European studies blog

12 posts from July 2014

30 July 2014

FIETS (n): Origins Unknown

Following on from a previous post related to the Tour de France, this piece talks about the Dutch word ‘Fiets’. At first glance the word doesn’t seem to bear any resemblance to its equivalents in English (bicycle), French (vélo) or German (Fahrrad) and it was this realisation that prompted a spat of research on its etymology.

First port of call was the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal, or Dictionary of the Dutch Language (WNT). The WNT is the largest etymological dictionary in the world, in any language. It is available online, but the British Library holds a copy on the open shelves in the Humanities 1 reading room (HLR 439.313).

Despite its erudition the WNT doesn’t provide a satisfactory etymology for the word ‘fiets’. It offers two possible sources, neither are conclusive.  Not much fun there, then.

  Picture of a late 19th-century man's bicycle
Image taken from page 211 of The Z.Z.G. or the Zig Zag Guide round and about the beautiful Kentish coast (London, 1897) 10352.g.28.

Some more digging around in the catalogue brought up a title that proved to be just the ticket. Ewoud Sanders’ Fiets! (The Hague, 1996; YA.2002.a.1177), brings together columns previously published in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. The little book is beautifully bound in a hard grey cover, and printed in the best of Dutch printing traditions. In eight chapters, or ‘étappes’ (stages) Sanders discusses the various theories on the origins of the word ‘fiets’, as offered by etymologists, journalists and cycle fanatics alike. Apparently, no other word has kept the Dutch and Flemish so pre-occupied as ‘fiets’. When the bicycle was introduced to the Low Countries from France, it was knows as a ‘vélocipède. At the Language and Literary Congress in Leuven in 1869 heated discussions were held over the question whether a Dutch language variant should be found and if so, which one. Shortly after this congress cycling took off in The Netherlands, which had to have consequences for the vocabulary associated with it.

Fiets! gives a fascinating account of the history of cycling in the Low Countries as well as of the development of the word ‘fiets’. The WNT is mentioned several times, because its editors were heavily involved in the discussions around it. The bibliography reflects the fascination people had with ‘fiets’ and includes over 50 titles, ranging from the WNT to letters from the archives of the ANWB, the Dutch equivalent of The AA.

In the end Sanders supports the theory that ‘fiets’ originates in the vernacular as spoken by Dutch school boys, back in the 1870s. That is probably why the word was considered to be a sort of ‘F’ word by the educated classes. How different things are these days.

The Dutch language abounds in expressions around ‘fiets’ or ‘fietsen’, (to cycle), which proves just how much ‘fiets’ has become firmly settled in the Dutch language, just like the article itself has become an icon of Dutch culture. Sanders doesn’t go into this, but cycling (whipping) through the ‘Van Dale’ dictionary (Van Dale groot woordenboek, door W. Martin en G.A.J. Tops. (Utrecht, 1984-1986) HLR 439.313) will clarify how it is you can have a ‘bicycle rack’ in your mouth, as in when you have ‘gappy teeth’. If you suddenly see where I’m coming from, you may exclaim: ‘Oh, op die fiets!’ (‘Oh, on that bike!’).

Thieves’ slang gives a clue on how much a stolen bike would sell for one hundred years ago. A ‘Fiets’ to them is two ‘thalers’, or five guilders. Thieves also may have used bicycles to get away on; hence the use of ‘fiets’ for ‘arms and legs’. When by now you’ve had enough of me, you’re probably telling me to get on my bike, just like the Dutch say: ‘Ga toch fietsen!’  

Marja Kingma, Curator Low Countries Studies

28 July 2014

Chess is good, dice are bad: but what about backgammon?

The Galway Museum  displays a city ordinance of 1528 setting a fine of 20 shillings for the playing of ‘cards, dyce, tabulls, nor no other unlawfull gamys, by young men, and specialle by prentisys nor Irishmen’;  ‘Tabulls’, ‘tables’, is backgammon.

Medieval and early modern fun-spoilers were unanimous in their condemnation of dicing and (later) cards, but less commonly, it seems to me, did they include backgammon in their sights.  


A King and lady playing a board game resembling backgammon, from the Luttrell Psalter (ca.1325-35), British Library MS Add. 42130

Two ideas informed much discussion of leisure activities. Both saw there was a role for entertainment, but such entertainment had to be limited. One such was the scholastic idea  of eutrapelia, virtuous leisure, invoked by fray Juan Bautista Capataz in his censor’s assessment of Cervantes’s Novelas ejemplares in 1612:

supuesto que es sentencia llana del angélico doctor Santo Tomás, que la eutropelia [sic] es virtud, la que consiste en un entretenimiento honesto, juzgo que la verdadera eutropelia está en estas Novelas porque entretienen con su novedad, enseñan con sus ejemplos a huir vicios y seguir virtudes, y el autor cumple con su intento...

[since it is a clear opinion of the angelic doctor St Thomas of Aquinas that eutrapelia is a virtue which consists in a virtuous entertainment, I judge that true eutrapelia is in these Stories because they entertain with their novelty, teach with their examples to flee vices and follow virtues and the author fulfils this intention].

The other was the distinction between games of chance and games of skill.

The condemnation of dicing was unremitting, but backgammon was not always included in such criticism.

