European studies blog

12 posts from January 2015

30 January 2015

Mind your Head! Constantijn Huygens’ response to Charles I’s execution.

30 January is a red-letter day in British history. On this day in 1649 King Charles I was beheaded. This of course led to a period of ten years without a monarch. In 1660 Charles’ son returned to England from exile and was crowned Charles II. But the consequences of Charles I’s death were felt far beyond British shores. In Holland they looked on in amazement. How could the British execute their own king? One Hollander who was moved to verse in response to the execution was Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687),  who served as secretary to two stadholders. He spoke eight languages, and wrote around 75,000 lines of verse in Latin, French and Dutch. He also was an accomplished lute player and father to the famous scientist Christiaan Huygens.

Portrait of Constantijn Huygens’ by Jan Lievens, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (Image taken from Wikimedia Commons)

He knew London well, visiting it seven times during his life, as well as having relatives there. He penned a Dutch couplet to commemorate this ‘inhumane’ act:

Was ’t heden dats’ een Bijl drij Croonen in een’ slagh
Met een geheilight Hoofd onmenschlick vellen sagh?
[Was it today that she (i.e. the Sun) saw an Axe, with one blow,
Inhumanely fell three Crowns and a holy Head?]

The execution of Charles I, from  The Famous Tragedie of King Charles I. (London, 1709). British Library 643.c.7

In a Latin quatrain, Huygens seeks to find a connection between the weather and Charles’ execution:  

Miramur sine sole diem quo Regia et insons
Carnifici populo victima caesa fuit?
Qui facit hoc, Coeli pudor est, quod criminis ille,
Ille fuit testis non sine sole dies.
 [Do we see a day without sun, on which the Royal and innocent
Victim was executed by murderous people?
Whoever does this is a disgrace to Heaven, because that day of crime,
That day was a witness not without sun.]

Huygens also had harsh words for Oliver Cromwell  whom he held responsible for Charles’ death. After the Restoration, Cromwell was disinterred and his head stuck on the Tower of Westminster Hall.  Huygens clearly saw Cromwell’s head looking down at him and responded with some Dutch couplets, one of which runs:

Dit hoofd wouw ‘topperhoofd van alle hoofden leven.
Hier is het half geluckt, daer schort niet aen als ‘tLeven.
 [This head wanted as the head above all heads to live.
Here, it has half succeeded, it lacks nothing but Life.]

Oliver Cromwell, illustration by J. H. W. Unger from Pieter Lodewijk Muller, Onze Gouden Eeuw. De Republiek der Vereenigde Nederlanden in haar bloeitijd ... (Leiden, 1896-98) 9415.d.2.

There is a certain irony here of course for some 30 years earlier, the Grand Pensionary, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt,  met a similar end. In that case, the ‘Cromwell’ was Maurits, Prince of Orange.  Huygens was a life-long supporter of the House of Orange, and so perhaps did not find fault with Maurits in this regard. For the British the execution demonstrated the strength of Parliament in the face of Charles’ attempts to gain absolute power. Both Britain and Holland (the Netherlands) have monarchs today, although thankfully neither monarch, Elizabeth II or Willem-Alexander, has attempted to gain absolute power!

Dr. Christopher Joby, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul

References and further reading

Constantijn Huygens, De gedichten van Constantijn Huygens, naar zijn handschrift uitgegeven door Dr. J. A. Worp. (Groningen, 1892-1899). Vol. 8  11557.i.4. 

Constantijn Huygens, Nederlandsche gedichten. (Schiedam,  1884). YF.2011.a.26562

Christopher Joby,  ‘A Dutchman Abroad: Poetry written by Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687) in England’. In: The Seventeenth Century, Vol. 28 (2013) nr 2, p. 187-206. ZC.9.a.3070

Christopher Joby, The Multilingualism of Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687). (Amsterdam,  2015). Awaiting shelfmark

Christopher Joby, Poems on the Lord's Supper by the Dutch Calvinist Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687). (Lewiston, N.Y, 2008). YC.2009.a.3241

Christopher Joby, The Dutch language in Britain (1550-1702) (Leiden, 2014). Awaiting shelfmark


28 January 2015

Beauty in word and image

Rumours of the demise of page 3 and news of the Royal Academy’s Rubens exhibition have inspired considerations on the concept of beauty in art and text.

Rubens in the popular mind is associated with a particular female type, though he seems only to have had an adjective of his own since 1834:

Characteristic or suggestive of the paintings of Rubens; esp. (of a woman’s figure) full and rounded.  1834 J. Landseer Catal. Pictures in National Gallery 243: If not picturesque, however, according to the modern construction and present use of that term, the subject is Rubensesque.  (OED)

The curious thing to me is that there seems to be no parallel between word and image in Rubens’s time.

For the earlier period it’s simple enough to illustrate from art the verbal descriptio puellae laid down in the medieval arts of poetry:

let her arms be pleasing, as slender in their form as delightful in their length.  Let substance soft and lean join together in her slender fingers, and appearance smooth and milk white, lines long and straight [...] Let her breast, a picture of snow, bring forth either bosom [sic] as if they were, in effect, uncut jewels side by side.  Let the circumference of her waist be narrowly confined, circumscribable by the small reach of a hand.  I am silent about the parts just below [...] But let her leg for its part realize its length in slenderness [...] (tr. Murphy p. 54)

Thus this description by Geoffrey of Vinsauf (Chaucer calls him Gaufred) c. 1210 can be illustrated by this picture of Bathsheba c. 1485.

David & Bathsheba          David and Bathsheba, from  French Book of Hours, ca. 1485. British Library MS Harley 2863

But when Góngora writes of female beauty and the urgent need to enjoy it, he’s closer to Geoffrey than to Rubens:

Mientras por competir con tu cabello,
oro bruñido al sol relumbra en vano;
mientras con menosprecio en medio el llano
mira tu blanca frente el lilio bello;
Mientras a cada labio, por cogello,
siguen más ojos que al clavel temprano;
y mientras triunfa con desdén lozano
del luciente cristal tu gentil cuello:
Goza cuello, cabello, labio y frente,
antes que lo que fue en tu edad dorada
oro, lilio, clavel, cristal luciente,
No sólo en plata o viola troncada
se vuelva, mas tu y ello juntamente
en tierra, en humo, en polvo, en sombra, en nada.

While burnished gold gleams in vain in the sun to compete with your hair;/ while in the middle of the plain your white brow gazes on the fair lily with disdain;/ while more eyes follow each lip to kiss them [each lip] than [follow] the early carnation;/ and while your slender neck triumphs over gleaming crystal with self-assured scorn: enjoy your neck, hair, lips and brow, before what was in your golden youth, gold, lily, carnation, gleaming crystal not only turns to silver or to drooping violet but you and all of it together [turn] into earth, smoke, dust, shadow, nothing. (tr. at Spain Then and Now).

The arts of painting and poetry were commonly said to be sisters.  But only to a point.  When he said ‘Ut pictura poesis’, Horace didn’t actually mean that the arts were analogous in a general way.  In context – and context is all –  he says ‘A poem is like a painting; the closer you stand to this one the more it will impress you, whereas you have to stand a good distance from that one; this one demands rather a dark corner, but that one needs to be seen in full light, and will stand up to the scrutiny of the art critic; this one only pleased you the first time you saw it, but that one will go on giving pleasure however often it is looked at.’ (Dorsch, 91-2).

And the pleasure of the eye is not the pleasure of the ear.

 Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic studies


Three medieval rhetorical arts, ed. James J. Murphy (Berkeley 1971) X.981/2867

Wesley Trimpi, ‘Horace’s Ut pictura poesis’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 36 (1973), 1-34. Ac.4569/7.

Classical literary criticism, tr. T. S. Dorsch (Harmondsworth, 1965)  W.P.513/155.


26 January 2015

Haggis and houšky: Robert Burns in many guises

All over the world this morning, loyal Scots will be waking up after a night of feasting on neeps and tatties accompanying the haggis which was piped in and greeted with a ceremonial address, songs and recitation, and a glass raised in honour to ‘The Immortal Memory’ of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns (1759-96). The Burns Night supper is traditionally an occasion to pay homage to ‘the Bard’, as Robert Crawford’s biography terms him, and his birthday, 25 January, is celebrated far beyond the boundaries of his native Ayrshire.

Picture of Burns sitting at a desk with pen and papersThe pensive Burns from Robert Burns' Gedichte. Uebertragen von H. Julius Heintze (Leipzig, 1859) 11642.a.6

Yet despite the enthusiasm with which his fellow Scots pay tribute to their greatest poet, devotion is not confined to those who share his native language. A conference held in 2009 at the Charles University in Prague, examining his place in European literature and his influence on it offered ample proof of that, concluding with a rousing rendition of  ‘Auld Lang Syne’ – alternate verses sung in Scots and Czech, with the chorus in the singers’ language of choice. Many of the papers presented examined translations of Burns’s poetry into other languages, and the challenges which the task of rendering his verse into their own tongues presents to those unfamiliar with Scots vocabulary.

The British Library was represented by a paper entitled ‘Haggis and houšky [Czech rolls]: two Czech translations of Burns’, discussing the classic version by the Czech poet Josef Václav Sládek (Prague, 1892; 1607/3720) and comparing it with a modern selection of verses by Burns translated for a ‘Burns evening’ held in 1999 at a school for visually impaired young people in Prague in partnership with a similar institution in Scotland. The British Library holds no. 59 of 75 copies published in a limited edition (YA.2003.b.1622). Lively and inventive, the new versions provide a welcome insight into the problems facing Burns translators, as in ‘Tam o’Shanter’, where the dubious lady Kirkton Jean with whom Tam’s wife Kate accuses him of carousing into the small hours of Monday morning undergoes a strange metamorphosis (under French influence?) into Kirkton Jan.

Covers of some translations of Burns's poetry
                A sample of the BL’s holdings of Burns poetry translated into different languages

Not surprisingly, in view of the strong social message of many of his poems, Burns soon attracted attention and translators in Russia and Ukraine. The first Russian translations of his work appeared in 1800. The great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko had a considerable affection for Burns’s poetry. Among notable interpreters who spread their popularity in the Soviet Union we may mention Samuil Marshak, whose 1947 translation into Russian may be found in the British Library’s collections (Robert Berns v perevodakh S. Marshaka, Izbrannoe; Moscow, 1947;  X.989/30066) as well as the 1957 edition.  You can find on YouTube, among many others,  a modern performance by the popular Soviet singer Lev Leshchenko.

German, too, has its fair share of Burns translations, among which Julius Heintze’s 1859 edition appears in the British Library catalogue, adorned with a frontispiece showing the poet in pensive mood. He gives a vivid and spirited rendition of a wide range of poems, including ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’ (‘Des Landmanns Samstagabend’) and the newly-ennobled ‘Tom von Shanter’, but here too Kirkton Jean fares no better, and emerges as ‘Kirkton Johnny’.

‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’ also appealed to the Dutch translator Pol de Mont, whose Zaterdagavond op het land (Amsterdam, 1888; 1578/8069) is described on the title-page as a free version (‘vrij bewerkt naar Robert Burns’), but deserves attention for its charming illustrations (picture below).

Illustrated pages from 'Zaterdagavond op het land'

Those wishing to stick to Burns in the original may call up the third edition of Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, and admire the likeness of the Bard by Alexander Nasmyth which is perhaps the most famous of his portraits. It is also possible to see the manuscript of ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’ on the British Library’s Discovering Literature website.

Portrait of Robert Burns Nasmyth’s portrait as reproduced in Burns’s Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, 3rd edition (London, 1787; 1164.g.7)

Whether you are a long-standing devotee of Burns or have yet to explore the riches of his vocabulary (English cannot match the expressive power of ‘skellum’, ‘drouthy’ or the ‘ghaists and houlets’ which haunt Tam’s homeward ride), we wish you a happy journey of discovery through the ‘lang Scots miles’ of his poetry, in whatever language you experience it.

Susan Halstead, Curator Czech & Slovak

23 January 2015

Avant-garde Russian theatre in the 1920s

Having just viewed the excellent exhibition Russian Avant-garde Theatre at the Victoria & Albert Museum, I was reminded that many of the images on display appear in items held by the British Library. For example Ignaty Nivinsky’s  designs for a production of Carlo Gozzi’s Turandot can be found in a book on Yevgeny Vakhtangov’s  production of the play at the Moscow Arts Theatre in 1923.

Turando Carlo Gozzi, Princessa Turandot. (Moscow, 1923). Cover by I. Nivinsky. British Library Cup.410.c.86.

This book, which is particularly well-produced for the early Soviet period, contains coloured plates of set and costume designs together with production photographs. Vakhtangov, in common with other radical innovative directors such as Tairov, Evreinov and Meyerhold, rejected the naturalistic style and showed a preference for simplicity of setting with a synthetic mix of tragedy and farce including clowning and acrobatics. In Princessa Turandot Vakhtangov also drew inspiration from the commedia dell’arte and oriental theatre and made use of alienation effects where characters changed costume on stage and sometimes came out of character and talked to the audience.  

Turandot2Set design for Vakhtangov’s production of Princessa Turandot.

Vsevolod Meyerhold’s  designers were equally innovatory in applying Constructivist principles to stage design. In The Magnanimous Cuckold Liubov Popova created a three-dimensional form like stage architecture bridging the audience/stage divide, and in Restive Earth made use of the whole auditorium with multimedia, film screens and montage.

Cuckold Popova’s design for The Magnanimous Cuckold. From Joseph Gregor & René Fülöp-Miller, The Russian Theatre, translated by Paul England. (London, 1930)

In the V&A exhibition there are several examples of theatrical designs by Anatol Petrytsky, who was a central figure of the Ukrainian avant-garde. Petrytsky studied at the Kyiv Art School and the Advanced Artistic Theatrical Workshop in Moscow, where he worked with the  ballet-master Kasyan Goleyzovsky, designing costumes for his innovative Eccentric Dance. Costume designs for this ballet appear in a deluxe album called Teatral'ni stroi [Theatre designs]. (Kharkiv, 1929; C.185.bb3.)

Eccentric dance2
Costume designs by Petrytsky for the ballet Eccentric dance, from Petrytsky, Teatral'ni stroi

These sketches exemplify the Constructivist approach to costume design, reducing the human form to basic geometrical shapes and emphasising the machine-like qualities of the human body and its movements. The album also includes designs for productions based on works by Gogol, the opera William Tell and the ballet Nur and Anitra (1923), including this design for a warrior.

Petrytsk'yi warrior costumeWarrior in a constructivist design costume from Teatral'ni stroi

The British Library has also acquired some issues of Zrelishcha (Spectacles), an early Soviet-period equivalent of Time Out, listing musical, theatrical and dance events. On one of the covers appear the Electrical dances of Nikolai Foregger. He applied Constructivist and biomechanical acting ideas to dance, producing machin-like dance creations which combined the styles of cinematic action, circus acrobatics and the music-hall.

Zrelishcha   Cover of Zrelishcha no 26 (Moscow, 1923), showing Foregger’s  “Electrical Dances”. RF.2005.b.46.

Our Russian and Soviet theatre webpages contain a list of works in Russian relating to Russian/Soviet theatre published between 1910 and 1935 and held by the British Library, including books about theatre, theoretical works, manifestos and criticisms of individual productions of both classics and new plays of the period (but not the texts).

Peter Hellyer, Curator Russian studies

Useful sources

Kamernyi teatr i ego khudozhniki. Kamerny 1914-1934 [Theatre and its artists 1914-1934]. (Moscow, 1934).

K. Rudnitsky, Russian & Soviet Theatre. (London, 1988). LB.31.b.1503.

Joseph Gregor, René Fülöp-Miller,  Das russische Theater. (Zurich, 1928). L.R.255.a.16. [Translated by Paul England as The Russian Theatre (London, 1930)

Peter W.  Hellyer, A catalogue of Russian avant-garde books 1912-1934 and 1969-2003. (London, 2006) YC.2008.b.251

Russian avant-garde theatre: war, revolution & design. Edited by John E. Bowlt. (London, 2014). Awaiting shelfmark.  There is a review of this work by Vera Liber in  East-West Review, Winter edition 2014, p.49-50. ZK.9.b.28654

Breaking the rules: the printed face of the European Avant-Garde 1900-1937. Edited by Stephen Bury. (London, 2007). YC.2008.b.251.

21 January 2015

Memories of a Nation: British Library loans at the British Museum

The British Museum’s exhibition ‘Germany – Memories of a Nation’ and the accompanying BBC Radio series have followed on from Museum Director Neil McGregor’s earlier ‘Histories in Objects’ projects, using artefacts from 600 years of German history “to investigate the complexities of addressing a …history which is full of both triumphs and tragedies.”

The objects in question include many spectacular loans – from Tischbein’s famous portrait of Goethe in Italy to Barlach’s hovering angel from Güstrow (and not forgetting a VW Beetle in the Museum’s Great Court). The British Library also lent a number of items, and as they prepare to return home after the exhibition closes on 25 January, here is a brief description.

Among the first exhibits visitors see is a map of Germany, printed in Eichstätt in 1494 (British Library Maps C.2.a.1), one of the items used to illustrate Germany’s changing borders over six centuries. A far larger map of a far smaller area is the ‘Seld Map’ (Maps *30415.(6.)) showing the city of Augsburg in the early 16th century, which is used to exemplify the power and importance of the ‘Free Imperial Cities’ of the Holy Roman Empire. It is easy to become lost in both maps: in the Eichstätt one trying to work out the geography and identify the different cities, and in the Augsburg one simply enjoying the meticulous detail of the streets and buildings and of the small figures passing to and fro among them.

One of the Library’s two copies of the Gutenberg Bible is placed in the section of the exhibition highlighting German technological achievements and inventions, in this case the printing press, perhaps the most influential invention in Western history. This is the copy printed on paper from King George III’s library (C.9.d.3-4); the other is on vellum and belonged to the collector Thomas Grenville(G.12226).

Gutenberg Bible
The opening page of the Gutenberg Bible (Mainz, ca 1455) C.9.d.3.

Another Bible, printed less than a century after Gutenberg’s invention, shows how far printing technology had advanced in that time. However, it is not in the exhibition primarily as an example of printing but rather to illustrate the huge influence that its translator, Martin Luther, had on Germany’s religious life and on the German language. This particular Luther Bible from 1541 (679.i.15 and 679.i.16) is one of my own favourite British Library treasures. It is a large-format edition, bound in two volumes, each bearing a handwritten inscription by Luther himself; the first volume also has inscriptions by fellow-reformers Johannes Bugenhagen, Georg Major and Philipp Melanchthon.

Luther Bible
The Bible in Martin Luther’s translation: Biblia, das ist, die gantze Heilige Schrift (679.i.15). Luther’s inscription, starting with the opening of the 23rd Psalm, is on the left

Our other printed books in the exhibition may be less visually exciting, but still tell important stories. Three of Goethe’s works are exhibited in a case which illustrates both his literary career and his scientific interests. Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (Leipzig, 1774; 12547.aa.21.) is the work which brought him international fame at the age of 24 and became the cult novel of the day. The drama Iphigenie auf Tauris illustrates the more mature classicism which followed the young Goethe’s ‘Sturm und Drang’ years, while an edition of Faust (Heidelberg, 1832; published in the year of Goethe’s death represents the drama that became his life’s work and has often been seen as the quintessential work of German literature.

In the section of the exhibition looking at political developments in 19th-century Germany is a work which has a particular connection to the British Museum itself: Karl Marx’s Das Kapital (Hamburg, 1872; C.12.b.1.). Marx famously worked on the book in the Round Reading Room of the British Museum, and he presented the copy on display (although sadly he didn’t see fit to inscribe it) to the then British Museum Library, now part of the British Library. It is appropriate that this book should be displayed in an exhibition gallery now situated above the Round Reading Room; indeed, although I wrote earlier about the items ‘coming home’ to the British Library, for almost all of them this exihibition marks a temporary return to their previous home in the Museum. An exception is the Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei (Communist Manifesto; London, 1848; C.194.b.289), shown alongside Das Kapital. This was acquired by the Library in 2010, filling a long-felt gap in our holdings.

Communist Manifesto
Cover of the Communist Manifesto, published by German political exiles in London

For those unable to get to the exhibition in its last days, some of the items described here are pictured in the accompanying book and some are discussed in the BBC series, where you can also hear BL curators among others discussing Gutenberg, Luther and Marx. And, although some are restricted from general use on account of their value, all will, of course, soon be back in the British Library.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies


19 January 2015

Afterthoughts on the Spanish Gothic

Despite the success, in their time, of works such as Agustín Pérez Zaragoza y Godínez’s Galería fúnebre de espectros y cabezas ensangrentadas (1831), the Gothic presence in the canon of 19th-century Spanish literature is not great. José Cadalsoʼs Noches lúgubres (British Library 1480.a.27), published in El Correo de Madrid (o de los ciegos) in 1789-90 must have been the first and most successful Spanish imitation of Edward Young’s works, but they remained, in their time, an isolated phenomenon. José María Blanco White’s Vargas: a Tale of Spain (1822; N.98), which could have been an apt example for our purposes, was written in English and published in London, and did not circulate much in Spain. Later in the century we could cite José de Espronceda’s longer poems, El estudiante de Salamanca (1837- ; published in book form in 1840) and El diablo mundo (1841;, or pick some of the Leyendas that Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer published from 1858 onwards in magazines such as El Contemporáneo. The names and titles are conspicuous enough, but none of these canonical texts seems to match the rich concept of the Gothic imagination that the Terror and Wonder exhibition has illustrated.

Yet by the mid-19th century, stormy nights, deserted streets, dark and lonely churches, convents and palaces had become commonplace in Spanish literature; more specifically, they had become a must for the opening scenes of any fictional text that intended to reach and seduce a wide audience. Judging by the number of texts that open on these notes it might seem that, despite the apparent lack of a local Gothic tradition, certain sections of the ever-growing reading public had fallen under the spell of terror and wonder. Indeed, many contemporary critics saw the new readers as avid consumers of any kind of cheap thrills that the publishing industry would produce. Although no single phenomenon can explain by itself the spread of Gothic imagery in Spain, the so-called popular novel did play an important part in bringing it closer to the historical present. Eugène Sueʼs novels Les Mystères de Paris and Le Juif errant were widely read in Spain during the 1840s and 1850s, and his poetics of urban phantasmagoria were quickly appropriated and utilised by, among others, Wenceslao Ayguals de Izco. Ayguals, a prolific writer and literary entrepreneur, took Sue’s texts as a model for his own Historias-Novelas, which dealt with what he considered to be the main (political, moral, religious) concerns of his Spanish contemporaries.

Though Ayguals used the label Historias-Novelas to advertise many of his works, it is rarely as accurate as in El Tigre del Maestrazgo, o De grumete a general (1846), a sort of novelized biography of the Carlist general Ramón Cabrera (1806- 1877), who had nearly led his troops to victory in some campaigns of the First Carlist War (1833-1840). The second edition of the novel (12490.g.7)  was published in 1849, in the wake of the Second Carlist War (1847-1849) that led Cabrera into exile, first in Marseille, then in Wentworth, near London.

Title page of El Tigre del Maestrazgo (Madrid, 1849) 12490.g.7.

The first pages of the book set the scene. The novel is dedicated to the memory of Ayguals’ brother, Joaquín, who fought in the First Carlist War on the Liberal side, and was killed by “the ferocious Cabrera” in 1835 alongside 62 other Liberal soldiers.

The second hall the readers will have to cross before they enter the realm of fiction is an emphatic funeral poem that the author wrote when a cenotaph was erected in his home town to honour the memory of the 63 Liberal soldiers:

A prologue follows where the author explains his reasons for writing the novel and paints a first portrait of Cabrera – known everywhere by his nom de guerre, el Tigre del Maestrazgo – as a daredevil tactician and a “ruthless terrorist, arsonist and murderer” driven not by his ideals or his sense of strategy but by sheer thirst for blood.

And then the novel itself starts, with the description of a stormy winter night in Tortosa, Cabrera’s home town: the howling wind, lightning and thunder, fire and flood all suggest that something terrible is about to happen. “Sighs of agony and doleful cries for help resounded everywhere”; and in the house of a poor and honest fisherman, a heavily pregnant woman feels as though she is bearing “a beast that tears my insides out”. She is about to give birth to Ramón Cabrera, el Tigre del Maestrazgo.

The topics and devices of such an opening scene served the author’s aesthetic and ideological purposes well: the troubles and catastrophes that attend Cabrera’s birth in December 1806 – Ayguals evokes the flooding of Tortosa in previous years, but no such event seems to have occurred in 1806 – are a sign of what his life and deeds will mean to his contemporaries. Within the narrative structure of the novel, this scene acts as a sort of overture, but in the act of reading, it seems to serve the same purpose as the dimming of lights at the theatre as the curtain goes up and the spectators enter the dark realm of fiction.

Gothic imagery in the rest of the novel seems restricted to the description of the clergy and the religious institutions that supported the Carlist movement. Ayguals identifies the binary opposition of Liberals and Carlists with the binary opposition of Progress and Fanaticism, which soon becomes one of the driving forces of his novel (the other being melodrama). Despite this narrative turn, reading El Tigre del Maestrazgo we get the impression that the engravers who illustrated it were keen to return to Gothic imagery whenever the occasion arose, as the following image (from vol. I, p. 146) shows:

Although the face does not really resemble other portraits of his that we find throughout the novel, this is supposed to be Cabrera, on the scaffold, about to be executed, and haunted by the ghosts of the people he had murdered. The description of this nightmare takes barely three lines in the text, yet the image it suggested was too fascinating to let it go.

Santiago Díaz Lage, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela/Université Paul Valéry – Montpellier 3

16 January 2015

Weird science: Reagan, Rudolf and Philip the Prudent

Not a few people looked askance when it was revealed that US President Ronald Reagan employed an astrologer, Joan Quigley. According to Donald T. Regan, White House Chief of Staff:

“Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as … chief of staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise,” he wrote in the memoir, For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington.

In an interview with CBS Evening News in 1989, after Reagan left office, Miss Quigley said that after reading the horoscope of the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, she concluded that he was intelligent and open to new ideas and persuaded Mrs. Reagan to press her husband to abandon his view of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.” Arms control treaties followed.
Reagan denied that he had ever acted on the basis of heavenly guidance. In her 1989 book My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan, Mrs. Reagan described Miss Quigley as warm and compassionate but played down her influence.
Mrs. Reagan wrote that the president, speaking of her astrological bent, had told her: “If it makes you feel better, go ahead and do it. But be careful. It might look a little odd if it ever came out.”
In the battle of memoirs, Miss Quigley may have had the last word. The title of her own 1990 book — What Does Joan Say? — was the question that she said the president had habitually asked his wife.

Reagan’s attitudes would not have been out of place in earlier times, when astronomy and astrology were not strictly distinguished.

Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612) employed cutting-edge astronomers Kepler and Tycho Brahe sponsored the Rudolphine Tables, an updating of the thirteenth-century Alphonsine Tables of Alfonso X of Castile-Leon. These were astronomical in the modern sense, based on observation of the skies.  But he is probably better known nowadays for his interest in the occult: “The Mad Alchemist” for some.

Tabulae Rudolphinae frontispiece
Frontispiece from Johannes Kepler, Tabulae Rudolphinae (Ulm, 1627) British Library 48.f.7.

Philip II of Spain’s spin doctors dubbed him “The Prudent”. We might be influenced by Lytton Strachey’s view of the dour pious king-bureaucrat working at his desk in the monastery-palace of the Escorial (It means “slag heap”, probably a coincidence):

King Philip sat working in the Escurial—the gigantic palace that he had built for himself, all of stone, far away, high up, amid the desolation of the rocky Guadarrama. He worked incessantly, as no monarch had ever worked before, controlling from his desk a vast empire—Spain and Portugal, half Italy, the Netherlands, the Western Indies. He had grown old and white-haired in his labours, but he worked on. Diseases had attacked him; he was tortured by the gout; his skin was cankered, he was the prey of a mysterious and terrible paralysis; but his hand moved over the paper from morning till night. He never emerged now. He had withdrawn into this inner room of his palace—a small room, hung with dark green tapestries—and there he reigned, secret, silent, indefatigable, dying. He had one distraction, and only one; sometimes he tottered through a low door into his oratory beyond and kneeling, looked out, through an inner window, as it were from a box of an opera, into the enormous spaces of a church. It was the centre of his great building, half palace and half monastery, and there, operatic too in their vestments and their movements and their strange singings, the priests performed at the altar close below him, intent upon their holy work. Holy! But his work too was that; he too was labouring for the glory of God. Was he not God’s chosen instrument? The divine inheritance was in his blood.

His science policy, studied by David Goodman, was steadfastly uncurious: not for him the enquiring Renaissance scientific mind. He was interested in practical technology: navigation, fortification, hydraulics (important for trade: Philip patronised Turriano and when the king acquired a manuscript of Leonardo da Vinci, his interest was in Leonardo’s work on water). But alongside this was his promotion of what my now departed second-hand book garage in Greenwich used to shelve under “Weird S—t”.  Philip subsidised the occult sciences of astrology, alchemy and dowsing (all of them supremely useful, of course, if they actually work).

Weird Science(BT) dowsing (443.h.6)
 Dowsing, from Georgius Agricola, Vom Bergwerck XII Bücher… (Basel, 1557). 443.h.6.(2)

We might lament the aspirational hollowness which prevented Philip from exploring the mysteries of the universe but for him prudence was nothing if not practical.

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


Juanelo Turriano, Los veintún libros de los ingenios y máquinas (Madrid, 1996) RB.23.b.3216

Obituary of Joan Quigley

A guide to history of science sources at the British Library:

David C. Goodman, Power and penury: government, technology and science in Philip II’s Spain (Cambridge, 1988) YC.1988.b.4780

Nicolás García Tapia, ‘Ingeniería del agua en los códices de Leonardo y en los manuscritos españoles del s. XVI’, Ingeniería de agua, 3 (1996), 17-38.

Peter H. Marshall, The Mercurial Emperor: the magic circle of Rudolf II in Prague (London, 2007) YC.2008.a.8358

Lytton Strachey, Elizabeth and Essex: a tragic history (London, 1928) 10807.e.21.

14 January 2015

A Lost (and Found) Dutch Hymn Book from 1566

In 1897, church historian J.G.R. Acquoy from Leiden published an article in Archief voor Nederlandsche kerkgeschiedenis (British Library PP.177.ia), in which he described five booklets that had recently been found in the church tower of Boskoop, a tiny village close to Gouda. One of the booklets turned out to be a hymnbook dating back to 1566, containing psalms and hymns sung during clandestine open-air prayer gatherings in The Netherlands (of the sort that perhaps inspired Brueghel’s depiction of a crowd listening to John the Baptist).

Pieter Brueghel the Elder: John The Baptist Preaching (Museum of Fine Arts Budapest, image from Wikimedia Commons)

On the basis of an 18th century document it was assumed another songbook should exist: an enlarged reprint of the Boskoop hymn book also published in 1566. According to this source, this hymnbook included 38 psalms written by Jan Utenhove, and 19 hymns. The origin of the hymns, however, remained uncertain; the enlarged reprint was apparently lost.

Surprisingly a copy was found in the British Library in London:

De Psalmen Dauids, ende ander lofsanghen, nu nieu ghecorrigeert ende vermeerdert, die men in die Christen gemeynten in dese Nederlande is ghebruychende. (Delft [?]: Harman Schenckel [?], 1566). 3434.c.2.(1.)

Although the songbook is listed in a number of catalogues, there was no known description whatsoever of its contents.

Added MS titlepage of the hymnbook. The main text reads: “The XXXIX Psalms incorporated herein, are ….[follows a list], The Symbolism of the Apostles, The Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer, etc. Apart from the underlined ones, all these are rhymed by  John Utenhove, but usually differ from the London edition of 1566.”

A recent article by Jaco van der Knijff* analyses and discusses – for the first time – the contents of this 16th century hymn book. It turns out the 19 hymns are quite different from what scholars had always assumed. They prove to be liturgical songs stemming from the Lutheran tradition, reprinted with reformed believers from the Calvinist tradition in mind.

The London songbook clearly has a different focus compared to the Boskoop one. It is therefore questionable whether ‘London’ is indeed an enlarged reprint of ‘Boskoop’. The repeated suggestion that the London songbook would be a publication of Gillis van der Erven in Emden  is also no longer tenable. There are good reasons to believe that this songbook was printed in Delft by Harman Schenckel, who was put to death for printing ‘heretical’ publications in 1568. It could even be the hitherto unidentified psalter which the printer mentioned during his trial.

By publishing the contents of the London songbook, an annoying gap in the hymnologic research is filled. More importantly, there is now a new source on the use of Lutheran hymns by Calvinists at the beginning of the Reformation in The Netherlands.

This hymnbook also proves that initially the dividing lines between Calvinists and Lutherans were not as clear as they would turn out to be in later times. Finally, the statements issued by the first synods of the Gereformeerde Kerk in The Netherlands against hymn singing find a new perspective: it is by no means excluded that the church leaders referred to songbooks like the London version from 1566.

Jaco van der Knijff, musical editor for the Reformatorisch Dagblad and currently preparing a PhD on the origins of ‘Eenige Gezangen’ (Some songs) in the 1773 edition of David’s Psalms.  E-mail:


Herman de la Fontaine Verwey,  Meester Harman Schinckel. Een Delftse boekdrukker van de 16e eeuw. (Delft, 1963)  010498.l.7/3.

* This is an edited version of the English summary of Jaco van de Knijff’s article ‘Lutherse liederen voor gereformeerde gelovigen Beschrijving en poging tot duiding van een onopgemerkt gebleven Nederlands liedboekje uit 1566’, published in Jaarboek voor liturgieonderzoek 30 (2014) 105-136. We are grateful to him for letting us use it as a basis for this post.


12 January 2015

Collecting the Renaissance: Aldus Manutius and his legacy

2015 is the 500th anniversary of the death of Aldo Manuzio (or Aldus Manutius in the equally familiar Latinised form which he himself used), one of the most important figures in the history of printing and publishing. When he was active, these trades were still in their infancy (the new technology of printing with moveable type had spread to Italy by the 1460s, within two decades of its first appearance in Germany) and Aldus did much to shape their development not only in Venice, where he set up his publishing house, but across the continent more generally.

Aldo Manuzio / Aldus Manutius, from Antoine Augustin Renouard, Annales de l'imprimerie des Alde (Paris, 1834).
British Library 11917.f.34.

In what promises to be a crowded schedule of exhibitions, conferences and other events taking place all over the world to mark the occasion (see the Manutius Network 2015), the British Library has entered the field early with a small display drawing on its incomparable collections of Aldine editions in the Ritblat Gallery: Collecting the Renaissance: the Aldine Press 1494-1598. The display is open to the public until Sunday 25 January.

What makes Aldus so lastingly significant in the annals of printing and publishing in Italy and beyond? He started his career as  a typical Renaissance humanist, passionately dedicated, like so many in 15th-century Italy, to the study and recovery of the classical tradition – in Aldus’s case especially Greek – and, as a teacher, with its transmission. It is possible that he first moved in the late 1480s or early 1490s to Venice, the home of many Greek scholars in exile after the fall of Constantinople, in order to pursue the study of the language more intensively. His interest in publishing was sparked off there, in the city which was already – and would remain for the best part of the 16th century – the hub of the European booktrade, and grew directly out of his scholarly interests, as part of a wider cultural project to disseminate books in Greek and promote the study of major authors such as Aristotle. His first edition, published in 1494 and included in the display, was the Erotemata, a Greek grammar by Constantine Lascaris.  

Aldus maintained his scholarly interests and his standing as a scholar: his printing house became a celebrated meeting point for learned men from all over Europe, some of whom contributed directly to the firm’s editions, and his last book published in the year of his death 1515, also in the display, was his own Greek grammar on which he had been working all his life. But printing in Greek was not for the faint-hearted (or impractical); it presented significant technical and editorial challenges which Aldus seems to have relished and it is his natural flair for all the aspects of the profession which was the foundation of his enduring success. One of the most striking aspects of his activity is his appetite for innovation and experiment with books as material artefacts, with formats, typefaces and page design. Many of these innovations – for example, the pocket-sized  and enormously successful series of Latin and Italian classics he began to produce round the turn of the century, the quintessential ‘Aldine book’ – proved to be turning-points which shaped the subsequent development of book production and of the book trade all over Europe.

Petrarch, Le cose volgari (Venice, 1501) G.10714.

Aldus2                                   Dante Alighieri, Le terze rime (Venice, 1502) 1071.f.3.

The British Library display includes copies of some of the most celebrated editions produced by Aldus, as well as a few books published by his descendants – his son Paolo and grandson Aldus junior – who carried on the firm after his death, with only intermittent success;  while sharing his scholarly interests, they lacked his business flair and acumen. 

 Aldus3  Aldus4
Paolo Manuzio and Aldo Manuzio the Younger, from Renouard, Annales de l'imprimerie des Alde

The celebrated and enigmatic Hypnerotomachia Poliphili of 1499 could not of course be omitted:  it is perhaps the iconic Aldine edition, despite its being in almost every way an unclassifiable one-off and certainly uncharacteristic of his overall production (most famously for being copiously illustrated with elegant and densely allusive woodcuts). But the Hypnerotomachia  is shown here for its ornate sixteenth-century binding, indicating how much its French owner, Thomas Mahieu (Maiolus), prized it, just as the small-format editions of  Italian and classical texts are exemplified by copies – of Martial, Virgil and Petrarch – personalised by their purchasers with richly illuminated title-pages. These features show the parallel focus of this small display – on Aldus and his dynasty but also on his collectors, both in Aldus’s time and much later, whose bibliophilic passion for his editions did so much to preserve his fame.  It is their libraries, dispersed over the centuries, which have gone to enrich the Aldine resources of the UK’s national library and to make them into the comprehensive, various and multiple collection the current display allows us to glimpse.


Thomas Mahieu's binding (top) and a typical page-opening (above) from Francesco Colonna, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Venice,1499) C.24.c.19.

The display has been curated jointly with the Warburg Institute in the University of London, which will be hosting a one-day colloquium in February on the similar theme  of Aldus and his cultural legacy seen from the perspective of bibliophilia and its connections with the antiquarian book trade. It is hoped that a permanent record of the display, with images, will be included in one of the 2015 issues of the Bibliographical Society’s journal The Library.

Stephen Parkin, Curator Italian Studies

09 January 2015

European rivals in South Asia

As is fairly well known, the British Library has inherited the surviving archives of the British East India Company, and this vast resource provides researchers with a rich and unique mine of information about all aspects of Britain’s relations with South Asia in the early modern period through to 1858. What is almost certainly less well known is that the archive includes one series bringing together documentation from and about the other European powers that were the Company’s rivals in the 17th and 18th centuries.

East India Chandernagore WD 269
View of the former French colony of Chandernagore (modern-day Chandannagar). Watercolour by Stanley Leighton, 1868. British Library WD 269

The ‘I’ series includes more than 200 volumes, arranged in three sub-series, of memoranda and correspondence between Europe and Asia. The first 17 of these (ref. I/1/1-17) are concerned with the Company’s relations with the French in India between 1664 and 1820, and I/2/1-32 is similar, dealing with the Dutch in India and Southeast Asia from 1596 to 1824. The subjects broached within are alas only hinted at by the frequent use in the relevant handlist of that tantalising word ‘Miscellaneous’, although there are four volumes identified as being about ‘Disputes with the French, 1773-1786’ (ref. I/1/7-10), and as a testament to the difficulties in mid-eighteenth century Anglo-Dutch relations there are no fewer than seven volumes of ‘Disputes with the Dutch’ from 1750 to 1764 (ref. I/2/14-20).

View of Batavia
View of Batavia (modern-day Jakarta), the capital of the Dutch East Indies. Aquatint by JohnWells, 1800. P494

These are dwarfed, however, by the size of the third sub-series, which consists in all of 165 volumes. Its existence is due entirely to Frederick Charles Danvers (1833-1906). A man of wide-ranging interests, Danvers joined the East India Company as a writer in 1853, and five years later transferred to the India Office after the Company’s abolition. After spells in the Revenue, Statistics & Commerce and Public Works Departments, he was appointed Registrar and Superintendent of the India Office Records in 1884, a post he held until 1898. In what must rank as a major feat of international archival co-operation, between 1891 and 1895 he oversaw the transcription of volumes of documents from repositories in Lisbon, Evora and The Hague; besides this, he enhanced their long-term value to scholars and researchers by supervising the translation of 35 of these volumes into English. The Dutch records cover the whole of the 17th century, whereas those from Portugal date from as early as 1475 and extend into the early 19th century. The series thus contains a range of primary sources on many aspects of the European engagement with South and Southeast Asia both before and during the colonial era.

East India, Goa 1434.e.2
Map of the City of Goa in Portuguese India, from Denis L. Cottineau de Kloguen, An historical sketch of Goa, the metropolis of the Portuguese settlements in India ...( Madras, 1831.) 1434.e.2

All these volumes are located at St. Pancras, and can be delivered to the third floor Asian & African Studies Reading Room for consultation within seventy minutes of ordering.

Hedley Sutton, Asian & African Studies Reference Team Leader


F.C. Danvers Report to the Secretary of State for India in Council on the Portuguese records relating to the East Indies contained in the Archivo da Torre do Tombo, and the public libraries in Lisbon and Evora (1892), OIR354.54

F.C. Danvers, Report on the records relating to the East in the state archives in The Hague (1945), OIB325.349.