European studies blog

13 posts from January 2014

31 January 2014

Libraries can change your life: the peregrinations of Ludvig Holberg

There is no surer way to arouse controversy in theatrical circles than to adapt a well-loved work of literature for another medium, as the heated response of Tolstoy, for example, to Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin indicates. The uproar which greeted a similar endeavour in Denmark in the early 20th century is perhaps less well known in British circles. However, when it was revealed in 1906 that Vilhelm Andersen, a literary historian, was working with the composer Carl Nielsen on an opera based on Ludvig Holberg’s comedy Mascarade, the project was regarded by many as sacrilege.  

Holberg (3 December 1684-28 January 1754) is one of the foremost figures in the history of Scandinavian literature, and, as the creator of the classic character comedy, might be termed the Molière of the Danish theatre. Several of his comedies remain in the Danish standard repertoire, including Mascarade, his contribution to a debate on public masquerades in the newly-built playhouse in Copenhagen’s Grønnegade, which opened in 1721 under his directorship.

Illustration of a man pleading for his life before a supposed demonA scene from Abracadabra, one of Holberg’s many comedies. Image from Holbergs Gallerie. Förste Hefte (Copenhagen, 1828). British Library 1601/650.

Holberg was not, however, only a playwright, though the humour of many of his plays, such as Kjærlighed uden Strømper (‘Love without Stockings’) and Jeppe paa Bjerget(‘Jeppe of the Hill’) still retains its freshness and vigour. Born in Bergen, Norway, he was orphaned by the age of eleven and, after studying in Copenhagen, earned his living as a private tutor and by giving lessons on the flute and violin during his travels which, in 1706, took him to London and Oxford.

His visits to Oxford University’s libraries inspired him to become an author, and in 1711 he published his first work, Introduction til de Europœiske Rigers Historier (‘Introduction to the history of the nations of Europe’), of which the British Library possesses a copy of the expanded 1757 edition (shelfmark 1308.a.7).

Funded by a grant from King Frederick IV, he travelled throughout Europe (1714-16), but the title of Professor which accompanied the award did not guarantee him an income, and it was only in 1718, after years of poverty, that he was appointed Professor of Metaphysics and subsequently of Public Oratory at the University of Copenhagen. He had previously written only on law, philology and history, but in 1719 he published his heroic-comic poem Peder Paars, widely regarded as the first classic of Danish literature (the British Library holds the 1772 edition at 85.g.11).

Until the 1720s French and German had been the only languages in which plays were performed in Denmark, but in 1722 a Danish translation of Molière’s L’Avare was staged at the new theatre, rapidly followed by a series of original comedies by Holberg himself – concluding, alas, with a ‘funeral of Danish comedy’ which he composed for the final performance before the theatre closed in 1727 as a result of financial problems.  The great fire of 1728 put an end to his hopes of seeing any of his later plays performed in Copenhagen, and he returned to prose works, including the satirical fantasy Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum (‘The underground journey of Niels Klim’).

Title-page og 'Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum' with a frontispiece illustration of the eponymous heroTitlepage and frontispiece from Holberg’s, Nicolai Klimii Iter subterraneum novam telluris theoriam ac historiam quintæ Monarchiæ adhuc nobis incognitæ exhibens e Bibliotheca B. Abelini (Copenhagen, 1741) 1079.g.14.

Nielsen’s Mascarade is now famous as Denmark’s national opera, which would have delighted Holberg, a strong believer in the potential of comedy as a means of spreading Enlightenment ideas about equality in the language of the people: ‘as long as the masquerade lasts, the servant is as good as his master’.

Susan Halstead  Curator Czech, Slovak and Lusatian.

29 January 2014

A hedgehog writes

Little did I think when I purchased this collection of model funeral sermons for the Library that I was also acquiring a precious gem of baroque prose:

Francisco de Rojas, O.F.M, Teatro funeral de la Yglesia Catholica por su humilde hijo Fr. Fr[ancis]co de Rojas califf[ica]dor del Santo Officio de la suprema Ynquisicion hijo de la S[an]ta Prou[inci]a de Castilla.  (En Madrid : en la Imprenta del Reyno, año 1637) Shelfmark RB.23.a.34198

Father Rojas had obviously suffered dreadfully in bringing his book to completion.  (As the contents are all from his pen he had only himself to blame.  He was not an editor waiting on his precious contributors to hand in their copy.)  

