Phew! Why the past tense?  They still do.’  The fishmonger’s reaction is represented by an exclamation mark hanging over his head.

Mad’s  ‘Snappy Answers‘ were in the more pugnacious tradition:

Customer in clock shop: Do you carry clocks?
Assistant: No. All we have are these silly round things with numbers and hands.

To end, a sample garnered from the Euston Road.

Drunk bloke on 73 bus:  XXXX you.
Driver: Get off my bus!
Drunk: I’m not getting off.  I’ve paid.
Driver: Get off.
Drunk: Don’t say anything to me.
Driver: Get off.
Drunk: Don’t say anything to me.
[Repeat ad infinitum]

What Diogenes, King Alfonso and the drunk on the 73 have in common is the desire for the last word.  That’s the mark of a good aphorism: it’s quick, it’s clever, and there’s no answer to it.

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


Antonio Beccadelli, Libro de los dichos y echos elegantes y graciosos del sabio rey don Alonso de Aragon (Zaragoza, 1552), fol. Xrv;  a modern edition (Zaragoza, 1997)  is at YA.2001.a.26273

Baltasar Gracián, Arte de ingenio, ed. Emilio Blanco (Madrid, 1998), YA.2000.a.26595,  pp. 260-65, 325-32.

Louis Lobbes, Des Apophtegmes à la Polyanthée: Érasme et le genre des dits mémorables (Paris, 2013)

23 August 2013

Fond memories of a tin snail

I wonder how many of you have seen a Citroën 2CV on the roads recently?  Not many I bet.  Yet not so long ago almost every other car on the streets of France was a ‘Deux Chevaux’.  Watch an old black and white French film and they are as much a feature of Paris as the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe. Certainly in the 1980s when I first crossed the Channel they were still abundant, tootling around the streets of metropolitan France or haring down narrow rural lanes.

Plans for the the 2CV, or Deux Chevaux Vapeur, were conceived in the 1930s but production only began in 1948. The tin snail, as it was sometimes affectionately called, was manufactured until 1990. For the final two years it was made in Portugal but for most of its life production was at the famous Levallois-Perret plant in Paris.

Citroen 2CV Prototype (TW)
A pre-war Citroën 2CV prototype.                            

I bought mine new in 1982, drove it for six years and took it to France several times. The French were fascinated, not just by its right-hand drive, but also its deep red colour, unusual in France where 2CVs were mainly light grey, beige or white.

With its 602cc engine you were unlikely to be caught speeding in a 2CV, but it could reach 70mph going downhill with a following gale.  And it was pointless installing a radio because of the noise inside and out.

Nevertheless, I had more fun driving that car than any other I’ve owned.                                      

My Citroën 2CV in Falaise, France in 1987, beneath the statue of William the Conqueror

The only other car of the same era with a comparable iconic standing was the Volkswagen Beetle, but that was never as endearingly quirky as the Deux Chevaux.  Nor was it as versatile. I remember once buying a very long ladder; inserting it through the 2CV’s boot to protrude from the rolled-back canvas top, I was able to take it home without incurring a hefty delivery charge. Moreover, the back seat was easily removable and could be used conveniently for picnicking. 

2CVs were often the butt of English jokes.  Jasper Carrott once said that if a 2CV hit a rabbit on the road, the car would be a write-off.  He also said that only the French could make a car like that and then sell it to the British.  Once when I gave my brother a lift in mine, he asked me if it had an engine or did I have to pedal.

My British Library colleagues knew of my passion for the Deux Chevaux. I had many toy models around my computer and pictures on the wall.  A French colleague would bring me back 2CV biscuit tins and postcards from trips to France.  One tin had a charming picture of two Breton ladies in a 2CV with their traditional tall hats  peeping out from the rolled-back roof. 
I now drive a Volkswagen Golf.  This was described as treachery by an official at last year’s International Citroën Rally in Harrogate but when faced with a 200-mile drive down the motorway, even I can't recommend a 2CV over a Golf.  Still, if you’re a nostalgic Francophile like me and just need a runabout, you can buy one rebuilt as new these days for between £10,000 and £14,000, or buy a wreck and rebuild it yourself using Lindsay Porter’s manual How to restore Citroën 2CV (Dorchester, 2004) [BL shelfmark YK.2005.b.1616]

And how does one sum up the legendary Deux Chevaux?  It was perfectly expressed on a sticker I once saw in the back window of one: ‘Ce n’est pas une voiture, c’est un art de vivre’ (This isn’t a car, it’s a way of life).

