European studies blog

13 posts from November 2013

29 November 2013

Olympe de Gouges and 'Les Trois Urnes'

In the course of the 19th century, the British Museum Library gained fame through both the scale and rarity of its ever-growing holdings. However, whilst the staff were valiant in cataloguing what was a tidal wave of acquisitions, they were always few in number and working to make each acquisition available to readers as quickly as possible. The resulting catalogue therefore was characterised by the brevity and terseness of its entries for all but a few works. Regrettable also was the failure sometimes to identify authorship of works of great significance.

The British Library is the approximate successor to the British Museum Library and inherited its catalogue whose entries it is currently trying to enhance. It also has a vast number of attentive and scholarly readers whose knowledge can transform a bare catalogue entry into rich and accurate description and thus correct the defects of the past.

Such has been the case with the seventh of 125 posters bound together in the volume at shelfmark Tab.443.a.3. Since its purchase by the British Museum Library until February 2013, it lay, modestly described and with no author attribution, under the catalogue heading URNES. And then a reader identified its author and informed the British Library, and the importance of this poster was made clear. It is entitled Les Trois Urnes, ou Le salut de la patrie authored by ‘Un voyageur aerien’. Although it is undated and carries neither printer’s name nor place of publication, external evidence allows us to date it to July 1793 and to identify the author as Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793).

Entry from the printed catalogue of the British Museum Library for 'Les Trois Urnes'
The original printed catalogue entry for Les Trois Urnes. You can find the updated and improved record in our online catalogue

Olympe de Gouges had already made something of a name for herself in the late 1780s as the author of several plays inspired by immediate political issues. With the status of citizen which the French Revolution gave her and all others, she gave full rein to her belief in her right to address the most important questions and the most highly placed citizens of the day. Most famous among these addresses is her pamphlet on the rights of women as equal members of the body politic and sociable. In both format and argument, it is structured as the unpublished but necessary complement to the constitution ratified by the Constituent Assembly in 1791. It concludes with a chapter emulating, even in its title, Rousseau’s Social Contract.

Using to the full her legal rights and the political ideals of equality and free speech, Olympe de Gouges became a commentator on and increasingly a critic of the direction of the Revolution whilst absolutely rejecting the political regime that it had replaced. In a series of tracts, she directed her arguments to Queen Marie-Antoinette, to the Army and to the radicalising Society of Friends of the Constitution. In a courageous act of solidarity with the principles supposedly embedded in the Revolution, she even offered herself as defence counsel for Louis XVI.

Portrait of Olympe de Gouges
Portrait of Olympe de Gouges by Alexander Kucharsky (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Her final public statement as a free woman was the poster under discussion. In format, it emulates any revolutionary official or government proclamation: it is a large folio sheet, printed on one side only, the title, printed in large, bold capitals, contains a rhetorical flourish, while the text is printed in two vertical columns. Most strikingly and very much drawing attention to itself as not an official publication, is the vividly-coloured paper on which it is printed.

Les trois urnes
Les Trois Urnes, ou Le salut de la patrie [Paris?, 1793]. British Library Tab.443.a.3(7)

The poster argues the need for a national plebiscite to decide which form of government is most favoured by the French people. The choice is offered between a unitary republic, a federal system or a constitutional monarchy. Even a particular election procedure is described and advocated. The writing is urgent but the authorial identity adopted – a sprite come from mythical foreign parts to solve the dilemmas of humankind – is possibly too flippant, too knowing and altogether too learned to command respect or a hearing during these desperate times when stern slogans and rallying cries were the order of the day. Furthermore, the argument was at odds with itself: monarchy had been equated with tyranny in the first section of the poster so how could any form of monarchical government be other than an infringement of the liberties achieved by the Revolution?

Louis XVI had been guillotined on 21 January 1793, Marie-Antoinette was in prison, the Girondist Deputies in the National Convention, with whom Olympe de Gouges sympathised politically, had fallen and their arrest had been ordered on 13 June 1793. The death penalty was freely used. In addition, France was beset by external enemies, the National Convention admitted no challenge to its sovereign power, and its dominant faction – the Jacobins – made clear the ideological structure of their non-negotiable State in every decree issued: the Republic, one and indivisible. De Gouges’ own arguments concerning the structure of the State belonged to a calmer time. Her publication of them in Les Trois Urnes was exceptionally brave, but suicidally so, and it is hard to believe that she did not know this.

She was quickly identified as the author of the poster, arrested and tried before the Revolutionary Tribunal on a charge of sedition on 2 November 1793, the content of her poster being used as part of the evidence against her. Found guilty, she was beheaded on the guillotine the next day. Marie-Antoinette, the Girondist Deputies and many others had already preceded her.