No teme el Herico cuitado el doloroso parto de sus hijuelos, por las puas que le traspassan las entrañas maternales, como yo el sacar a luz este quinto tomo, funebre Teatro de mi vida, parto de mi ingenio, y hijo de mi entendimiento, titulo con que bautizò los libros san Clemente Alexandrino.
[The hapless hedgehog does not fear the painful birth of her offspring, on account of the spikes which pierce her maternal vitals, as much as I [fear] to bring to light this fifth volume, the funereal Theatre of my life, offspring of my wit and child of my understanding; a title with which St Clement of Alexandria baptised books.]

The last reference here is to Stromata, ch. 1:

It is a good thing, I reckon, to leave to posterity good children. This is the case with children of our bodies. But words are the progeny of the soul. Hence we call those who have instructed us fathers.

16th-century woodcut of a  hedgehogThe hedgehog, from Conrad Gesner, Historiae animalium (Zurich, 1551-1557). 460.c.1-3.

17th-century writers loved an animal simile, and they didn’t let a fact get in the way of a good fable.  The Philobiblon website explains that baby hedgehogs, ‘are born swollen with fluid, so the prickles are beneath the surface of the skin. After birth, the fluid is absorbed and the prickles … emerge.’ The author credits for this information A Prickly Affair: My Life with Hedgehogs (London, 2008; YK.2009.a.33503) by Hugh Warwick, ‘a man who clearly doesn’t only live and breathe hedgehogs, but has certainly spent a lot of wet, cold English nights tracking them around the countryside.’

Rojas continues in the animalist vein when expressing gratitude to his patron:

No dessea tanto la temerosa liebreçuela, acosada de los perros, o açorada del milano, la espaciosa falda del monte, donde halla la guarida, y aluergue, como yo he desseado el amparo de vuestra Reuerendissima, monte el mas leuantado, y crecido que ojos regulares miran, para amparo de los pobrecillos: piedra de refugio para que salgan a luz los partos de los ingenios Religiosos.
[The timid little hare, harried by dogs or hectored by the hawk, does not desire the spacious mountainside, where she finds her burrow and refuge, as much as I have desired the protection of your Reverence, the most elevated and lofty mountain that common eyes behold, for the relief of the poor; a rock of refuge so that the offspring of religious wits may see the light of day.]

It seems to me that metaphors for reading are more common than metaphors for writing.  Reading as eating has a long history, from Revelation 10:10 to Bacon’s ‘Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested’. And we know some authors can make a real fuss about writing: Joseph Conrad used to talk about going into the ‘torture chamber’. Father Rojas lived at a time when striking imagery, the more far-fetched the better, was at a premium, and thus was born the writer as hedgehog.

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


Barry Taylor, ‘El hígado de don Juan Manuel: una imagen de placer y provecho en El conde Lucanor’, Actes del VII Congrés de l’Associació Hispànica de Literatura Medieval, Castelló de la Plana, 1997 (Castelló, 1999), III, 447-58. YA.2000.a.6519

27 January 2014

One Family’s Story in Bobruisk during the Second World War

The population of Belarus suffered terribly during the Second World War, but the biggest losses occurred among the country’s Jewish communities.  Even now, nearly 70 years after the war, there are still no official statistics for the numbers of dead – only estimates. We can only imagine how terrible it was for civilians to survive, and how hard it was to recover and to rebuild their lives after the war.

January 27 is Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom to remember all innocent victims.  I decided to tell the story of my good friend Lily Samuel-Podrobinok and of her parents’ families, who were evacuated by train to the Ural Region and  escaped the Holocaust.

The family of Lily’s father Meir Podrobinok (born 1934) comes from the city of Bobriusk.  Meir’s mother Leah, a housewife, and his father Zalman, a milkman, were both born there. Lily’s mother Nina Leokumovich (born 1942) and her family come from Zhlobin in  Gomel Region and later relocated to live and work in Bobruisk. Nina’s father Abram became very famous for his excellent work as a vet, and her mother Ronia was a hospital nurse.

Bobruisk (or Babruisk)  is a city in the Mogilev Region situated on the river Berezina. Established in mediaeval times, it is first mentioned in a document of 1387. Anna Vygodskaia described Bobruisk as “a sleepy provincial town, whose inhabitants sealed themselves off from the rest of the world”, until in the 1870s the railway connected Bobruisk to Minsk, Vilno, Gomel and Libava (Latvia). Being in close proximity to Russia and Poland, Bobruisk quickly established itself as a trading centre.  