References: Reynolds, John, The Citroën 2CV (Sparkford, 2005.) YC.2005.b.2323
Allain, François, Citroën 2CV (Boulogne-Billancourt, c2002.) LB.31.b.26133

Trevor Willimott, former West European Languages cataloguer    

21 August 2013

The Georgian anarchist prince and his gift

Musha (“The Worker”): a journal of the socialist- revolutionary party in Georgia [Or.5315]

Or.5315 titlepage 1-2

This is how Oliver Wordrop describes this Manuscript in his Catalogue of the Georgian Manuscripts in the British Museum [W 349].

This is a monthly hand-written journal by working men; the numbers are dated 1889-1891. It is apparently the work of one hand, including the illustrations, initials and borders.  The names of the authors of articles in prose and verse could be, for obvious reasons, fictitious.

Or.5315 titlepage 7

This journal obviously aimed to spread propaganda amongst peasants and workers, but when we look at it doesn’t give the impression of a revolutionary organ.  The handwriting is very neat and resembles that of  a diligent  schoolboy rather than an angry worker.

Or.5315 text

The articles are naive; some, especially those in verse, sound more like prayers or dreams of better times to come rather than fuming calls to revolution. It brings together a very interesting combination of different items including sermons.

This journal was presented to the British Museum on February 10 1898 by Prince Varlaam Cherkezishvili, quite a remarkable person.

Varlam Cherkezishvili (also known as Warlaam Tcherkesoff or Varlam Cherkezov in the Russian Cherkezishvilimanner) was a Georgian nobleman, intellectual, politician and journalist and a well-known figure in the International Anarchist Movement. He sensationally claimed that Marx and Engels plagiarized The Communist Manifesto and The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. He was later also involved in the Georgian national liberation movement.

Varlaam Cherkezishvili

He was born in Georgia (then part of Imperial Russia) in 1846 and moved to St Petersburg for further education. There he joined the Socialist movement, was arrested, imprisoned and exiled to Siberia in 1874. Two years later, he escaped to Western Europe, where he stayed for most of his life, settling in Britain in 1907. A few times during his exile he managed to return to Georgia, both legally and illegally.

He worked with the Russian émigré press and with fellow anarchists. He was also prominent in his criticism of Marxist ideas. His pamphlets Pages of Socialist History (1896), which was translated into nine languages, and Forerunners of the International (1899), followed by his book The Doctrines of Marxism (Geneva, 1903) provoked discussions and disputes in Russian and European socialist circles. Cherkezishvili tried to prove that Marx and Engels based The Communist Manifesto on the ideas of Victor Considerant , while Engels in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England lifted the work of the French socialist Buret . Cherkezishvili’s s sharp attack on Marxist philosophy made the young Stalin dispute with him in his famous work  Anarchism or socialism? These polemics continued during 1905-1907 in  Georgian periodicals.

Actively involved in the Georgian national liberation movement, Cherkezishvili helped to found the Georgian Socialist-Federalist Party , which demanded national autonomy for Georgia; he wrote a series of articles for the Times to bring the political situation in Georgia to the attention of an English-speaking audience. He expressed his support for Georgian independence vocally and in print; in 1907 he delivered a special declaration on this question at the Hague Peace Conference.

Along with other Georgian anarchists he took part in the publication of the first legal anarchist newspapers in the Georgian language: The Call (1906), The Voice (1906), and The Worker (1906).  Georgian anarchism combined in a unique form ideas of freedom with those of national independence.

During his time in Britain he helped to found Anarchist Red Cross; in 1912-16 he became the acting editor of a proposed 10-volume edition of Bakunin’s collected works , writing a biography of Bakunin for the first volume (London, 1915) []. During World War I he endorsed “war to the end against German militarism” and signed in 1916 the so-called Manifesto of the Sixteen.

After the Russian revolution of 1917 Georgia gained its independence. Cherkezishvili returned to Georgia in 1918 and was offered a seat in the Constituent Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Georgia. The Soviet occupation forced him to leave Georgia in March 1921. According to eye-witnesses, “the Soviet victory was a great tragedy for him.” He returned to London where he would continue to fight again for Georgia’s independence until his death in 1925.

The biography of this extraordinary person could be the subject  of further research, as could the history of the manuscript donated by him to The British Library.