Her courage lives on as do her words which are increasingly consulted to help us understand the position of women during the French Revolution. Authorship of the British Library’s copy of this poster was identified by researcher Clarissa Palmer who has also informed us of its extreme rarity. It seems that the Revolutionary government destroyed all known copies of it, keeping only the one used during Olympe de Gouges’ trial. That copy is now in the Archives Nationales in Paris. The British Library’s thanks to Ms Palmer are given here.

Des McTernan, Curator French Studies

27 November 2013

Valse Mélancolique with Olha Kobylianska

Olha Kobylianska (1863-1942), whose 150th birthday we mark today, is one of the most outstanding modernist writers in the history of Ukrainian literature. Her achievements are even more remarkable when we consider that she was born into a family of mixed origin (a Ukrainian father and a Polish-German mother) in a remote part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and that her education and growing into adulthood happened to be in a mainly German-language intellectual environment. It is not surprising that she started her literary career with German-language novellas in the 1880s.  

Photograph of Olha Kobylianska

Photograph of Olha Kobylianska. Source: Wikimedia Commons

A meeting with the prominent Ukrainian feminist activists Sofia Okunevska-Morachevska (her relative, the first woman doctor in the Austro-Hungarian empire and first Ukrainian woman to graduate from university) and Nataliia Kobrynska  in the 1890s changed the direction of her life. She joined the Association of Ruthenian Women in Bukovina  and chose to write in Ukrainian. Why? Dr Rory Finnin, Head of Ukrainian Studies at Cambridge University, asks the same question in his brilliant article The Rebels and risk-takers’ . His answer is as follows: “Theories abound… These theories tend to frame Kobylianska’s choice as first and foremost political or pragmatic. They often fail to consider a simpler possibility: that the choice was above all an artistic and even serendipitous one”. “For Kobylianska, art was truly everything”, Rory Finnin continues. He analyses Kobylianska’s famous novella Valse Mélancolique (published in 1898)  which describes three independent- minded women living together and concludes how far ahead she was in her views of women’s’ emancipation:  “Bear in mind that Valse Mélancolique predates Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own by over thirty years”.

The British Library holds many early editions of Olha Kobylianska’s works, from a short story Pryroda (Nature; shelfmark YA.1988.a.4968), published in Chernivtsi in 1897 to the most recent edition of her German-language short stories under the title Valse Mélancolique (Czernowitz, 2013; YF.2013.a.18780). Amongst the gems of the Ukrainian Collection is a rare edition of the almanac Za krasoiu (For beauty) published  by Ostap Lutsky, a prominent Modernist poet.

Cover of Za Krasiou
Za Krasiou (Chernivtsi, 1905). British Library 012264.k.11.

The lovely Bukovinian city of Chernivtsi  became her home. She moved there in 1891, and died there during the Second World War. The local Music and Drama Theatre bears her name, and there is a Literary Museum dedicated to her. A monument to Olha Kobylianska erected in 1980 stands in front of the theatre.

Amongst our most recent acquisitions I would like to mention an anthology of Ukrainian women’s writing Z nepokrytoiu holovoiu (With an uncovered head) (Kyiv, 2013). Unsurprisingly it starts with two works by Olha Kobylianska: an extract from Valse Mélancolique and a short story Arystokratka (Aristocrat). Quite significantly, they are followed by two short stories by her closest friend and true sister in spirit Lesya Ukrainka.

Photograph of Olha Kobylianska and Lesia Ukrainka
 Olha Kobylianska  and Lesya Ukrainka in 1901. Source: Wikimedia Commons

It is a pity that Olha Kobylianska’s truly European and pioneering works are so little known to English-speaking readers. Translations of her works by Roma Franko, edited by Sonia Morris, are included in three books published by the small Canadian publisher Language Lanterns Publications: But the Lord is silent: selected prose fiction by Olha Kobylianska and Yevheniya Yaroshynska; (Saskatoon, 1999; YA.2000.a.6295), Warm the children, o sun: selected prose fiction by Olha Kobylianska ... [et al.] (Saskatoon, 2000; YA.2001.a.6785) and For a crust of bread: selected prose fiction by Nataliya Kobrynska... [et al.] (Saskatoon, 2000; YA.2001.a.6778)

There is an entry about the life and work of Olha Kobylianska in A biographical dictionary of women's movements and feminisms, Central, Eastern, and South Eastern Europe, 19th and 20th centuries, ed. by Francisca de Haan, Krassimira Daskalova and Anna Loutfi (Budapest, 2006; HLR 305.42) But the discovery of this great ground-breaking Ukrainian “rebel and risk taker” in English-speaking world is still ahead.