A clue lies with the prologue of the Libro de los juegos de ajedrez dados e tablas of Alfonso X of Castile-Leon (1282).  

Segunt cuenta en las historias antiguas, en India la mayor hobo un rey que amaba mucho los sabios e tenielos siempre consigo e facieles mucho a menudo  razonar sobre los fechos que nascien de las cosas. […] El uno dicie que mas valie seso que ventura […]  Ell otro dicie que mas valie ventura que seso […] El tercero dicie que era maior qui pudiese vivir tomando de lo uno e de lo al, e esto era cordura […]
E desque hobieron dichas sus razones much afincadas mandoles el Rey que le aduxiese ende cada uno muestra de prueba de aquello que dicien, e dioles plazo cual le demandaron.   E ellos fueronse e cataron sus libros, cada uno segunt su razon. El cuando llego el plazo, vinieron cada unos antel Rey con su muestra.
E el que tenie razon del seso, troxo el acedrex con sos juegos, mostrando que el que mayor seso hobiese e estudiese apercibudo podrie vencer all otro.
E el segundo que tenie la razon de la ventura troxo los dados mostrando que no valie nada el seso si no la ventura, segunt parescie por la suerte, llegando el homne por ella a pro o danno.
El tercero que dicie que era meior tomar de lo uno e de lo al, troxo el tablero con sus tablas contadas e puestas en sus casa ordenadameintre e con sos dados, que moviesen pora iugar, segunt se muestra en este libro […] en que face entender que por el iuego de ellas que el qui las sopiere bien iogar, que aunque la suerte de los dados le sea contraria, que por la cordura podra iogar con las tablas que esquivara el danno quel puede venir por la aventura de los dados.

[As is told in the ancient histories, in greater India there was a king who greatly loved wise men and kept them always with him and very often made them discuss facts which arose from things. […] One of them said that intelligence was stronger than chance […] The other said that chance was stronger than intelligence […] The third said that the greatest man was he who could live by taking from both one and the other, and this was wisdom. […]
And when they had said their piece most vehemently, the king ordered each to bring before him an example proving what they said, and set them a time-limit, as they asked him.  And they went away and looked in their books, each according to his argument.  And when the time was ended, they came before the king with their example.
And he who spoke for intelligence, brought chess with its games, showing that he who had the most intelligence and was alert could defeat the other.
And he who spoke for fate, brought dice, showing that intelligence was powerless against fate, as was shown by luck, by which man came to advantage or harm.
The third, who said that it was best to take from one and the other, brought the backgammon board with its counters counted and placed in their places in order, so that they could be moved in play, as is shown in this book which speaks separately of this, in which it is made clear that he who knows how to play it well, even if the luck of the dice is against him, will by his wisdom be able to play with
backgammon so that he will avoid the harm that can come to him from the fate of the dice.]

The Alfonsine book, MS T.i.6 of the Escorial Library, is profusely illuminated with scenes of men, ladies Christian and Moorish, and nuns playing peaceably a variety of games; the games themselves are displayed from above, like the problems that they are.  

Alfonso’s introductory fable is of unknown origin, but like many a fable it encapsulates much in little.

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


El Ajedrez de D. Alfonso el Sabio [Chess problems from the work on the game of chess by Alphonso the Wise, solved by J. B. S. P.] (Madrid, 1929).  7916.b.11

Dwayne E. Carpenter, ‘Alea jacta est: At the Gaming Tables with Alfonso the Learned’, Journal of Medieval History, 24 (1998), 333-45.  ZC.9.a.7652

Alexandra Walsham, ‘Godly Recreation: The Problem of Leisure in late Elizabethan and Early Stuart Society’, in Grounds of Controversy: Three Studies in Late 16th and Early 17th Century English Polemics, ed. D E. Kennedy (University of Melbourne History Department, 1989), pp. 7-48.   5536.825000 no 9

25 July 2014

Through the world a mighty voice is ringing…

On 26 July Esperantists world-wide will celebrate Esperanto Day. On this day in 1887 the first manual of Esperanto, known as La Unua Libro, was published in Warsaw. It took the enthusiasts for a new world language 18 years to organise the first international congress in Boulogne-sur-Mer in France in 1905 (photo from Wikimedia Commons below).

Photograph of delegates at the First International Esperanto Congress seated in front of a buliding
Each year after 1905 a World Congress of Esperanto, known in Esperanto as Universala Kongreso, was held in a different country (and often  continent). On 26 July 2014 the 99th World Esperanto Congress  will open in Buenos Aires (Bonaero in Esperanto), Argentina.

The British Library holds various materials from many congresses. British Esperantists were amongst the most enthusiastic pioneers of the Esperanto movement. No wonder that the Third World Congress of Esperanto (after the second in Geneva in 1906) took place in Cambridge.   Three very remarkable men known as “La Trio por la Tria” (The Three for the Third) were in charge: Dr George Cunningham of Cambridge; Colonel John Pollen, President of the British Esperanto Association, and Mr Harold Bolingbroke Mudie, the Vice-President of the London Esperanto Club. The British Library holds a few books about this congress, amongst them  Kongresa Libro (London, 1907; 012002.eee.22) with a description of colleges and other remarkable places in Cambridge for non-British visitors, a translation of “God save the King” (“Gardu la Regon Di’!”), names of people who financially supported the congress (the sum of £1,925 was secured to guarantee the event), and a list of participants who joined the congress before July 1907 (from K.B.R. Aars from Kristiania in Norway to Mr Zinovjev el Poltava, Ukraine, then in the Russian empire). The English-language booklet The Third Esperanto Congress (London, 1907; YF.2012.a.27398) has 32 black-and-white photographic illustrations by Ian Wilson from Glasgow. The one below, captioned “At the Fitzwilliam Museum”, depicts the arrival of Zamenhof (right) and the Mayor (left).

Photograph of Zamenhof and the Mayor of Cambridge arriving at the Fitzwilliam Museum in a horse-drawn carriage
In 2005 the Universal Esperanto Association published a well-illustrated book about the history of Esperanto congresses in 1905-2005: Ziko Marcus Sikosek, Sed homoj kun homoj. Universalaj Kongresoj de Esperanto 1905-2005 (Rotterdam, 2005; YF.2006.a.30996). The title translates as  “But people with people”  and comes from Zamenhof’s  famous speech in Boulogne-sur-Mer. In 1913 the successful 9th Congress, with 1,203 participants, was held in Bern, Switzerland (see the special stamp below). The documentation from this congress, entitled Naua Universala Kongreso de Esperanto (YF.2013.a.209979), was published in 1914 in Paris.

  Commemorative stamp for the 9th Esperanto Congress with an image of a man holding a globe  with a super imposed green star
The 10th World Congress was planned for Paris and the preparations were going ahead throughout 1913-1914. More than three thousands Esperantists joined. Postcards depicting the main venue for the congress, the Palais Gaumont, were duly published. The delegates from various countries, including Dr Zamenhof and his family, all subjects of the  Russian empire,  started their journey to Paris by the end of July 1914.  Then the First World War erupted.  

Coloured postcard in purple and yellow showing landmarks of Paris Chromolith postcard for  the 1914 Congress in Paris (from Wikimedia Commons).

For the next four horrible years “a mighty voice” of hope that “all mankind at last will live as brothers” (poem “The Hope” by Zamenhof written in 1893, translated by Terry Page) was drowned by the noise of guns and human cries. Tomorrow thousands of Esperantists of all nationalities will sing again in Buenos Aires the anthem La Espero (The Hope): En la mondon venis nova sento

You can see fragments from the  Congress of Esperanto in Stokhholm  in the documentary film by Sam Green  The Universal Language.

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Esperanto Studies

22 July 2014

Tauchnitz and Marinack: the famous and the unknown bringing English literature to the Germans

When I started thinking about topics for this series of Anglo-German blogs, publishing and bookselling were naturally on the list, not least the famous Tauchnitz Verlag in Leipzig which published  English literature in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I didn’t expect that an enquiry received in the course of my regular work would alert me to other English-language publishing ventures in 19th-century Germany and to one not at all famous Englishwoman hoping to bring the best of British poetry to the Germans.

To start with the better-known figure: Christian Bernhard Tauchnitz established his publishing house in 1837, and began issuing his ‘Collection of British Authors’ in 1841. At a time when international copyright law was in its infancy, Tauchnitz’s policy of offering fair payment in return for the right to publish and distribute the works of British (and later American) writers on the continent appealed to both authors and publishers in the Anglophone world, and he won many clients and friends among them.

Portrait of Tauchnitz wearing a fur coat and with a medal around his neckPortrait of Christian Bernhard Tauchnitz, from The Harvest; being the record of one hundred years of publishing, 1837-1937, offered in gratitutde to the friends of the firm by Bernard Tauchnitz (Leipzig, 1937)  2710.k.29.

In theory, Tauchnitz’s books were only for sale in continental Europe and bore warning messages against importing them to Britain. This sometimes led to speculation that the books were pirated, whereas in fact the reverse was true: Tauchnitz editions were fully authorised for distribution on the continent but not allowed to compete with the authors’ British publishers on home ground. But many British travellers who purchased Tauchnitz novels while abroad simply brought them back home without any thought for the niceties of publishing and copyright, making the brand familiar even to stay-at-home Britons. The British Library holds one of the world’s largest collections of surviving Tauchnitz editions, the Todd-Bowden collection.

In establishing his business Tauchnitz had an eye for the growing market among English-speaking travellers abroad, but his aim was also to make English literature in the original language available and better known to the German reading public. He was by far the most successful German publisher to venture into this field, but not the only one.  Others, hoping no doubt to rival Tauchnitz’s success, also established series of English literary works, and this is where our less famous figure comes in.

In 1861, one Mary Maria Marinack edited an anthology entitled Selections from the Works of the British Classical Poets... for the illustrious Brockhaus Verlag. The enquiry which  I mentioned came from someone who had a copy of this book and wanted to know more about both it and its compiler. To my surprise I quickly found a reference to Marinack in the standard German biographical dictionary, Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB) – not in her own name but as the wife of a German schoolmaster and educationalist, Karl Eduard Niese. The daughter of “a cultured English family”, born in 1829, Mary married Karl Eduard in 1861 and the couple established a highly successful preparatory school in Thuringia, which even received royal approval when two Princes of Saxe-Weimar were enrolled there.

Title-page of 'Selections from the British Poets'Selections from the works of the British Classical Poets from Shakespeare to Shelley. Systematically arranged with biographical and critical notices by Maria Mary Marinack. (Leipzig, 1851). 11602.f.8.

In the preface to her work Marinack says that an “increase of the general interest throughout Germany in English Literature, particularly Poetry” and her own “fervent admiration for my native Poets” inspired her to compile the collection. No doubt with her husband’s profession in mind, she adds that she has sought “to avoid all that is improper for the perusal of youth” so that “this volume may be safely recommended to the heads of the higher Schools and Institutions.”

At around the same time as Selections from the Works of the British Classical Poets, Brockhaus also published an eight-volume ‘Library of English Poetry’. Marinack’s anthology, although not in that series, was probably part of the same initiative to break into the English-language market.  However, the venture enjoyed little success and was not continued, which probably explains why Marinack’s proposed second and third volumes also came to nothing.

We may know little about the details of Marinack’s life, but she represents not only the personal ties between England and Germany through her marriage, but also the cultural exchange between the two countries in the 19th century. Furthermore, her role in Brockhaus’s brief English-language publishing venture tells a small part of a wider Anglo-German book trade story, one where the infinitely more famous Bernhard Tauchnitz is a major figure.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies


Tauchnitz-Edition: The British Library, London (London, 1992).  ZA.9.d.172(47).

Beiträge zur Rezeption der britischen und irischen Literatur des 19. Jahrhunderts im deutschsprachigen Raum, herausgegeben von Norbert Bachleitner. (Amsterdam, 2000). ZA.9.a.5563(45)

18 July 2014

Jan Karski (1914–2000), a man of exceptional courage, high moral values and humanism

The Polish Parliament declared 2014 to be Jan Karski Year to celebrate the centenary of his birth. Born Jan Kozielewski in Łódź and raised in a Catholic family, he spent his early life in the parts of the city which had been populated by the Jews. He studied law and diplomacy at Lwów University and joined the Polish Foreign Service in 1935. He also completed a military training and achieved the rank of second lieutenant. At the outbreak of the Second World War Karski was imprisoned by the Soviets, but managed to escape the Katyn massacre by being handed over to the Germans during a prisoner exchange. Another lucky escape, from German hands, saved him from being imprisoned in a POW camp in the General Government.

Jan Karski

Photograph of Jan Karski from Righteous Among The Nations

He joined the Polish resistance movement soon after he had successfully reached Warsaw in November 1939 and became a courier for the Polish underground. His mission was to convey information on the situation in occupied Poland to the Polish Government in Exile, based first in France, and, after her surrender to the Germans, in London. He secretly crossed the German borders four times. During a mission in June 1940 Karski was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo, but with the help of the local resistance in Nowy Sącz (southern Poland) he made a narrow escape. He continued his underground activities until 1942. After secretly visiting the Warsaw Ghetto and a concentration camp Karski eventually had to leave Poland. He had been wanted by the Gestapo since his daring escape.  

In Britain, Karski reported on the Nazi atrocities and extermination of European Jews in German-occupied Poland to the Polish government officials and Allied leaders, also meeting with the British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. He then travelled to America where he gave his testimony to President Roosevelt and spoke to other statesmen, politicians, journalists, diplomats and writers about what he had witnessed. However, his heroic efforts to awaken the moral conscience of the Western leaders to the horrendous plight of the Jews were to no avail. They had other priorities. This experience haunted him for the rest of his life.

He used a variety of false identities in the underground and applied for a visa to the United States in 1943 as Jan Karski. After the war he settled down in the States and became an American citizen under this name. His autobiographical book Story of a Secret State was first published in Boston in 1944 ( and was later translated into various languages and published all over Europe and republished in the United States.  

He kept silent about his war activities for over 30 years. He spoke publicly for the first time when he gave an interview for Lanzmann’s Shoah  in 1978.

A recently published illustrated biography, Jan Karski: photobiography (Warsaw, 2014; YF.2014.b.1532), is a fascinating chronicle of his life. It includes photos of Karski’s family, friends and himself alongside documents, notes, maps of his travels and quotes. Short narratives scattered throughout the book provide the historical background of the period.

Magda Szkuta, Curator Polish Studies

16 July 2014

The best days of their lives: going to school in Spain in 1761.

The Jesuits don’t always get a good press, but we Hispanists owe them a great debt: many university libraries inherited their collections of early books from the libraries of the Jesuit schools which came into state hands when the Order was expelled from Spain in 1767.

The Jesuits famously prided themselves on the importance of Education, Education, Education: ‘give me a boy until the age of seven…’.  And in the early modern period Jesuit education was very highly regarded: Lope de Vega, Quevedo and Calderón were old boys of the Colegio Imperial in Madrid.

The Reales Seminarios de Nobles were a series of Jesuit-run schools for the sons of the nobility.

Title-page of 'Constituciones del Real Seminario de Nobles ... de Calatayud' with an ink-stain on the lower marginTitle-page of Constituciones del Real Seminario de Nobles de la Purissima Concepcion de Calatayud (Calatayud, 1761) RB.23.a.36026(1); I hope nobody got into trouble for spilling the ink.

This little book, recently purchased, gives a snapshot of life in the Real Seminario de Nobles of Calatayud (Aragon, north-eastern Spain), founded in 1752. In 1761 there were 81 pupils in place, ‘from all over Spain, and some from the Indies’, aged from 7 to 16.

‘Each boy shall bring clothes, underwear, towels and handkerchiefs suited to his cleanliness’; ‘a little book of Christian doctrine, a wig box, a brush, an inkwell and books and instruments according to his faculty.’ In school they wore clothes from home, but they also had a uniform for street wear: ‘the uniform is to be military, black, with a small wig and sword’.

What about food, glorious food? ‘In the morning, chocolate’ [presumably drinking]; ‘at midday, meat, soup or rice, varying every day, stew (cocido, with chickpeas) and dessert; in the afternoon,  fruit of the season; for supper, salad raw or cooked, or soup; stew (guisado) and dessert’. The Seminary took care of sewing the boys’ clothes (but not patching). There were servants to make the boys’ beds, sweep the floors, bring them lights, cut their hair and dress their wigs.

The timetable is laid down. Up at 6, wash and do hair. 6.30: prayers. 7.15: breakfast and [private] study [in silence]. 8.00: classes, followed by study in their rooms ‘except for those who are studying dance’. 11.30: While the mathematicians, rhetoricians, grammarians and youngest boys have lunch, the philosophers will argue until they have their lunch at 12.

After lunch: games, and for some music or dancing lessons.

Afternoon: 1.15: visit chapel, then study in their rooms. 2.00: classes. 4.15: snack (merienda), games, dancing. 5.30: rosary. 5.45: prayers  and then talks and walks. 8.00: Supper for those who had lunch at 11.30; the philosophers will exercise till supper. After supper: recreation (in winter, in the lighted kitchen; in summer, in the room with the heater [brasero]). 9.30: spiritual reading, examination of conscience, and bed.

In vacation, more time is given to Christian Doctrine, ‘Galateo’ (presumably a courtesy book in the tradition of Della Casa), geography, history, writing letters and practising handwriting.

Though educated by the Church, these boys were to be men active in the world: hence the social accomplishments of dancing and courtesy and the importance of being well-bewigged.

And all this in Latin.

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


Francisco Aguilar Piñal, ‘Los reales Seminarios de Nobles en la política ilustrada española’, Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, no. 356 (febrero 1980), 329-49.

14 July 2014

Vive [la] France! 'Les Dieux ont soif' and the French Revolution

In 1921 the French author Anatole France (1844-1924; photo below from Wikimedia Commons) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature ‘in recognition of his brilliant literary achievements, characterized as they are by a nobility of style, a profound human sympathy, grace, and a true Gallic temperament’. He had been a member of the Académie Française, and in 1927 the Symbolist author Paul Valéry was elected to succeed him among the Immortels. Tradition decreed that he should deliver a eulogy in honour of his predecessor, but instead the new Academician proceeded to launch an attack on France’s humble origins as the son of a Paris bookseller, his prose style, his politics and his pusillanimous nature. What was responsible for the discrepancy between the international acclaim which France received abroad and the vicious obloquy meted out to him in his own country so soon after his death?

Photograph of Anatole France in 1921

Many of the reasons can be found in the resentment felt by Valéry and his fellow Symbolists at what they perceived as France’s mockery of their work. In reaction against the Romanticism of the early nineteenth century, he had written in the tradition of the Realist movement, and never more brilliantly than in his novel of the French Revolution, Les Dieux ont soif (Paris, 1912; British Library 12550.ppp.22).

Variously translated as The Gods are Athirst and The Gods will have Blood, this is the story of a young man, Evariste Gamelin, who during the Terror undergoes a transformation from a devoted son and sensitive artist to a fanatical member of the Commune prepared to despatch countless victims, including his own brother-in-law, to the guillotine, and ends up, like Robespierre, being destroyed by the Revolution itself in a coup which outlaws the entire General Council which supported the rebellious Commune. France mercilessly portrays the inexorable corruption of the principles on which the revolution was based as the Terror gathers momentum and sweeps bewildered and hapless innocents – an old bread-woman, for example, accused of plotting to rescue the Queen – into the Tuileries and onto the tumbrils on trumped-up charges of counter-revolutionary activities. The appearance of Marie Antoinette in court is almost incidental in the general turbulence, described in a brief throwaway paragraph or two. France shows how the personal and political are equally polluted as Gamelin becomes increasingly delusional, condemning a blameless young man to death on false evidence as he is convinced that the latter was the man who had seduced his mistress Elodie, and a disturbing element of increasingly frenzied and hectic sado-masochism marks their relationship.  He illustrates the decline of lofty ideals to the squalor and squabbling of the Paris mob in a bread queue and dogs licking yesterday’s blood below the guillotine. Yet alongside these he creates painterly scenes of startling beauty – two women preparing quinces for jam-making, a small Savoyard boy entertaining passers-by with a dancing marmot – which complement the background of Gamelin, an artist, and Elodie, an art-dealer’s daughter. He also presents the reader with an entirely convincing depiction of a truly good man in the figure of the former aristocrat and avowed atheist Brotteaux, who rides on his last journey between a former monk and a young prostitute and offers comfort to them both.

Pictures of French revolutionary playing cards with republican allegorical female figures

A set of revolutionary playing-cards from 1790-92, similar to those designed by Evariste Gamelin in the novel, showing republican motifs including the elements, the seasons and values associated with the declaration of the Rights of Man, from Egalité-sur-Marne (Château-Thierry), in Henri-René d’Allemagne, Les Cartes à jouer du XIVe au XXe siècle (Paris, 1906) LB.31.c.6035. 

France himself had seen at first hand the duplicity and deformation of ideals betrayed and political cynicism during the Dreyfus trial, and his action in coming to Dreyfus’s defence and thereby risking his social and literary reputation was not that of a timorous man. Moreover, the scrupulous precision with which he handled language stemmed from his conviction of the importance of preserving it from the kind of creeping debasement in the service of ideology which George Orwell, one of his greatest admirers, would later identify in his essay Politics and the English Language (London, 1946; shelfmark 12987.h.3.).

Two years after the publication of Les Dieux ont soif, France’s country, with the rest of Europe, would be plunged into another conflict which, Cronus-like, devoured its children as pitilessly as the Revolution did Gamelin. His evocation of the terrible consequences of fanaticism and the belief that any means are justifiable to achieve its aims endowed his greatest novel with an eerily prophetic quality in the years preceding the First World War, and continue to give it a timeless relevance today.

Susan Halstead, Curator Czech and Slovak

11 July 2014

You’ve got to shoot, or you can’t score.

This blog’s title is a famous saying amongst the Dutch and came from Johan Cruijff, former football player, coach and true football expert: I just know a lot about football. It is a typical ‘Cruijffinian’ remark: brilliant and blindingly obvious at the same time. He could have said it after Wednesday’s semi-final against Argentina, when Holland just couldn’t score, not even at the penalty shoot-out. Apparently it is received wisdom that you can’t train on penalties, something Jan Mulder, sports journalist and author doesn’t agree with. “Indestructibly lodged in heads: one cannot train on penalties, it’s a lottery.”  

Johan_Cruyff_1974cPhoto of Johan Cruijff from Wikimedia Commons

But then “every disadvantage has its advantage”, another one of Cruijff’s sayings one cannot argue with and that has become part of colloquial Dutch. Playing the host nation Brazil tomorrow should be more fun than playing Germany, who will win anyway, won’t they?  “Soccer is a game for 22 people that run around, play the ball, and one referee who makes a slew of mistakes, and in the end Germany always wins," is one of Gary Lineker’s staples and seems to hold true so far.

Browsing both books and websites for quotes on the beautiful game threw up gems like Johan Cruijff Uitspraken, collated by Sytze de Boer (2011), which saw three editions in 2 years. It makes for a very entertaining read, almost like a biography, with the quotes in Cruijff's unique style grouped according to themes.

Cover of 'Johan Cruijff Uitspraken'

Cover of Johan Cruijff Uitspraken (Amsterdam, 2011) YF.2012.a.34510

Cruijff is one of the most written and talked about football players ever to have graced the pitch. Henk Spaan, a sports journalist and poet, published De zoon van Cruijff en andere gedichten (‘The Son of Cruijff and other poems’) a collection of poems about players such as Ronald de Boer, Ronaldo and Jordi Cruijff. He co-edited a collection of essays by and about authors writing about football, which doubled as the catalogue for an exhibition at the Literary Museum in The Hague. And he forms part of the editorial team of probably the only literary football magazine in the Netherlands, if not the world: Hard Gras. Although the Library does not subscribe to this magazine, we do buy loose issues.

Cover of 'De zoon van Cruijff en andere gedichten' with a photograph of a model footballer kicking a ball

Cover of Henk Spaan, De zoon van Cruijff en andere gedichten (Amsterdam, 1995) YA.1996.a.5432

The already quoted Jan Mulder, former player for Ajax (1972-1975) and RSC Anderlecht (1965-1972), swapped his boots for the pen. In the nineties he teamed up with Remco Campert, one of the most distinguished Dutch authors of the 20th Century to write columns for a national newspaper. Between 1997 and 2006 these writings were compiled into annual overviews and published as books.

Simon Kuper writes prolifically about football (in English!), examining and exploring technical, economical and historical aspects of the game. His book Ajax, the Dutch, the war gives a remarkable insight in Dutch history by studying the war through the lens of football.

MAKCruijff3Cover of Jacques Thibert and Max Urbini, Johann Cruyff: Superstar, translated by Helen Paniguian (London, 1975) X.619/15177

The reason these titles make it into our Dutch Language collections is that they represent an important part of popular Dutch culture. Both academic dissertations on football as well as compilations of newspaper columns offer great opportunities for historic, sociological and other research and therefore deserve to be read.

As for the game against Brazil tomorrow, the Orange team better keep ball possession, because as Cruijff acutely observed: ‘As long as you have the ball, they can’t score’.

Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch Language Collections.


 Sytze de Boer, Johan Cruijff Uitspraken. (S.l.,  2011)   YF.2012.a.34510

CAMU  1996. Amsterdam, 1997;   YA.1999.a.9994

Johan Cruijff, Voetbal. (Amsterdam, 2012) YF.2014.a.18466.

Simon Kuper, Ajax, the Dutch, the war  (London,  2011)  YK.2012.a.4425

Simon Kuper, Soccernomics. (London, 2012) YK.2013.a.3978.

Henk Spaan (ed.), Literatuur met een doel. (Amsterdam, 2000) YA.2000.a.14353


Frits Barend, Henk van Dorp, Ajax, Barcelona, Cruyff  (London, 2000) YK.2000.a.4838

Chris Keulemans (former Arsenal), Overal om me heen is ruimte: verhalen uit de bovenhoek. (Amsterdam, 1992) YA.1993.a.20545

C.G.M. Miermans, Voetbal in Nederland, (Assen, 1955) 7920.c.51

Nico Scheepmaker, Cruijff, Hendrik Johannes: fenomeen 1947-1984. (Weesp, [1984]) X.629/24721.

09 July 2014

The [literary] godfather: Jan Neruda (1834-1891)

As a teenager, the future poet Pablo Neruda  faced a hazard common to many aspiring poets: parental disapproval. To avoid his stern father’s embargo on a literary career, he decided to publish under a pseudonym, and was attracted by a name which he happened to glimpse in a magazine. He adopted the surname, and achieved fame under it without realising that it belonged to one of the best-loved Czech writers of the 19th century, born on 9 July 1834.

Title-page of a study of Neruda with a frontispiece portrait of the poet

Portrait of Jan Neruda from a  lithograph by Max Švabinský opposite the title-page of Arne Novák’s monograph on the author (Prague, 1920) X.907/4159

Like his future namesake, Jan Neruda could hope for little support for any literary ambitions which he might have harboured as the son of a grocer supplying various barracks in Prague’s Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter). His father, who had fought against Napoleon but failed to make a fortune,  no doubt hoped that his son’s education at Prague’s German schools would equip him for a solid career, but after studying law and trying teaching and the civil service, the young Jan entered a field which still retains a reputation for glamour and insecurity – journalism.

True to the language of his education, he took up his first post on a German newspaper, the Tagesbote aus Böhmen (‘Messenger from Bohemia’). However, in the 1860s it was gradually becoming possible for a Czech speaker to earn a living as a journalist as the efforts of the first generation of the National Revival bore fruit in the form of political, cultural, literary and family periodicals. Although their circulation numbered only a few thousand, the reformers saw them as a means of educating the Czech-speaking public and circulating enlightened political ideas, and thus established a tradition of poets and authors as potential leaders and shapers of national policy which continued into the 20th century and reached its apotheosis in the figure of Václav Havel.

Neruda’s first publication, however, was a small volume of elegiac poems influenced by Heinrich Heine, Hřbitovní kvítí (‘Graveyard Flowers’: 1857; the British Library holds an edition with woodcuts by Petr Dillinger issued in 1941 on the 50th anniversary of Neruda’s death at Cup.408.c.13). In the course of his journalistic career, though, he published 2,260 feuilletons, which form the largest section of his 41-volume complete works. They include sketches from his wide-ranging travels and aperçus of Prague life, both high and low, as well as theatre criticism, political comment, and even a series of articles on the ballet and the history of dance. Although many are not available to readers unable to tackle Czech, the most popular of his works, the collection Povídky malostranské (‘Tales of the Lesser Quarter’; Prague, 1877: 1607/3032) has been translated several times.

Turning the pages of these Realist stories, the reader is transported back to the world of Neruda’s childhood, and the atmosphere of his father’s grocery store is precisely evoked in the first tale with its description of such a shop scented with ‘the odour of fir or pine wood, the tallow and lard, and lastly dried plums, cumin, brandy, garlic and the like’. We encounter all kinds of characters – students, small shopkeepers, servant-girls, doctors, petty officials and purse-proud widows – depicted with a blend of quirky humour, pathos and sharp observation tempered with humanity which has often been compared to that of Dickens.

It is significant that these stories were written at a time when Neruda felt a need to return to the security of his childhood world after the death of his beloved mother. He never married, despite an engagement to Anna Holinová, a long-term relationship with the author Karolína Světla, and two romances with very young girls in later life. His mother, to whom some of his finest verse is dedicated, was the most significant female figure in his life. His various loves, however, inspired a series of outstanding lyric poems, such as the cycle Prosté motivy (‘Simple Motifs’, Prague, 1883;, whose themes from nature are closely allied to his intimate diaries. His poetry also includes ballads and romances on subjects such as the cosmos, Czech history and Biblical themes, handled with a dry wit and scepticism, as in the ‘Ballad of the Three Kings’, where the infant Jesus roundly declares to his sycophantic visitors:

You kings have come while I am still a child to visit here,
And the apostles’ liberty one day you will revere:
But, when I am full grown to manhood strong,
And after me disciples come to throng,
In terror you will put your heads together in a trice,
And from dull-witted beadles you will go and take advice

(translated by Susan Reynolds)

The lasting popularity of his poems is evident from the fact that in 1941 the Czech émigré press Čechoslovák commemorated the 50th anniversary of his death with a small volume entitled Jan Neruda: básník vzdoru a víry (‘Jan Neruda: poet of resistance and faith’; X908/82483) introducing a selection of his verse with a preface emphasizing his relevance to the Czechoslovak people during the dark days of the Protectorate.

Cover of 'Jan Neruda: básník vzdoru a víry'

A thorough professional to the end of his life, Neruda wrote to his editor on 22 August 1891 apologizing for his delay in submitting a piece as he was feeling unwell – and died that same day.

The street in the heart of Prague where he was born is now known as Nerudová in his honour, and his grave in the Vyšehrad cemetery overlooking the city is never without flowers. Producing up to five feuilletons a week at times, his dedication provides us with an inspiring example – and he would doubtless have applauded the emergence of the blog as a 21st-century means of carrying on his efforts to disseminate Czech culture and connect the folk of Malá Strana with the wider world.


Neruda’s Grave, picture from Wikimedia Commons)

Susan Halstead, Curator Czech & Slovak

07 July 2014

Not just cycling: the other Tours de France

Today London hosts the finish of the third of the three British stages of this year’s Tour de France. 

Yet the idea of a tour of France is an old one, and this blog will be about some of the antecedents of the cycle race: a royal tour of early modern France, the tour de France completed by journeymen in the 19th century, and a best-selling primary school textbook, Le tour de France par deux enfants, first published in 1877.

On 24 January 1564 the young king Charles IX and the Queen Mother Catherine de’ Medici set off on a royal progress that lasted until 1 May 1566, and took in most the country. The aim of the journey, which took place during the peace after the first War of Religion, was to display the king to his Catholic and Protestant subjects alike, and stamp his authority on his riven kingdom.  The royal party travelled south down Eastern France into Provence and on to Languedoc and back up south-western and western France finally returning to Paris via the central province of Auvergne. The itinerary included stopovers in non-French border regions such as the Duchy of Lorraine and the Comtat Venaissin, a papal enclave. Just like the modern Tour de France, Abel Jouan’s 1566 account of the royal tour (reprinted Paris, 1759; 1321.c.1.) includes an indication of the distance travelled for each stage, and he also tells us that the King completed a total of 902 leagues, roughly 4,000 kilometres.

Apprentice craftsmen completed a ‘Tour de France’ lasting several years to learn their trade culminating in the production of a ‘chef d’oeuvre’ (masterpiece). Their journey was sustained by associations known as ‘compagnonnages’, quasi-masonic brotherhoods, which provided inns run by a ‘Mother’ in each town. The ‘compagnonnages’, of late medieval origin, but particularly strong in the early 19th century, still exist and today artisans can still complete a tour de France lasting from five to eight years. The best- known ‘compagnon’ is the joiner Agricol Perdiguier (1805-1875), also known as ‘Avignonnais-la-Vertu’ from his home town of Avignon. In his Mémoires d’un compagnon (Geneva, 1854-1855), Perdiguier describes in great detail the ‘Tour de France’ that he undertook between 1824 and 1828. The novelist George Sand, who greatly admired his earlier book, Le livre du compagnonnage (Paris, 1839) based the character of the carpenter Pierre Huguenin, the protagonist of her novel Le compagnon du tour de France  on Perdiguier (Brussels, 1841; 1458.b.15) and English translation (Dublin, 1849; 12518.c.34.).

  Covers of Perdiguier's memoir with a portrait of the author wearing a tall hat and carrying a staffAn edition of Perdiguier's memoir of his  ‘Tour de France’ as a journeyman (Moulins, 1914) 010662.dd.26

Le tour de France par deux enfants  (Paris, 1877; revised edition 1906) published under the name G. Bruno, but really by Augustine Fouillée (1833-1923), is an illustrated didactic and patriotic schoolbook.  Two orphaned brothers, André (14) and Julien (seven), observe their dying father’s last wish and travel to France from Lorraine, annexed by Germany after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, over the Vosges mountains during the night to evade the border guards to find their uncle in Marseille and become French citizens. The children travel round much of the country (there are local maps throughout). They discover the variety of its regions and the occupations of its people from agriculture to industry as well as the lives of its great men.  The book shares its nation-building ideology with contemporary European classics for schoolchildren such as Edmondo De AmicisCuore (‘Heart’) with its monthly story set in different regions of the newly unified Italian peninsula or Selma Lagerlöf’s The Wonderful Adventures of Nils which describes the varied geography of Sweden. Unlike these works, however,  Fouillée’s book is devoid of literary merit.

Illustration of two boys on a mountain path at nightCrossing the mountains by night; illustration from Le tour de France par deux enfants (13ème édition, Paris 1878) 12202.eee.14

Founded in 1903, today’s Tour de France, a multi-stage three-week cycle race, has a different itinerary each year, but always consists of a circuit of France, la Grande Boucle (great loop), increasingly with stages in neighbouring countries, covering about  3,500 kilometres in total.  It too is designed to showcase the regional variety of (mainland) French landscapes and cultural heritage. It also aims to reinforce the national identity and unity of mainland France known as the ‘Hexagon’ after its shape, implying ‘natural’ boundaries created since time immemorial, rather than built progressively over the centuries through marriage alliances and territorial annexations. For example in 1906 through to 1910, with the agreement of the German authorities, the race passed over the Vosges into the ‘lost’ former French territory of Alsace-Lorraine. French spectators reportedly sang the ‘Marseillaise’.  The 2014 itinerary, meanwhile, commemorates the anniversary of the First World War with visits to Ypres, the Chemin des Dames and Verdun.

Teresa Vernon, Lead Curator Romance Collections