Or.5315 titlepage 6

His most important works are held in the BL's printed Collections:

Páginas de historia socialista; doctrinas y actos de la democracia-social (La Coruña, 1896)  [8285.bbb.80.(2.)]

Sociaal-Demokratie in haar leeringen en daden. Een stuck socialistische geschiedenis. (Amsterdam, 1899) [08275.g.12.(2.)]

Pages d'histoire socialiste. Précurseurs de l'Internationale. (Bruxelles, 1899) [08276.df.20.]

Doktriny marksizma. (Zheneva, 1903) [8247.bbb.51.]

Concentration of Capital. A Marxian fallacy. [From “Pages of Socialist History.”] (London, 1911) [X.0529/1082.]

La Géorgie, ses traditions et ses droits politiques. (Paris, 1919) [8095.g.29.]

Anna Chelidze, Curator Georgian Studies

19 August 2013

Second World War Soviet Propaganda

Eighteen envelopes full of World War II Soviet propaganda material, containing about 350 items, including leaflets, newspapers and flyers are held in the  "Official Publications" collection at the British Library (shelfmark S.N.6/11.(2.)) and were accessioned by the British Museum on 31 August 1955. A short typewritten note in Russian, signed by one IU.Okov and addressed to a Mr Barman survives as part of the collection: “Dear Mr Barman, please find enclosed several of our leaflets in German and Hungarian. Yours sincerely, IU. Okov”.

Okov's note and typewritten list

In the same envelope is a typewritten list of items, probably enclosed with the same letter. The letter is dated January 1945 and was sent by the Soviet Office of Propaganda, presumably to some British counterpart. However, as the collection contains more items in other languages, including Finnish, Polish and Romanian, it is very likely that this correspondence originated on more than one occasion. It would be very interesting to learn more about the provenance of the collection and its whereabouts before it came to the Library. Unfortunately, we don’t have any information on Mr Okov or Mr Barman, but it would be very interesting to learn who they were.

When war with the Nazi Germany broke out on 22 June 1941, the Communist Party of the USSR took a decision  to create a new organisation, which was called the Soviet Office of Political and Military Propaganda (later reformed into the Office of Propaganda on Enemy and Occupied Territories). By the end of 1941, eighteen propaganda newspapers were being published in the Soviet Union in various foreign languages, ten of them in German.

Even the German intelligence accepted that the Soviet propaganda was very effective. Propaganda aimed at Nazi soldiers and civilians in Germany and on occupied territories didn’t focus on communist ideology or criticise religion, the class structure of society, etc. The main objective was to condemn Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers Party.


The propaganda materials vividly illustrated atrocities by Nazi troops on the occupied territories on the one hand and the strength of the Soviet Army and consequently its inevitable victory on the other. Among various propaganda techniques one of the most important was an emotional appeal to ‘common’ people who were forced to fight a war that was not in their interests. Images of women and children waiting for their husbands, sons and fathers back at home were widely used. Women and children in these pictures appeared miserable and ashamed that their loved ones were fighting on the Eastern front, and these impressions came out as genuinely poignant and moving.

Most of the flyers contain a pass written in German and Russian that could be torn off and presented to the Soviet troops when surrendering. In 1942, after the first German defeats, a special series of propaganda materials demonstrating the enemy's losses was launched. The propaganda message addressed to Germany's allies stressed the argument that the German fascists were using their allies' troops in the most dangerous situations and campaigns.

Anti-German propaganda leaflets

Several items from this collection can be seen in the current BL exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion  which is on till 17 September 2013.

 Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator Russian Studies


16 August 2013

German propaganda in Esperanto

Memories take me back to the USSR: in 1973, while reading a biography of famous Esperantist Vasili Eroshenko by the Ukrainian writer Nadia Andrianova, I admired the vivid description of his journey to England in 1912. A newly-wed couple, Margaret and Paul Blaise, waited for this courageous blind traveller from Moscow at the Charing Cross station.  As Eroshenko wrote later, the ten days that he stayed with this international (Welsh-Belgian) family were “the happiest days” in England. Years later, after exploring the streets of London that Eroshenko walked in 1912, I found books and pamphlets by Margaret Lawrence Blaise (1878 -1935) in the British Library, as well as her photograph in one of them.

MARGARETBLAISEPHOTO1913The kind hostess of Eroshenko was not just the charming wife of Paul Blaise, secretary of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in London, whom she met via their mutual interest in Esperanto. At the time of her marriage to him in 1910 she herself was an established teacher of Esperanto and already had a popular book The Esperanto Manual: A complete guide to Esperanto in the form of twenty-five lectures specially adapted to the requirements of pupils in evening classes (London, 1908) [] under her belt (published under her maiden name of Jones). Various editions of this manual are a part of our collections.