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Ukrainian Studies

25 November 2013

A Saint and a Sinner

25 November is the feast-day of St. Catherine of Alexandria, commemorated as the patron not only of philosophers, female students and librarians, but also of wheelwrights, millers, lace-makers and spinsters.
St Catherine IA.1492
St Catherine, looking suitably bookish. Woodcut illustration from Frater Petrus, Legenda de vita Sanctae Catharinae (Strassburg, 1500), BL IA.1492.

A Christian maiden of outstanding beauty and learning who refused a pagan bridegroom, she aroused the wrath of her would-be suitor’s father, the emperor Maxentius, who threw her into prison and summoned 50 philosophers to reason with her. When, instead, she converted them all to Christianity, Maxentius had them flung into a fiery furnace and Catherine whipped before ordering her execution on a machine with four-bladed wheels. This miraculously shattered, and when the furious emperor had Catherine beheaded, angels carried her body to Mount Sinai, where St. Helen later founded a monastery to house her relics.

This is the legend recounted by the mediaeval Czech Život svaté Kateřiny (Life of St. Catherine), which survives in a manuscript in the Moravian Provincial Library, Brno, dated to the early 15th century. Consisting of 3,519 lines of verse, it describes Catherine’s conversion and martyrdom. In 1647 the manuscript was carried off from the of the Bohemian nobleman Petr Vok of Rožmberk’s, private collection, the largest humanist library in Europe, by the Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War. It remained in the Royal Library in Stockholm for over 200 years until, in 1853, a doctor and scholar named Josef Pečírka arrived there in search of items from the looted library, ‘with no other recommendation than that I was a Czech,’ he recalls. The librarian, Herr Arvidson, assured him that this was all the recommendation he needed, and allowed him free access to the treasures of the collection.

The Catherine manuscript was presumed to date from the 17th century, but the excited Pečírka realized that it was far older on the evidence of words occurring in the so-called Dvůr Králové manuscript, a collection of ancient Czech poetic fragments allegedly discovered in 1817 by the Librarian of Prague’s National Museum, Václav Hanka.  He transcribed as much as he could during his stay, and through diplomatic contacts was able to have the rest copied and sent to him. In 1878, the original codex, with other items from the same library, was returned from Stockholm to Prague. Meanwhile, in 1860, a scholarly redaction had been published in Prague with a double preface by Pečírka and by the editor, the National Museum’s archivist Karel Jaromír Erben (better known today for his much-loved cycle of poems, Kytice). The British Library holds a copy of this first modern edition at shelfmark 11586.aa.17.

Zivot svate Kateriny 11586aa17
The title-page of Pečírka’s edition of the Život svaté Kateřiny (Prague, 1860; BL 11586.aa.17.), including a facsimile of a page from the original manuscript.

When setting out for Sweden, Pečírka had been urged by Hanka to bring back the second part of the Dvůr Králové manuscript. It was nowhere to be found – hardly surprising, because (as Hanka well knew), it did not exist – he himself had forged the ‘surviving’ document. The year after Erben’s edition of Život svaté Kateřiny appeared, Hanka died and was honoured with the first state funeral to be held in the newly-consecrated cemetery of Vyšehrad overlooking Prague.

Shortly afterwards a forensic enquiry ordered by the Emperor Franz Josef proved the Dvůr Králové manuscript to be a modern forgery. The treasure brought back through Pečírka’s efforts proved far more valuable than the fruits of Hanka’s well-meant duplicity. Hanka had acted in the interests, as he saw them, of Czech national literary prestige, and one can only hope that St. Catherine, the patron saint of librarians, looked kindly on this somewhat shady member of the profession.

Susan Halstead, Curator Czech Studies

22 November 2013

Remembering Holodomor

As citizens of Ukraine, Ukrainian communities worldwide and all those interested prepare to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Great Famine in Ukraine, known as Holodomor, or Golodomor) tomorrow, it is time to have a look at our holdings relating to this sad event in the 20th century’s history of totalitarian regimes. 

In 2003, when collaborating with the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain  on the preparation of a commemorative exhibition for the 70th anniversary of Holodomor, I put together a select bibliography about the Famine in Ukraine 1932-1933 from the collections in the British Library (published in the catalogue which was prepared for the exhibition: Ukraine 1932-33: Genocide Denied, London, 2003; BL shelfmark YF.2012.a.16782).

Some of most striking photographs in this catalogue are taken from the book by Dr Ewald Ammende (1893-1936) Muss Russland hungern? Menschen- und Völkerschicksale in der Sowjetunion (Vienna, 1935; 8286.i.51). The English translation entitled Human life in Russia was published a year later in London (010290.f.59.). The photographs were taken in Kharkiv, until 1934 the capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and its outskirts (one of these photographs is reproduced below).

Photograph showing the mass graves of famine victims. From Human life in Russia (London, 1936), BL shelfmark 010290.f.59.

In the 10 years that have passed since that exhibition in London many more books, PhD theses, conference papers, testimonies of survivors, catalogues etc. have been published in Ukraine and abroad as Holodomor Studies has become an international research subject. Some of  the most recent acquisitions in our collections are in English: the papers of the international conference dedicated to the famines in Ukraine and Ireland: Holodomor and Gorta Mór : histories, memories and representations of famine in Ukraine and Ireland, edited by Christian Noack, Lindsay Janssen and Vincent Comerford (London, [2012]; YF.2013.a.4687); The Holodomor Reader : a sourcebook on the Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine (Toronto, 2012; YD.2013.a.132). Other important books include After the Holodomor: the enduring impact of the Great Famine on Ukraine by Andrea Graziosi (Cambridge, Mass., 2013) and the new biography of Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, Gareth Jones: Eyewitness to the Holodomor by Ray Gamache (Cardiff, 2013) will join soon.

My own most poignant moment occurred when as a cataloguer I was cataloguing and describing the volumes for the Khmelnytsky Region of Ukraine: Natsionalna knyha pamʹiati zhertv Holodomoru 1932-1933 rr. v Ukraini. Khmelʹnyska oblastʹ (National Book of Memory of victims of Holodomor in 1932-1933 in Ukraine:  Khmelnitsky Region, 2008). Two volumes of this grim “register of the dead” tell a story of incredible suffering in this lovely part of Ukraine known as Podolia. In one of them I found the name of my great-grandfather (on my mother’s side) Teodosiy: age 57, died in spring 1933.

Solemn black volumes for all regions of Ukraine (except Western Ukraine, which, being part of the Second Polish Republic  in the interwar period, did not experience the famine) form a substantial part of the permanent exhibition in the National Museum of the Holodomor-Genocide, which opened in 2008.

Photograph of the monument to a girl with ears of wheat
Monument to a girl with ears of wheat (from Wikimedia Commons)

The British Library holds one of the most important sources for the study of Holodomor: the microfilm collection from the State Committee for Archives of Ukraine and Central State Archives of Public Organizations of Ukraine (shelfmark Mic.A.20208 for microfilms and YF.2013.b.887 for printed volumes) filmed by Primary Source Microfilm in 2004. Great thanks to my colleague Rimma Lough (Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian cataloguer) who lovingly catalogued this huge collection of 158 reels and six printed guidebooks and made them available for present and future researchers.

Photograph of British Library staff with the Holodomor microfilm collection
Rimma Lough (right) and Olga Kerziouk before sending the collection to the shelves

Are you wondering about the monument in Kyiv depicting a young girl clutching a handful of ears of wheat? Find more about the implementation of the 1932 so-called “law of five ears of wheat” in our collections. Listeners can find some interviews of the survivors of Holodomor in our Oral History Collections  thanks to Curator of Oral history Dr Rob Perks, who visited Ukraine in 1991. The very recently created website by the International Holodomor Awareness Committee in Canada “Share the Story” presents testimonies of survivors in English.

A new opera Holodomor by Virko Baley, who worked on it for 30 years, was premiered in Las Vegas this year. The international artistic work on Holodomor, especially in cinema, is still however in its beginning.

Light a candle tomorrow on Holodomor Memorial Day to the memory of millions of people who died from starvation on Europe’s most fertile black soil.

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Ukrainian Studies

20 November 2013

“A French Connection” : Concert by the British Library & British Museum Singers 21 November 2013

To mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the French composer Francis Poulenc the British Library & British Museum Singers will give a performance of Poulenc’s Gloria conducted by Peter Hellyer accompanied by Christopher Scobie.

When: 13.15, Thurs 21 November 2013

Where: St Pancras Parish Church (Opposite Euston Station, Euston Road)

Francis Poulenc (with the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, 1930. Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The programme will also include:

Poulenc :          Le Bestiaire
Poulenc :          Banalités: Hôtel; Voyage à Paris
Passereau:       Il est bel et bon
Fauré:                Après une rêve; Chanson, op. 94; Mandoline
Offenbach :     Gendarmes duet
Saint-Saens:    Danse macabre (song)

The programme features the first performance of Orphic fragments (based on verses by Apollinaire) by Christopher Scobie. Christopher writes:  

“These three very short songs for choir are settings of three very short poems by the French surrealist poet and writer Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918). Presenting texts from his collection Le Bestiaire, ou Cortège d’Orphée (a collection of animal tales in the spirit of earlier bestiaries), I have tried to capture the brief, epigrammatic nature of each, and given something of the character of: 1) the magical, slowly unfolding song of the Thracian tortoise, 2) the call-to-arms of the caterpillar-poets whose hard work will transform into beautiful butterflies, and 3) the brilliant coat of the Tibetan goat.”