The first mention of the Jewish community in historical documents was in 1508. Just a few families were living there, but by 1766 the community had grown to 395. The biggest rise in population was in the 19th century: by 1897 the total population of the city was 28,764, of whom 71% (20,438) were Jewish. Bobruisk came to be called “the city of 40 synagogues” – there is only one left today.

Postcard with photographs of Bobruisk synagogues superimposed on the letters of the town's name
 Postcard showing synagogues of Bobruisk. From Vladimir Likhodedov, Sinagogi = Synagogues  (Minsk, 2007.) YF.2009.b.2407

By 1917 there were 42 synagogues, a Jewish school and hospital, cinemas, a drama club and a Jewish library, one of the four largest of its kind in the Russian Empire.  Bobruisk was also a centre of book publishing in Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian; the best-known publisher, Iakov Gunzburg (Yaaḳov Ginzburg), was active until 1928. There were a number of Jewish newspapers (Bobruiskii listok, Bobruskie otkliki and Bobruiskii ezhenedelnik) and Zionist and other political organizations. The most famous was BUND, which also published political literature.

Germany attacked the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941; Minsk, the capital of Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic, was occupied on 26 June, but the Mogilev Region and Bobruisk were defended by Red Army soldiers and military cadets until the town was taken by German soldiers on 28 July. There was only a short time for the residents to make one very important life-changing decision: to leave their home town or to stay.

Photograoph of Zalman Podrobinok
Zalman Podrobinok, photo taken after the war [by kind permission of Lily Samuel-Podrobinok]

Lily’s grandfather Zalman had joined the Red Army infantry. In 1943 or 1944 he was injured and spent some time in hospital; he was reunited with his family through the Red Cross. The rest of Lily’s family on both sides decided to leave Bobruisk. With the Germans bombing and German paratroopers already in the city, there was total chaos and confusion among the population. The family walked 60 km to Rogachev (Rahachow) and then on to Propoisk (today known as Slavgorod), where they safely boarded an open-carriage train to Russia.

At one point the family almost became separated. Somebody saw the young children walking and offered the family a lift to the railway station; the mother helped the children in, but there was no more room, so the car left without her. The children decided they didn’t want to travel alone, so got out and ran back to find their mother. Luckily the family were reunited, and a train took them to Cheliabinsk.

With the outbreak of war the small Russian town of Cheliabinsk had suddenly grown into a big industrial centre with lots of workers, factories and plants evacuated there. Zalman Podrobinok worked at the military plant and Abram Leokumovich worked as a vet, helping to look after the horses used by the Red Army.

The occupation of Belarus lasted four long years. During Operation Bagration Belarus was liberated on 4 July 1944; Bobruisk had been liberated in June 1944 by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Belarusian fronts and 1st Baltic front.

Under Nazi occupation there were 260 internal camps in Belarus and 296 Jewish ghettos, of which 36 were in the Mogilev Region.  209 cities and towns were destroyed and 627 villages burned to the ground; 158 were never repopulated. The village of Khatyn  is a symbol and memorial of all the burned villages in Belarus.

In October 1941 prisoner of war camps were set up in Bobruisk and a Jewish ghetto nine kilometres away in the village of Kamenka, where more than 25,000 people were imprisoned, not only from Bobruisk, but later in 1942 prisoners were relocated from the Warsaw Ghetto.   Altogether, by the end of the German occupation more than 40,000 prisoners of war and 40,000 civilians had been killed in the Bobruisk area.

There are 572 Jewish Holocaust memorials and monuments in Belarus, and 72 memorials thanks to generous donations from World Jewish Relief (WJR) and the Simon Mark Lazarus Foundation, UK.

Lily’s family returned to Bobruisk in 1946, although some families decided to stay in Russia; some members of Lily’s own family stayed in Cheliabinsk. Coming home again was hard, and it took a long time to settle back into normal life. Zalman and Leah Podrobinok’s home had been destroyed by heavy bombing, so they took out a mortgage to rebuild their house.

Abram and Ronia Leokumovich also came to Bobruisk in 1946 and, because there was a shortage of vets, Abram was offered his job back together with very comfortable office accommodation.

Photograph of the Leokumovich family standing by a fence
Efim, Nina and Abram Leokumovich in a photo taken after the war in Bobruisk [by kind permission of Lily Samuel-Podrobinok]

Both families rebuilt their lives and gave all their children a higher education. In 1990 they decided to emigrate to Israel, but continue to visit Bobruisk as often as possible.