Margaret Lawrence Blaise in 1913


She was also a passionate propagandist for the new language, created only a few decades previously. No wonder that when the First World War started Margaret Blaise continued to plead for its use in international communications.  In the spirit of the time (with many books and pamphlets titled “Why I am…” or “Why not…”) she produced a pamphlet entitled A World Language: Why not Esperanto? The British Library holds the seventh edition of this pamphlet, reprinted in June 1916 [01902.l.33. - see picture].

MARGARETBLAISEWHYNOTESPERANTO_OKThe sharp eyes of Margaret Blaise noticed the use of Esperanto by Germans in a way which was  previously unthinkable for idealists: for state propaganda. The British Library’s current exhibition “Propaganda: Power and Persuasion”  looks at many aspects of the use of language for the aims of propaganda. It pays attention to the use of established state languages  in wartime.   But what about auxiliary or so-called “invented languages”? In one chapter of the pamphlet called “German Propaganda”, Margaret Blaise summarises the use of Esperanto by the German authorities. She mentions an official German publication, La vero pri la Milito (The Truth about the War),  which presents  ideas “from the German point of view”. “They issued a pamphlet with the above title, sending out thousands and thousands of copies”, she notes. The British Library holds one of the surviving copies [08027.dd.12] as well as other German publications from this period.

It seems that Germany was the only country to use Esperanto for propaganda purposes during the First World War.

In later decades it was used in other countries. The “Little Red Book” by Mao Zedong (exhibited in “Propaganda Power and Persuasion”) exists in an Esperanto version too [the BL’s copy is held at YP.2011.a.378]. The most richly illustrated Esperanto journal, “El Popola Ĉinio”, published in paper form in 1950-2000 by the Chinese Esperanto-League, dedicated a whole issue to the death of “La Granda Gvidanto kaj Instruisto Prezidanto Maŭ Zedong” in 1976 [ZF.9.a.6337].

Languages are created by people and for people. It seems that not a single one of  them can escape the temptations of state propaganda.

Further reading:

Eco, Umberto. The search for the perfect language. (Oxford, 1995). [95/25870]
Lins, Ulrich. La danĝera lingvo: studo pri la persekutoj kontraǔ Esperanto. (Moskvo, 1990). [YF.2007.a.27179]

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Esperanto Studies.

14 August 2013

Two Italian seventeenth-century female engravers : a recent discovery

As many of you may be aware, the British Library has been successful in attracting £1.1 million in funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)  for the Italian Academies Project  administered and organised jointly with Royal Holloway, University of London, and in the second phase of the Project, with the added collaboration of a third partner, the University of Reading.

The Project entails the cataloguing and digitisation of the British Library’s rich and extensive holdings of Italian books produced by the Italian Learned Academies in cities including Padua, Bologna, Siena, Naples, Venice, Rome, Mantua and in the principal cities in Sicily where academies were present - Palermo, Messina and Catania, from the period 1525 to 1700.

As is to be expected from a Project of this nature, a myriad of very disparate  subjects and fascinating material, especially illustrations often consisting of original engravings or etchings, can be identified when making this material available to a wider audience through digitisation. Two exciting recent discoveries made by one of the team, Dr Lorenza Gianfrancesco, which are true discoveries, since art historians appear to have been little aware of their existence, is the work of two female engravers working in Venice, Naples and Rome in the seventeenth century.

That female engravers were engaged in this craft, a difficult art and skill to acquire, is in itself, an intriguing discovery since the process of engraving is not one that is normally associated with the fairer sex at this relatively early period. Not surprisingly, very little is known about these two engravers apart from their names – Isabella Piccini (1644-1734) and Teresa del Po (1646-1713).

Engraving of a robed figure in a temple

Engraving by Teresa del Po from Progymnasmata Physica (Naples, 1688). British Library 1135.g.15

Teresa was born in Naples and Isabella in Venice. The latter learned her craft from her father Iacopo Piccini (1619?-1686) who was an important and established Venetian engraver in his own right. Teresa del Po, however, is more enigmatic. We do not know, as yet, with whom she learned the art of engraving. As was often the custom at the time, a second or third daughter entered a convent at a relatively young age, and Isabella was no exception, joining a religious order of nuns in Venice.  She continued to receive several commissions from authors and clearly from Learned Academies in Naples while a nun in the convent.