The songs by Poulenc included in the programme are also settings of poems by Apollinaire. The poems that Poulenc set in his song cycle Le Bestiaire are: Le dromadaireLa chèvre du TibetLa sauterelle; Le dauphin; L’écrevisse; La carpe. The words of Hôtel and Voyage à Paris from Banalités are also by Apollinaire.

It is interesting to note that that there are both Polish and Russian connections in Apollinaire’s family history. He was born Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki in Rome, a Russian subject whose mother was a Polish noblewoman from what is now Belarus. He adopted the name Apollinaire after later emigrating to France.

Peter Hellyer, Musical Director British Library & British Museum Singers and Curator Russian Studies          

18 November 2013

Between Sacred and Profane, Word and Image: Marcello Macedonio’s Le nove muse

Today he is practically forgotten, but at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, Marcello Macedonio (1582-1619) stood at the centre of Roman and Neapolitan literary life. He attended both the Accademia degli Umoristi (‘of the Humorists’) in Rome and the Accademia degli Oziosi (‘of the Leisurely ones’) in Naples, both the most prestigious literary centres of their respective cities.

Le nove muse, (‘The Nine Muses’), is a collection of his poems published in Naples in 1614. The volume is especially interesting for its characterful illustrations representing each of the muses. Engraving in Naples in the early17th century was less advanced than in other cities such as Rome and Venice. It is rare, therefore, to come across engravings of such quality produced in Naples during this period. The engraver was Giovanni Felice Paduano, active in Naples in the early 17th century, about whom practically nothing is known; and surviving works that can be attributed to him are few.

It is interesting how the engravings correspond to the themes of the poetry. Notice how in the depiction of Erato, muse of love poetry, Cupid’s bow and arrow make the same shape as the muse’s bow and violin. This refers to the captivating quality of music (and poetry), which was often compared to the power of love. Yet the section devoted to Erato is entitled ‘Gli amori di Cristo e della Croce’ (‘The Loves of Christ and of the Cross’).

‘Erato’ from  Marcello Macedonio, Le nove muse (Naples: G. Ruardo, 1614). British Library shelfmark C.47.d.16

The juxtaposition of the engraving of Erato and the poem about religious devotion betrays the confused relationship between sacred and profane concepts in elite Italian society during this period. The overall structure of the volume also betrays this ambiguity. It begins with a poem entitled ‘Sogno di Scipione’ (‘Dream of Scipione’) – referring to the volume’s dedicatee, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V. It ends with a poem entitled ‘Per una dama nel piglar i bagni’ (‘For a Lady Taking a Bath’). Likewise, the muse to which the first section is devoted, Clio, is shown covered in clothing, whereas, Thalia, in the final section, is shown scantily dressed and bare-breasted.

Macedonio 1
‘Clio’ from Le nove muse

‘Thalia’ from Le nove muse

Tom Denman, Italian Academies Project

15 November 2013

Under the spell of the Tatras

When preparing for my autumn trekking in the High Tatras, a mountain range that stretches between Poland and Slovakia, I came across the name of the English traveller Robert Townson  (1762 – 1827), who was also a scholar and scientist. He was one of the first foreign visitors to that region. His book Travels in Hungary, with a short account of Vienna in the year 1793 London, 1797; British Library shelfmark 982.i.6) includes a chapter on the Tatra Mountains, entitled ‘Excursions in the Alps’.

The Tatras cover an area of 785 square kilometres. In comparison with the massive Alps in Western Europe the Tatras are a tiny range called by the French “pocket mountains”.  Nevertheless, the Tatras, which are part of the long Carpathian chain, are the highest mountains in Central Europe.  Undoubtedly, Townson called the Tatras ‘Alps’ because of their alpine character with rocky peaks, grazing pastures, rushing streams and splashing waterfalls. Townson explored the Tatras’ flora and fauna, and was also the first to take height measurements of some of their mountains using the barometric method.

Travels in Hungary MS
A view in the Tatras from Townson’s Travels in Hungary

The area, inhabited for centuries by the Slavs, Germans and Hungarians, produced a distinctive culture known as the Góral, meaning highlanders. This culture has survived to the present day due to the area’s geographic isolation. Until the end of the 19th century the only means of transport on the Polish side was horse-drawn carts. It took two days to travel a distance of 105 km from Kraków to Zakopane. The Tatras were discovered for their beauty as early as the 16th century but only in the second half of the 19th century was  the region developed as a popular tourist destination.

Panoramic viev of the Tatras from Lomnicky Štit MS
 Panoramic view of the Tatras from Lomnicky Štit (©Magda Szkuta)

Due to the remoteness of the Tatra region there was no designated border between Poland and the Kingdom of Hungary until the late 18th century (Slovakia had been part of the Hungarian domain since the 9th century), so the mountains were a no man’s land. The Polish Kingdom was partitioned by its neighbours Russia, Prussia and Austria in the course of three decades, and finally lost its independence in 1795. The Polish side of the Tatras fell to the Austrian partition.

In 1867 the Austro-Hungarian Empire was established and the mountains became an agreed border between the two states of the monarchy; however, the border itself was not demarcated.  Before long this led to territorial disputes. Over the centuries the lands around the Tatras belonged to Hungarian and Polish settlers. In 1889 Count Władysław Zamoyski  purchased  Zakopane and the surrounding areas. This was the source of conflict over the ownership of those lands that culminated in the International Arbitration Court in Graz. Subsequently in 1902 the Court demarcated the Austro-Hungarian border which after the First World War became the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia. 

Karol Szymanowski Museum in Villa Atma MSThe breathtaking scenery, clean air and unique culture of the Tatras attracted numerous visitors to the area from all three partitions of Poland. Zakopane became an intellectual and cultural centre at the beginning of the 20th century and since then has been a magnet for many artists, writers and musicians. Stanisław Witkiewicz, writer, painter and architect, created the Zakopane style in architecture that shaped the distinctive character of the previously small village. Karol Szymanowski, one of the greatest Polish composers of the 20th century, lived in Zakopane, and his music was influenced by the folk music of the Tatra highlanders (picture above left from Wikimedia Commons : Karol Szymanowski's  museum  in Villa Atma).

Magda Szkuta,  Curator of Polish Studies

14 November 2013

Gilt and gingerbread - celebrating a rare binding sample

In an earlier blog post I wrote about a remarkable and unique object that Printed Historical Sources and Dutch Language Collections bought with the generous support of the Friends of the British Library.

On 6 November we celebrated this purchase with the Friends, the Dutch Ambassador and some colleagues. Dr. Jan Storm van Leeuwen and Professor Mirjam Foot, renowned  experts on Dutch bookbindings, gave us their ideas on what this strange object might be, followed by a viewing in small groups of the item itself in the finishing studio of the BL’s Conservation Centre , where Book Conservator Doug Mitchell showed his mock-up of the object  especially made by for the occasion and gave a demonstration of gold tooling (described here by Christine Duffy) .

DutchBinding061113 02 mockup
Doug Mitchell (centre) displays his mock-up; the original sample can be seen to the left. (Photograph by Elizabeth Hunter CC by)

Meanwhile Conservation Team Leader Robert Brodie entertained guests in the Conservation Centre’s Foyle Room by displaying some of the Centre’s own book decoration tools and answering questions from fascinated guests. There was a real sense of excitement in the air, which made it a very lively and interesting afternoon. Guests offered their own theories about what the object might be and are very interested to hear of any further developments in the research on this item.

Robert Brodie (left) shows colleagues and visitors some of the Library’s own binding tools (Photograph by Elizabeth Hunter CC by)

We hope that this event will generate further research interest from the academic, professional and arts world, so that together we may solve the puzzle of the ‘Book Binder’s Specimen. Sample book cover. Utrecht/Amsterdam c. 1730’ (C.188.c.43). It did inspire me to bake and gild some traditional Dutch gingerbread!

 Marja Kingma, Curator Low Countries Studies

Further reading:

Jan Storm van Leeuwen, Dutch decorated bookbinding in the eighteenth century ('t Goy-Houten, 2006) YD.2006.b.1244

Mirjam M. Foot, Studies in the history of bookbinding (Aldershot,1993)
93/18864 and 667.u.132

For the Love of the Binding: studies in bookbinding history presented to Mirjam Foot, ed. by David Pearson. (London, 2000) 667.u.169

Eloquent witnesses : bookbindings and their history, ed. by Mirjam M. Foot. (London, 2001)  YC.2006.a.2251 and m05/.10663

DutchBookbinding gingerbreadman cropped
Marja presents her gilded gingerbread men to the speakers (Photograph by Elizabeth Hunter CC by)

13 November 2013

Day of Montenegrin Culture: a celebration of the 200th anniversary of Njegoš’s birth

The 13th November, the date of the birth of Petar II Petrović Njegoš (1813-1851), Petar II Petrovic-Njegos
a poet and Prince-Bishop of Montenegro 1830-1851, is the date of a new festival in Montenegro. From this year every November Montenegro will celebrate her national poet, spiritual leader and reformer who brought his country culturally closer to Europe. Njegoš, who was a literary genius, is credited as the author of the most significant and influential work ever created in Montenegro.

Petar II Petrović Njegoš (1813-1851). Image from Wikimedia Commons

Njegoš’s most celebrated works, inspired by national folk ballads, are the epic poems Gorski vijenac (‘The Mountain Wreath’) and Luča mikrokozma (‘The Ray of the Microcosm’). The former (1847) tells in narrative style of the long national struggle for freedom, while the latter (1845), an epic poem complex in thought, is occupied with more general problems of the origins and destiny of humankind.

Njegoš’s Montenegro was first introduced to the British public in articles published in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine: “Few nations of Europe have been less known than the Montenegrians, and the name even of their country is seldom found on maps” argued one writer, while another stated: “The Montenegrini alone of Europe follow the political model of modern Rome. Their political head is their ecclesiastical superior”.

 Wilkinson 1848 Pass to Montenegro above Cattaro
“Pass to Montenegro above Cattaro” from John Gardner Wilkinson, Dalmatia and Montenegro (London, 1848). 10290.dd.16.

Sir John Gardner Wilkinson (1797–1875), an Egyptologist, and Andrew Archibald Paton (1811-1874), a writer and diplomat, gave the most interesting accounts of the people of Montenegro, their customs, everyday life, government, history and the  contemporary state of the country.  For example, Wilkinson, who visited Montenegro in 1844, provided information about the origin of the name: “The name of Montenegro (Properly Montenero, but in the Venetian dialect Montenegro and the people are called Montenegrini), or the ‘black mountain,’ is supposed to be taken from the dark appearance of its wooded hills, which in former times were more thickly clothed with trees and bushes than at present.” Wilkinson took a close look at the attitudes and character of the people he visited: “The poverty of the Montenegrins is certainly a great bar to their civilisation; but notwithstanding this, they are neither mercenary, nor selfish; and while I was travelling in the interior of the country, poor people often ran out of their cottages to give me fruit, or whatever they had; and when on one occasion I offered them money, their reply was, ‘this is to welcome you; we are at home, you are a stranger; and had we known you would offer to pay us, we would not have brought it.’”
Wilkinson1848 Approach to Tzetinie & Lake of Scutari
“Approach to Tzetinie & Lake of Scutari”  from Wilkinson, Dalmatia and Montenegro

The first translation of Gorski vijenac into English was in 1930 by James W. Wiles (shelfmark 11758.r.31.), while Clarence A. Manning in 1953 (YA.1993.a.16018) and  Anica Savić Rebac  in 1957  (Ac.2692.bxa. ) produced the first English translations of Luča mikrokozma.  Other noted translators of Njegoš’s work into English were Dan Mrkić (his translation of Gorski vijenac as The Mountain Laurel in 1985), Vasa D. Mihailovich (Gorski vijenac in 1986 [YA.1990.a.21958]), Žika Rad. Prvulovich (Luča mikrokozma in 1992) and Michael Petrovich (Luča mikrokozma in 2007).

Njegoš and the literary, philosophical and religious aspects of his work have attracted scores of distinguished writers and scholars. Some of these writers published in English on Njegoš: Milovan Djilas, Njegoš; poet, prince, bishop (New York, 1966; X.909/16499.); Žika Rad. Prvulovich, Religious philosophy of Prince-Bishop Njegosh of Montenegro 1813-1851 (Birmingham, 1984; X.529/67671); Edward Dennis Goy, The sabre and the song (Belgrade, 1995; YA.1997.a.7338); and Zdenko Zlatar Njegoš’s Montenegro (Boulder, Colorado, 2005; YC.2007.a.1029), and in French: Krunoslav J. Spasić Pierre II Petrović-Njegoš et les Français (Paris, 1972; YF.2008.a.39301) and Michel Aubin Visions historiques et politiques dans l'oeuvre poétique de P.P. Njegoš (Paris, 1972; X.900/20932).

In December 1866 the British Museum Library acquired a copy of Gorski vijenac  published in Novi Sad in 1860 (11758.dd.11.), and in July 1869 a copy of the first edition of Luča mikrokozma, published in Belgrade in 1845 (11585.c.52.(1.)), was acquired for the library. Copies of these books are available in digital format in The Matica Srpska Digital Library, Gorski vijenac  (1847) and Luča mikrokozma (1845).

These were the first books by Njegoš to arrive in the Library, but our collection of works by or about him began to grow a century later, especially from the 1970s, to over 150 works held at present. The collection includes critical editions, reprints, facsimiles, new and special editions, translations, bibliophile and jubilee editions, studies, bibliographies and conference proceedings, fiction and art and other works.

The online project Anthology of Serbian Literature includes modern editions of Njegoš’s two main works. For Njegoš’s collected works, see Celokupna dela Petra II Petrovića Njegoša (3rd ed; 7 vols. Belgrade, 1974; X.989/70225).

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-Eastern European Collections

Charles Lamb, “A Ramble in Montenegro”, Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine 58 (1845), pp. 33-51. (P.P.6202.)

Alexander Charles Fraser, “Visit to the Vladika of Montenegro” Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine 60 (1846), pp. 428-443. (P.P.6202.)

Andrew Archibald Paton, Highlands and Islands of the Adriatic (London, 1849). 10126.dd.19.

11 November 2013

How the Georgian language first appeared in print

After the fall of Byzantium, Georgia was broken into several kingdoms and was encircled by hostile Muslim powers and weakened by constant invasions and internal conflicts. Consequently, in the 16th-17th centuries Georgia was no longer a cultural meeting ground for east and west, but became a country squeezed between the difficult conditions of rivalry between Turkey and Persia for domination over Transcaucasia. The King of East Georgia, Teimuraz I, sent Niceforo Irbach to Italy and Spain as the Georgian envoy to seek allies and to ask for assistance in holding off the Turks and Persians. The ambassadorial mission did not have much political success, but it did bring about a significant cultural event – the printing of the first Georgian book.

During his stay at the Vatican, Niceforo Irbach collaborated with Catholic scholars and missionaries to produce a Georgian-Italian vocabulary, as well as a brief collection of prayers in colloquial Georgian.

The first Georgian books were published by the Propaganda Fide Press of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith which was established in Rome in 1622 for the purpose of spreading Catholicism in non-Catholic countries.

Georgia adopted Christianity in the very early centuries and the resulting Georgian Orthodox Church, founded in the fourth century AD, has been in communion with the Eastern Christian Churches but has never been subject to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

A general idea of the political situation in Italy at that time and the status and purpose of the Vatican agencies happened to be of direct relevance to the activities of the Georgian king’s envoy during his stay in Rome. The newly-established Catholic missions required manuals of the foreign language and devotional texts for their operations.

In 1629 the Congregation managed to cast Georgian type in moulds and to issue a ‘Georgian  alphabet with prayers’ that was followed by the publication of the ‘Georgian-Italian Dictionary’.
Achille Venerio, a member of the ‘Propaganda Fide’, sent the printed dictionary with its Georgian alphabet to Pope Urban VIII  along with a ‘Dedication’ in which he described Georgian letters as ‘very refined and beautiful.’

Georgian-Italian 622.f.3.(1) tp2
The title-page of Irbach’s Georgian-Italian Dictionary

The missionaries were taught Georgian by Niceforo Irbach, who was responsible for the Georgian version of these present works. They accordingly provided a relatively easy first attempt at translation between the two languages.

Alphabetum ibericum, sive georgianum: cum Oratione [Iberian or Georgian alphabet with prayers] (Shelfmark 621.b.4. (12.)) is one of the first of two books printed in Georgian using moveable type. The book includes a table with the Georgian alphabet and the sounds signified by its letters and their Latin equivalents. The text begins with the thirty-six letters of the Iberian or Georgian alphabet, presented in four columns - formation, name (in both alphabets) and force. Some letters have additional italic comments at the side, referring to and giving the same phoneme in other languages including Arabic, Hebrew and Greek, entailing the use of type in 5 completely different alphabets on a single page. The second subsection explains the numerous ligatures when Georgian letters are combined. The third section exemplifies the use of Georgian by setting out the text of The Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, Corporal Works of Mercy, the Seven Sacraments, and the Ten Commandments, concluding with the Canticle of the Virgin Mary. The text is given in Georgian and titles are in both languages, Latin and Georgian.

Georgian alphabet 621.b.4-2
A page of the alphabet with Roman transliteration from Alphabetum ibericum, sive georgianum

Dittionario giorgiano e italiano [Georgian-Italian Dictionary] (shelfmark 70.a.4.), compiled by Niceforo Irbach and the printer Stepano Paolini, contains 3,084 entries written in Georgian letters. The text is printed in three columns: Georgian words in the left column, Italian transliterations (including stress) in the middle column, and an explanation of the meaning of each word in Italian in the right column. The Georgian alphabet and the Latin equivalents of each of its letters appear on pages 1–2.

Georgian-Italian 622.f.3.(1)
The first page of the Dittionario giorgiano e italiano

Anna Chelidze, Curator Georgian Studies