The Jewish community in Bobruisk was revived when a young rabbi from Israel came with his family and restored the synagogue. Today a Jewish community of around 4,000 remains, and the future looks promising!

I would like to thank Lily and her family for their help!

Rimma Lough,  Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian  Cataloguer


Anna Vygodskaia, The story of a life: Memoirs of a young Jewish woman in the Russian Empire (DeKalb,  2012) YC.2012.a.9563

Bobruĭskaia gorodskaia evreĭskaia obshchina : 500 let (Bobruisk, 2008)  LF.31.a.2961.

Pamiats’: Babruĭsk (‘Minsk, 1995) YA.2003.a.9447.

Pamiatsʹ Belarusʹ  (Minsk, 1995) YA.2001.a.2761.

Ales Adamovich, Khatyn; translated by Glenys Kozlov [et al.] (London, 2012) H.2013/.8994.

Khatyn’ = Khatyn = Chatyn (Minsk, 2005) YF.2006.a.5117.

24 January 2014

The life and travels of a Tsar - and of a manuscript

When my predecessor retired as curator of the British Library’s Russian collections  I took on responsibility for some rare materials which she had not finished working on. One of these was a manuscript in Russian created in the 18th century. It is in in a very good condition with a fair leather binding and the title ‘The Life of Peter the Great’ is embossed on the spine. The manuscript was created, according to the scribe’s note, as a presentation copy “on the 27th [June] in the year 1765” to celebrate “the victory given by God to glorious Tsar of Russia Peter the Great over Swedish King Charles XII in the Poltava Battle in 1709”. In this note the scribe calls himself “Fedor, son of Ivan Amisimov of the town of Kungur” (located in the Ural mountains in the Perm region).

On verso of the last leaf there is a previous owner’s note written in the 19th century:  “Monday, 4 November 93. My dear brother Sania, I’m sending you this book as a token of my memory. I’m writing to you, forever beloved brother, maybe this is the last time I’m writing to you. Goodbye, my dear, not much left (?) of your money, write back. Your sister Aleksandra Kutalova, 13 October 1893”.

Handwritten inscription by Aleksandra KutalovaAleksandra Kutalova’s inscription

On the Internet I found photographs of several members of the Kutalov family taken in a Kungur photo studio in the first half of the 20th century. One, taken in 1927, portrays two brothers, Boris and Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Kutalov. They are most certainly the sons of Aleksandr Vasil’evich Kutalov (1869 or 1870–1918)], the “dear brother Sania”, who was presented with this manuscript. Information which I found on an Internet forum for the history of Kungur confirmed my guess, as a local historian mentioned that he had seen birth records for a girl called Aleksandra born to the Kutalov family in 1874. These findings suggest that until the end of the 19th century the manuscript was still held in Kungur or nearby.

The manuscript contains the ‘Account of travel to Europe’ commencing with the words: “The trip started in Moscow.” In the late 18th century this was thought to be written by Peter the Great himself and was better known as ‘The Travel Accounts of the Grand Person’. This text was first published in St Petersburg in 1788 under the full title Zapisnaia knizhka liubopytnykh zamiechanīĭ velikoĭ osoby, stranstvovavsheĭ pod imenem dvorianina rossīĭskаgo posol’stva v 1697 i 1698 godu  (‘The notebook of curious accounts of the Grand Person who travelled  incognito under the name of a Russian nobleman with the Russian Embassy in 1697 and 1698’), held at British Library shelfmark 1427.c.9.(1.).

However, the greater part of the manuscript is taken up by the text ‘The Life of Peter the Great’. This is a Russian version of the biography Vita di Pietro il Grande, Imperator della Russia; estratta de varie Memorie publicate in Francia e in Olanda (Venice, 1736; British Library 1487.a.32.),  a compilation from several sources, initially written by an Italian author, Antonio Catiforo, and published in eight editions between 1736 and 1806. The text was translated into Russian by Stepan Ivanovich Pisarev (1709-1775) who served in various state offices. Parallel to his career as a civil servant, Pisarev was interested in literary translation, and many of his translations were published in numerous editions. He translated the Vita di Pietro il Grande in 1743 at the request of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna.

Portrait of Tsar Peter the Great with an inscription beneath
The text of ‘The Life of Peter the Great’ is preceded by a nice portrait (above) painted on paper by a local amateur artist. This was copied from a well-known lithograph that reproduced the portrait apparently made by Louis Caravaque in 1716 (see D. Rovinskii. Podrobnyi slovar’ russkikh gravirovannykh portretov, St Petersburg, 1886-1889. Vol. 3, 1566-1568, No. 122; [reprint edition (2008) at YF.2008.b.2602]).

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator Russian Studies

22 January 2014

German Parish Life in London and an East End Church Library

With the Hanoverian Kings came the people…  And with the people came trades, professions, active community life and parishes – and these Germans needed places of worship.

The British Library has housed the St. George’s Church Library since 1995; its acquisition and ongoing investigations into the collection have shed an illuminating light on the history of German life in London during the Hanoverian period.

Bookplate from the St George's Lutheran Church libraryA bookplate from one of the St George's Church Library books: J. H. Daub, Christliche Stimmen von den Bergen, (Essen, 1838) RB.23.a.16559.

The kings of German origin attracted more Germans to come to London in their train – or perhaps Germans had always been coming?  Other contributors to this series might be able to comment further on  this, but certainly many Germans came, and they settled by preference together, within certain areas of London which were themselves as large as small cities, where they could follow their trades, and where parish and social life had already been established.

The history of St. George’s Lutheran Church and its church library provides answers to many questions about the numbers, trades and faith of the Germans in London.  The church was the fifth German church foundation in London.  In the 19th century, the peak period for German settlement in Britain, there were eleven German parishes in London alone – one of them, of course, was the Royal Chapel at St. James’s Palace – and there were 14 German-speaking congregations across Britain.  They were almost all Protestant churches.  Parish life at St. George’s was highly influenced by August Hermann Francke’s Pietist movement and its missionary aims.  Several named pastors and preachers came from the Francke’sche Stiftungen in Halle; their missionary activity is reflected in their fervent publishing output of sermons and religious treatises, highlighting another trade Germans pursued in London: printing and publishing.

As part of this series of blogs, we shall be highlighting some notable items from the St. George’s Church Collection and providing insights into trades including printing and publishing pursued by the German community.

The Lutheran parishes in London were small German worlds within a world.  My own favourite item from the St. George’s Collection reflects this:

Title page of 'Kirchen-Geschichte der deutschen Gemeinden in London' with original ownership stamp of G. MaetzoldKirchen-Geschichte der deutschen Gemeinden in London, nebst historischen Beylagen und Predigten von D. Johann Gottfried Burckhardt, Pastor der deutschen Lutherischen Gemeinden in der Savoy.   (Tübingen: bey Ludwig Fues, 1798) RB.23.a.16354.

This was one of the items found amongst the original church library books in the vestry of St. George’s Lutheran Church, and it harks back to the church’s early days.  The provenance note has always touched me. The item was owned by Pastor Maetzold, and the church organist, who declares himself as a friend of the parish, donates it to the library – thus this little book spans more than two hundred years of German parish history in London.

Dorothea Miehe, Curator German Studies


Dorothea Miehe, ‘Kurze Geschichte einer Rettungsaktion: die Bibliothek der St. Georgs-Gemeinde in Spitalfields, London’, German Studies Library Group Newsletter, no. 22 (July 1997), pp.7-11. ZK.9.b.1089

Dorothea Miehe, ‘The St George’s Lutheran Church Collection’, in Handbuch deutscher historischer Buchbestände in Europa, Bd. 10 (Hildesheim, 2000) §2.110-118, pp. 84-85.  RAR 027.04, and online at

20 January 2014

Portuguese revolutionaries in Plymouth: politics and the classics

José Bento Said, Remedio d’amor, e queixumes de Dido contra Eneas: traducções livres das obras de Ovidio. Trez sonetos, e garantias dos direitos civiz e politicos dos cidadaõs portuguezes, outorgados na Carta Constitucional de 1826.  (Angra: Imprensa do Governo, 1831).  British Library RB.23.a.17999(1).

The year 1826 saw political turmoil in Portugal, when the decades-long struggles of liberals and reactionaries opened up a new front in the Azores, the island group in the Atlantic which had been part of the empire since the fourteenth century.

This small publication prints the Carta Constitucional which established a new liberal regime in Portugal.  It also has some to-the-minute political odes: unsurprisingly, as in the romantic period verse was still thought a fitting medium for current affairs.

But what I find striking is that even at moments of high politics authors did not forget their Classics: the volume begins with translations of Ovid’s Remedia amoris and Dido’s complaint against the perfidious Aeneas (Heroides, VII) rendered in five odes. Poetry by a poet dead 1800 years, and on the theme of love (albeit concentrating on its downside).

The tenacity of classical culture as a point of reference for political writing is paralleled by one of the first books printed in Brazil: 

Monumento á elevação da colonia do Brazil a reino, e o estabelecimento do Triplice Imperio Luso. As obras de Publio Virgilio Maro, traduzidas em verso portuguez, e annotadas por Antonio José de Lima Leitão … (Rio de Janeiro : na Typographia Real, 1818-1819). RB.23.a.18324.

The Portuguese, unlike the Spanish, had repressed the printing press in their American colonies, so early Brazilian books were never common. As Borba de Moraes shows, Brazilian authors published in the old country.  It was the flight of the Portuguese court to Rio before the advance of Bonaparte which transferred the power base to the new Empire of Brazil.

But again, the Brazilian patriots were so immersed in Graeco-Roman culture that they celebrated their new status with an edition in the original Latin and facing Portuguese of the founding of an earlier Empire: Virgil’s account of the birth of Rome in the Aeneid.

The first of our two publications includes what at first sight seems a cuckoo in the nest:

“Ajunta-se a esta obra a Descripção das tres magnificas Cidades Plymouth, Ston-House, e Devonporth, a qual o Auctor offerece gratuita aos Illms. Snrs. Academicos, Officiaes Militares, Ecclesiasticos, e mais Snrs. que subscrevêrão” (p. 76)

Plymouth RB.23.a.17999(1)

Why should the good people of the Azores wish to read a description, in verse indeed, of ‘the three magnificent cities of Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport?’

The reason is that a group of Portuguese liberal exiles took refuge in Devon in 1829. They managed to get printed a small number of pamphlets and, true as ever to the classics, put on a performance in Portuguese of Joesph Addison’s Cato.

Wherever these political activists went, they took their classical education with them. And in modern Britain still some of our most gifted politicians make proud display of their knowledge of Greek and Latin.

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


Rubens Borba de Moraes, Bibliographia Brasiliana: rare books about Brazil published from 1504 to 1900 and works by Brazilian authors of the Colonial period  (Los Angeles, 1983).  RAR 090.981

Barry Taylor,  ‘Un-Spanish practices: Spanish and Portuguese protestants, Jews and liberals, 1500-1900’, Foreign-language printing in London 1500-1900, ed. Barry Taylor (London, 2003), pp. 183-202 (p. 190).  2708.h.1059

17 January 2014

A Hundred Items of Joy

Dr Marjorie Boulton, born in 1924,  is well known to students of literature for her textbooks on literary studies: The Anatomy of Poetry (1953, BL shelfmark 11869.d.38), The Anatomy of Prose (1954, 11867.n.12), The Anatomy of Drama (1960, 11866.g.37), The Anatomy of Language  (1968,, The Anatomy of the Novel (1975, X.980/31289) and The Anatomy of Literary Studies (1980, 80/18342) – all published in London by Routledge & Kegan Paul. She is the author of 16 books in English.

Photograph of Marjorie Boulton

Marjorie Boulton in 1997 (Picture by Inga Johannson from Wikimedia Commons)

Yet Marjorie Boulton started out as a poet. Her first book was a collection of poems, Preliminaries (London, 1949; W28/9314, copy signed by the author). In the same year she discovered Esperanto and soon became one of the most accomplished poets in that language. She produced many books in Esperanto to the great delight of Esperanto speakers from Albania to Zimbabwe. It is no exaggeration to say that she is one the most loved and widely-read figures in the Esperanto movement. She is also very much praised by all cat-lovers for of her humorous poems and stories about these animals, such as Dekdu piedetoj (‘Twelve Little Paws’, [Stoke-on-Trent], 1964; YF.2008.a.36769).

The British Library holds 19 of her books in Esperanto: poetry, dramas, translations, lectures, textbooks, biographies. Amongst the poetry collections we find her first book Kontralte (‘In Contralto’, Tenerife, 1955; YF.2008.a.18897), Cent ĝojkantoj (‘A Hundred Songs of Joy’, Burslem,1957; 12900.c.8), Eroj kaj Aliaj Poemoj (‘Fragments and Other Poems’, Tenerife,1959; YF.2008.a.19522), Rimleteroj (‘Letters in Rhyme’,  with William Auld, Manchester, 1976; YF.2010.a.22936) and others. Marjorie Boulton also penned the biography of the creator of Esperanto:  Zamenhof: Creator of Esperanto (London, 1960; 10667.m.13).

With understandable trepidation we received a gift to the Esperanto Collections of more than 100 titles from Marjorie Boulton’s private library at the beginning of 2014. The donated books could be divided into three main categories: textbooks and dictionaries; poetry and fiction (original and translations); books for children. Some really rare items from the pioneer period of Esperanto movement will be added to our extensive collection, among them William Sol Benson’s Universala Esperantistigilo in 10 lessons (‘Universal method for making you an Esperantist’, Newark, 1925-1927, picture below by Rimma Lough) and Esperanta radikaro (‘Roots of Esperanto’, Paris, 1896) by the pioneer French Esperantist Théophile Cart, as well as Esperanta  Ŝlosilo (‘Key to Esperanto’) in Persian (Tabriz, 1930).

Copies of 'Universala Esperantistigilo'

Marjorie Boulton collected dictionaries of Esperanto in various languages. Very valuable are terminological dictionaries, which show the persistence of generations of Esperantists in their desire to develop the language in all spheres of human activity. We received various terminological dictionaries; some of them are parts of the annual publication Jarlibro de la Internacia Esperanto-Ligo (‘Yearbook of the International Esperanto League’): Aeronautika terminaro (‘Aeronautical terminology’) for 1941; Filatela terminaro (Philatelic) for 1945; Kudra kaj trika terminaro (Sewing and knitting) for 1947. Even Armea terminaro  (‘Army terminology’, Rickmansworth, 1940) and Militista vortareto (‘Military dictionary’, Paris, 1955) found their way into Marjorie Boulton’s library.

Connoisseurs of original poetry and fiction in Esperanto will be delighted by the addition to our collections of the poetry collection Dekdu poetoj (‘Twelve poets’, Budapest, 1934) and by the availability in the very near future of original poetry in Esperanto written in many countries, such as, for example, the poetry collection Spektro (‘Spectrum’, Tirano, 1992) by an Albanian Esperanto poet, Enkela Xhamaj, or a short story by V. Zavyalov, published in Saratov (Russia) in 1915.

Bright, colourful books for children come from China. These were all published by Ĉina Esperanto-Eldonejo (Chinese Esperanto-Publishers) in the 1980s (picture below). In addition you will be able to read the famous adventures of Tintin in Esperanto: La Aventuroj de Tinĉjo. La Nigra insulo (Esperantix, 1987).

Covers of Esperanto children's books

The donation (a tiny part of the Dr Boulton’s large private library) provides a small glimpse into her life as a fervent collector of books. It would  be appropriate to finish my blog about this valuable acquisition by quoting fragments of Marjorie Boulton’s own poem Riĉeco (‘Richness,’ translated by D. B. Gregor) in which she marvels at the variety of human experiences and richness of every human being:

To understand another life, we’d need
To live again at least a second span,
And even then our knowledge but deludes.
If only we could know, could know indeed!
Our puny knowledge does not more than scan
The richness of mankind’s vicissitudes.

A hundred thanks for a hundred delightful items!

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Esperanto Studies

15 January 2014

Call for papers: Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages, 2 June 2014

We are seeking four or five papers of approximately 30 minutes each, dealing with any aspect of printing and book production in Continental Eastern and Western Europe. Papers dealing with other aspects of historical bibliography, editing, and the history of the book and reading are also warmly invited. Accounts of work in progress or offers to introduce discussion of bibliographical interest are a long-standing feature of the seminar.

Woodcut showing a printing press and a typesetter
Detail from the title page of Arnoldus, Joannes, De chalcographiæ inventione poema encomiasticum. (Mainz, 1541) BL shelfmark G.9963.

The seminar will take place on Monday 2 June 2014 in the British Library Conference Centre; the first paper will be at 11.15 a.m. and the others after lunch, with ample time for discussion after each.

Please let us know by the end of April if you are interested in giving a paper.

Barry Taylor ( / Susan Reed (
European Studies, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB

13 January 2014

Anglo-German centuries: a 'History in Objects' for 2014

The British Library’s current major exhibition, Georgians Revealed, marks the accession of the Hanoverian Dynasty to the British throne in 1714, ushering in the Georgian age. This is one of a number of events in both Britain and Germany  celebrating this anniversary, while later in the year both countries will also commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

The 200 years between these dates saw the growth of a sizeable German community in Britain and of significant political, cultural and personal links between the two countries (or between Britain and the various states which made up Germany for much of the period) and their peoples.

Of course there had been links between Britons and Germans long before 1714:  the British monarch is still known as ‘Defender of the Faith’ because of Henry VIII’s engagement with Martin Luther, and the Steelyard, headquarters of the Hanseatic League in mediaeval  London, is commemorated to this day by a street name and plaque

However, the formal political union between Britain and Hanover from 1714 to 1837, the  political and dynastic ties that persisted into Victoria’s reign and the growing influence of German culture and science in 19th-century Europe made for a different and closer relationship. And while 1914 by no means marked a completely clean break, for the rest of the 20th century Anglo-German relations would be cast in a very different mould from that of the Georgian and Victorian eras.

So, to mark the joint anniversary of 1714 and 1914 we will be presenting over the course of this year a series of themed blog posts examining Anglo-German relations specifically between those two dates through different items from the Library's collections: a kind of ‘History in Objects’ like those promoted by the British Museum in recent years. Some posts will relate to well-known figures and events, although their Anglo-German connections might be less familiar. Others will highlight lesser-known stories, such as the trades followed by German immigrants in Britain, German influences in the history of the Library’s own collections, or the huge celebration of Friedrich Schiller’s 100th birthday held in London.

Montage of books and manuscripts
Some collection items with an Anglo-German story to tell...

We hope you will join us over the coming year to find out more and explore two centuries of Anglo-German ties.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

10 January 2014

The ‘Prize Papers’: letters as loot

Five sea-battles were fought between the Dutch and the English in the North Sea and elsewhere in the world’s oceans during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The National Archives in Kew, London, houses the High Court Admiralty archives. These  not only contain papers relating to the jurisdiction of the courts but also ships’ books and papers, ships’ logs and documents related to prizes. The term ‘prize’ refers here to a ship’s cargo captured in naval warfare. In 1980 a Dutch researcher stumbled upon archival material at Kew containing papers from Dutch prizes 1652-1832. These ‘Prize Papers’ consist of 1,100 boxes containing about 38,000 letters. Of these 16,000 are private letters. Some of the letters had never even been opened!

An index to the contents of 700 boxes in the Prize Papers has been made available online. This free resource also contains digitised images of the letters.

In 2004 the national library of the Netherlands, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, started a project called ‘Sailing Letters.’ This project resulted in the publication of a series entitled Sailing letters journaal. The British Library has purchased all titles in this series. Each volume consists of essays written by scholars and specialists in their field. In their contributions they analyse letters which are grouped around a common theme. 

De dominee met het stenen hart en andere overzeese briefgeheimen (Zutphen, 2008; shelfmark  YF.2009.a.19867) is the first volume in this series. The letters in this volume were written in the second half of the 17th century. The authors and addressees lived all over the world, from Batavia and Curaçao to Hoorn and Zierikzee. The contents of the letters cover all sorts of occasions from the murder of the De Witt brothers, a New Year’s poem, an issue of a newspaper in Suriname, the Surinaamse Courant of July 3, 1782 to news items from Batavia, Indonesia, and the last page of a ship’s logbook.

The third volume entitled De voortvarende zeemansvrouw : openhartige brieven aan geliefden op zee (Zutphen, 2010;  YF.2011.a.11834) presents letters written by two wives to their husbands De Cerff and Buyk  who were sailors employed by the Dutch East India Company. The letters are not only of interest to historians but also to linguists. Two further volumes in the BL’s collection are: De gekaapte kaper : brieven en scheepspapieren uit de Europese handelsvaart (Zutphen, 2011; EMF.2012.a.51) and De smeekbede van een oude slavin : en andere verhalen uit de West (Zutphen, 2009; EMF.2010.a.5). The latter gives the reader some startling examples of everyday life in the colonies such as the letter written by Wilhelmina, an elderly lady who once was a slave or the letter written by a medical doctor in charge of the slaves in a plantation.

In 2013 appeared the fifth and last volume in the series: Buitgemaakt en teruggevonden : Nederlandse brieven en scheepspapieren in een Engels archief. Chapter 3 addresses the question of whether any archives in the Netherlands hold  letters seized from English ships captured by the Dutch.

Cover of 'Buitgemaakt en teruggevonden' with an image of a manuscript and quill pens with an inset portratiBuitgemaakt en teruggevonden: Nederlandse brieven en scheepspapieren in een Engels archief / onder redactie van Erik van der Doe, Perry Moree, Dirk J. Tang ; met medewerking van Peter de Bode. (Zutphen, 2013.) YF.2014.a.1041.

As a cataloguer, I regularly stumble upon my own ‘prizes’ which experience I have tried to share in this blog.

Annelies Dogterom, Dutch/German cataloguer