Engraving of a woman being handed a laurel wreath and scattered with flowers
Engraving by Isabella Piccini from Poesie Liriche Di Baldassarre Pisani (Venice, 1676). British Library 11429.df.1.

Both Teresa and Isabella were extremely talented and had learned their craft fully. They received commissions to provide engravings to accompany the works of contemporary Italian poetry, architecture and the arts in general and, surprisingly, scientific works too. Both produced works which were highly original, showed great command of the engraver’s art and produced work which can best be described as exquisite or sublime which the reader can judge from the examples illustrating this post. 

Denis Reidy, Lead Curator Italian Studies


12 August 2013

Britain and Russia in the First World War and the Revolution of 1917: some interesting sources in the British Library collections

As someone who is half Russian and half English, Anglo-Russian relations have always been a source of fascination for me - at a time like the First World War, these would have been far more important and complex than usual.

During my work experience at the British Library, I came across a report about the first time British and Russian soldiers fought side by side in the First World War: Report on R.N.A.S. Armoured Car Squadron under Commander O. Locker-Lampson ... serving in Russia. ([London:] Russian Government Committee in London, 1918) [Shelfmark X.802/2122]. The Squadron was sent to the Eastern Front when its capabilities on the Western Front were thought to be limited due to trench warfare.

The nature of the various negotiations regarding the terms of the squadron being sent to aid the Russian forces are the primary essence of this report by Nugent M. Clougher. The general terms of the treaty revolve around the British Government providing travel expenses and ammunition, whilst the Russian Government was to provide salaries and food for the soldiers as well as upkeep costs for the cars.

The document is typewritten – which adds to the interest for an observer even if the very meticulous content is not overly fascinating. Indeed, the specifics of the report  are somewhat repetitive. However, some of these specifics are visually interesting, such as a diagram showing the growth of expenditure sanctioned by the R.G.C. at the end of the report.

King George V took a personal interest in the work of the squadron in Russia and in a message to his men said:  “Tell the men under your command how glad I am that they have been placed at the disposal of His Majesty the Emperor of Russia. I know they will uphold that high reputation King George's messageswhich they have already earned in the Western Theatre of War” (p. 8).

In his message sent to Tsar Nicholas II via the squadron’s commander, Oliver Locker-Lampson he also stated: “I trust they will be of some service to your brave army. They share my satisfaction that Russian and British Comrades will now for the first time in this war fight side by side.”

(Left: Messages from King George V from the Report on R.N.A.S. Armoured Car Squadron. X.802/2122)

Interestingly, Locker-Lampson became involved in Russian politics during his time in Russia, allegedly having been asked to participate in the 1916 assassination of Rasputin and in Kornilov’s failed coup against the provisional government of Kerensky. He is also said to have planned to rescue Tsar Nicholas II from Bolshevik-controlled territory following his abdication. Partially because of his experiences in Russia, Locker-Lampson became fiercely anti-Communist and suspicious of covert Bolshevik influence in Britain's economy, society and politics (he was a fairly prominent pro-Churchill Conservative MP).

Although towards the end of 1917 the squadron was no longer needed as Russia left the war, it remained in its winter base in Kursk for months. In the following years Britain would join the “Whites” in the Civil War that resulted from the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power. The Czar’s British Squadron by Bryan Perrett and Anthony Lord (London, 1981) [X.622/11785 and 83/34072] tells the full story of the squadron from 1915-1918. It provides an intriguing perspective from English soldiers in Russia during this troubled period that led to one of the most infamous governments in history becoming all-powerful in Eastern Europe.

I also had access to other books regarding Bolshevism in Russia and British opinions towards it. As it became clear that the Communists would not give up in their bid to control Russia, streams of anti-Communist propaganda were created in Britain where there were fears that a similar uprising could occur. A collection of tracts (shelfmark 8092.dd.9)  published by the Russian Liberation Committee  one of the most active Russian émigré organizations operating in London in the period following the Russian Revolution with the aims of “the overthrow of Bolshevism, the restoration of order in and the regeneration of Russia”, shows that, although mostly written by Russians, they also try to reflect the British viewpoint on events in Russia.

Harold Williams and his Russian wife Ariadna Tyrkova-Williams were among the supporters of the anti-Bolshevik cause of the Russian Liberation Committee and wrote for this series.  Further reflections can be also found in Ariadna’s From Liberty to Brest-Litovsk: The first year of the Russian Revolution (London, 1919) [8095.h.8]. The unique Tyrkova-Williams collection of pamphlets and press-cuttings which they saved while in Russia during the Civil war was also deposited with the British Museum Library. 

T-W collection, General Denikin
Leaflet from the Tyrkova-Williams Collection, Cup.410.c.312.(33)

References:  Charlotte Alston, ‘The Work of the Russian Liberation Committee in London, 1919–1924’, Slavonica, Vol. 14, No. 1 (April 2008), pp. 6-17 (12)  [P.901/3414]

Tom Walters, Work Experience Student

09 August 2013

Some 2013 anniversaries

This year’s musical anniversaries, especially the bicentenaries of Verdi and Wagner and the centenary of Britten, have so far somewhat overshadowed the centenaries of some momentous events in literature, the visual arts, and music, all happening in Paris in 1913, an annus mirabilis for French and European culture, and the culmination of the  activity that made the city the epicentre of artistic creation in the first years of the century. 

Earlier this year, the BBC marked the centenary of some of these events with a series of five 15-minute talks. The programmes looked at Proust’s  Du côté de chez Swann, Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes, and Apollinaire’s Alcools,  all published in 1913, Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring,  first performed at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on 29 May 1913, and, curiously, Cubism (even though the movement dates back to 1907).

Two other events during the same extraordinary year, not covered in the series, were the creation of Debussy’s ballet Jeux and the publication of Blaise Cendrars/Sonia Delaunay’s La Prose du Transsibérien.
Debussy's Jeux
Jeux, painting by Dorothy Mullock (1888-1973). Image from Wikimedia Commons

Jeux [Games], Debussy’s last orchestral score, had the misfortune to be premiered by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes on 15 May 1913, just a fortnight before the same company’s first performance of  The Rite of Spring.  Both ballets were conducted by Pierre Monteux who,  a year earlier, had conducted the first performance of Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloé.  (How many conductors can claim as much?) 

Debussy’s ballet (or ‘poème dansé’), was burdened with a scenario and choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky which was much ridiculed by, among others, Erik Satie; the plot involved a man, two women, and a game of tennis. Obviously Nijinsky’s knowledge of tennis was nebulous, as the ball used on stage was nearly the size of a football, and the dancers’ movements resembled those of golfers rather than tennis players. 

Jeux was eclipsed by the sensation caused by The Rite of Spring which, ironically, echoed the scandal that greeted, exactly a year earlier, the creation of another short ballet by Debussy, also choreographed and performed by Nijinsky, based on the earlier symphonic poem Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, in the final scene of which the faun appears to masturbate. Jeux was subsequently dismissed as an example of Debussy’s declining powers in his last years, and it is only recently that it has been hailed as a masterpiece with echoes of Wagner’s Parsifal and  looking forward to the music of Messiaen and Boulez.
CM SOME 2013 TransSibZoomify
La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France [Prose of the Trans-Si berian and of  Little Jehanne of France], a poem by Blaise Cendrars with pochoir illustrations in watercolour and gouache by Sonia Delaunay was published in October 1913. An edition of 150 copies of this ‘first simultaneous book’ was planned; as each was printed on a sheet unfolding to a length of 2 metres, if all the copies were placed end to end they would reach 300 metres, the height of the Eiffel Tower, a symbol of modernity celebrated in the poem and in other paintings by Robert and Sonia Delaunay. In the event, only 60 copies were produced initially and the outbreak of war the following year prevented further printing of what has been called ‘one of the most beautiful books ever created’. 

The book was one of the highlights of the 2007-2008 British Library exhibition ‘Breaking the Rules: the Printed Face of the Avant-Garde 1900-1937’. A podcast about it and a zoomable image of it can be found on the British Library website, and there is a modern facsimile available at YK.2011.a.17509.

L’Après-midi d’un Faune. Vaslav Nijinsky 1912: Thirty-Three Photographs by Baron Adolf de Meyer. (London, 1983). L.45/3369
Robin Holloway  Debussy and Wagner (London, 1979). X.439/8747
Robert Orledge, Debussy and the theatre (Cambridge, 1982). X.950/19866 and 82/32509

Chris Michaelides, Curator Italian and Modern Greek Studies

 Blaise Cendrars/Sonia Delaunay, La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France (Paris, 1913)


La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France - See more at: