European studies blog

12 posts from September 2015

30 September 2015

Sir Roger L’Estrange, translator from the Spanish

Sir Roger L’Estrange 1616-1704  was a censor and an important figure in the development of political journalism in England.  In 2008  a volume of studies devoted ten chapters to such topics as ‘Roger L'Estrange and the Huguenots: continental Protestantism and the Church of England’.

However, only the reader who persevered to the end, ‘The works of Roger L'Estrange : an annotated bibliography’ by Geoff Kemp,  would discover that Sir Roger was also a translator from Latin (Seneca, Cicero, Terence, Erasmus; Aesop from the Latin of Dorpius), Greek (Josephus) and Spanish.

His Spanish translations were two:

1.) Spanish Decameron: ten tales, five from the Novelas ejemplares of Cervantes and five from La garduña de Sevilla by the much less remembered Castillo Solórzano.  Wouldn’t you like to read:

‘The Perfidious Mistress’ – ‘The Metamorphos’d Lover’ – ‘The Imposture out-witted’ –T’he Amorous Miser’ – ‘The Pretended Alchemist’?

There’s a lesson here about the reception history of literature: the Novelas have been in print continuously since 1613; La garduña de Sevilla was first printed in 1642 and reprinted in 1955 1972,  and 2012.

2.) Quevedo’s Sueños (Dreams, or, according to L’Estrange, Visions). This is a satirical parody of Dante’s Inferno, in which Quevedo sees the vices of his age laid bare. 

Title engraving from Quevedo’s Sueños showing a man seated and leaning on a desk
Title engraving from Quevedo’s Sueños (British Library 635.g.3-5)

Samuel Pepys (a connoisseur of Spanish) loved it, writing in his diary on 9 June 1667 that he was:

making an end of the book I lately bought a merry satyr called “The Visions,” translated from Spanish by L’Estrange, wherein there are many very pretty things; but the translation is, as to the rendering it into English expression, the best that ever I saw, it being impossible almost to conceive that it should be a translation.

The Brussels edition has some tasty ilustrations, ‘muy donosas y apropriadas à la materia’ [witty and appropriate].

Illustration teom the 'Sueños' showing various torments of the damned in hell
A suitably infernal scene from the Sueños

As a man who lived by his pen, L’Estrange’s choice of texts to translate was probably commercial rather than personal.

But there are some curious patterns to be drawn. Quevedo, translated by the translator of Seneca, was himself the translator, and imitator, of Seneca. And both L’Estrange and Quevedo shared the pungent parallelisms and jerky style of Seneca: what Williamson calls ‘The Senecan Amble’.

L’Estrange doubtless appreciated the sinewy satire of Quevedo:

The Physician is only Death in a Disguise, and brings his Patient’s Hour along with him.  Cruel People! Is it not enough to take away a Man’s Life, and like Common Hangmen to be paid for’t when ye have done; but you must blast the Honour too of those ye have dispatcht, to excuse your Ignorance?  Let but the Living follow my Counsel, and write their Testaments after this Copy, they shall live long and happily, and not go out of the World at last, like a Rat with a Straw in his Arse, (as a Learned Author has it) or be cut of in the Flower of their Days by these Counter-Feit Doctors of the Faculty of the Close-stool.

Illustration from the Sueños of a procession of doctors carrying the tools of their trade
A procession of doctors (with their instruments of torture) from the Sueños

In 1709 Henry Felton wrote of him ‘a perfect Master of the familiar, the facetious and the jocular style, [he] fell out into his proper Province, when he pitched upon Erasmus and Aesop.’ (Williamson, p. 364).  (Aesop was regarded as humorous.)  The 18th century found him a bit too unbuttoned.

But in Quevedo he found a kindred spirit.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies


Francisco de Quevedo, Obras ... Nueva impression corregida y ilustrada con muchas estampas muy donosas y apropriadas à la materia. [Edited by Pedro Aldrete Quevedo y Villegas.] (Amberes, 1699). 635.g.3-5.

The Visions of Dom Francisco de Quevedo Villegas ... Made English by R. Lestrange (London, 1673)

Pedro Urbano González de la Calle. Quevedo y los dos Sénecas (Mexico, 1965).  X.909/5543.

Theodore S.  Beardsley, Hispano-classical translations printed between 1482 and 1699 (Pittsburgh 1970)  X.0972/19b.(12.)

Roger L'Estrange and the making of Restoration culture, edited by Anne Dunan-Page and Beth Lynch (Aldershot, 2008)  YC.2008.a.6251; Document Supply m08/.16619

George Williamson, The Senecan Amble: a study in prose form from Bacon to Collier (London, 1951).  11869.b.19.



28 September 2015

Old Newspapers and a League of murderers in Stockholm

In a volume that was catalogued under the mysterious title A collection of 22 miscellaneous Russian periodicals, among single issues of various newspapers and magazines, such as Vestnik teatra (The Theatre Herald), Trudovaia mysl’ (Labour Thought), Vlast’ Sovetov (Soviets’ Power), Biulleten’ Khar’kovskoi gubernskoi pri Revkome Kommissii po obsledovaniiu zverstv uchinennykh Dobrarmiei (A Bulletin of  the Commission for investigation of atrocities committed by the Volunteer Army, attached to the Khar’kov regional Revolutionary Committee), Gornorabochii (The Miner), Krasnyi pakhar’ (The Red Ploughman), etc., I found  one issue of the Novoe Russkoe Ekho (New Russian Echo). The newspaper was published in Stockholm in both languages and had a parallel title in Swedish, Nya Ecco Rossiji: Rysk-Swvensk Tidning.

Image 1a
Novoe Russkoe Ekho P. 1 (P.P.7500.b)

Most of the materials – emotionally engaged appeals or newsreels – were signed by M.B.Khadzhetlashe = M. B. Hadjetlaché (in English spelling: Hadjetlashe),  a Circassian  journalist, writer, and apparently MI6 (SIS) and Cheka agent.  It looks as if the entire issue was written almost single-handedly by Hadjetlashe, as other articles, short pieces and even poems are signed by ‘MBKh’, ‘Ia. Timochkin’ or ‘Leilin’ (which are quite likely to be his other pseudonyms).

Image 2
 Novoe Russkoe Ekho p. 4

His name rang a bell, but only after some time did I realise that I had read about him in literature. Aleksei Tolstoy in his novel Emigranty (The Emigrants) made him a character under his real (?) name:

I’m warning you: you got into  bad company… If, for example, Khadzhet Lashe learns about this conversation, I won’t be surprised if he sends my dismembered body in a luggage compartment somewhere far away. There were similar cases… In Constantinople, we signed a paper… Later, when I’m very drunk, I’ll tell you this story … They are training us for something… I guess this is all about Stockholm… When Levant orders us to get ready, they will take us to Stockholm, and the main business will be happening there… Please note, I’m not complaining… You cannot do anything for me… Anyway, damn it… I’m warning you, be vigilant - Levant is a terrible man. And the other, Khadzhet Lashe, the master, is even more terrible.

This novel is a fictitious account of a real affair: the activities of a short-lived anti-Bolshevik terrorist organisation which kidnapped and killed people.  When the police discovered the gang in 1919, three murdered bodies were found in Lake Norrviken. It is not impossible that the entire organisation was set up with help from or at least with approval of the Soviets and was meant to be a huge provocation. Vatslav Vorovsky, in 1918-1919 head of the Bolshevik legation in Stockholm, immediately published a brochure V mire merzosti i  zapusteniia: Russkaia belogvardeiskaia liga ubiits v Stokgol’me (‘In the World of abomination and desolation: Russian White Guard League of murderers in Stockholm’ (Moscow, 1919) Tolstoy’s novel was published soon after.

Before the revolution Hadjetlashe had contributed to the well-known journal Syn Otechestva (‘Son of the Fatherland’), and some Muslim Russian language publications. The best known of his projects was the journal Musul’manin (A Muslim) published in Paris. He also wrote several popular novels, such as Zapiski nachal’nika tainoi turetskoi politsii (‘The Notes of the Head of the Turkish Secret Police’) available, curiously enough, from  AbeBooks in Swedish translation. Hadjetlashe’s biography is full of unverified facts, myths and rumours; a lot of his activities remain extremely controversial, despite the fact that his archive is held at the Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine (Musée D’Histoire Contemporaine). Recently Olga Bessmertnaya, a Russian academic researching materials related to Hajetlashe’s life gave a conference paper  ‘What Else But Politics?’ about the  ‘Erratic Autobiography of a Steady Russian Impostor (late 19th-early 20th Centuries)’, which was devoted to Mohammed Hajetlashe(1870-1929).

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

References / Further reading:

A.Tolstoy. Emigranty.  (Moscow, 1940) 12594.b.19

Kadir I. Nantho. Circassian history.  (New York, 2009). [Not in BL]

Elena I. Campbell. The Muslim question and Russian Imperial governance.  (Bloomingtom,  2015). [Not yet shelfmarked]

Nezabytye mogily. (Moscow, 1999-). ZA.9.b.2512; Vol.6. (2007) Book 3. p. 17


23 September 2015

A Friendship with Freud: Stefan Zweig and the Father of Psychoanalysis.

The influence of Sigmund Freud and his theories of the mind on modern culture can hardly be underestimated. Whether we are admirers or detractors, whether we consider his views to be still valid or discredited today, no-one can deny that even a cursory knowledge of his ideas colours the way we view the world.  Terms like ego, libido, and indeed psychoanalysis, have passed into common use, and of course we all make ‘Freudian slips.’

Among Freud’s admirers in his own day was Stefan Zweig, who said that Freud had ‘deepened and expanded our knowledge of the human mind like no one else of our time’ and remembered his conversations with Freud as among the ‘greatest intellectual pleasures’ in his life. The correspondence and friendship between the two men began in 1908 when Zweig sent Freud a copy of his drama Thersites and continued until Freud’s death.

Zweig was fascinated by Freud’s theories and by the idea of examining human psychology.  In his fiction he often portrays particular psychological types and their reaction to specific situations, and it is striking how many of his stories are presented in a framing narrative, as letters or as an account told to an initial narrator by another, perhaps in part to place the first narrator (and the reader?) in the position of the listening analyst.

If Zweig admired Freud, the feeling was mutual. Freud enjoyed and appreciated Zweig’s works of both fiction and biography, praising his sensitivity and perception, and finding his own theories demonstrated in Zweig’s  fictional situations.  In 1924 he presented Zweig with the manuscript of his 1907 lecture ‘Der Dichter und das Phantasieren’  (‘The Creative Writer and Daydreaming’) , an appropriate gift from psychologist to author. In the lecture Freud describes creative writing as an adult substitute for the imaginative play of childhood, both – like dreams – being a way of expressing repressed desires. The manuscript was one of those that Zweig kept when he went into exile and is now in the British Library’s Stefan Zweig Collection.

First leaf of Freud's manuscript of 'Der Dichter und das Phantasieren'
The first leaf of ‘Der Dichter und das Phantasieren’, British Library Zweig MS 150

In 1931 Zweig published a study of Freud as one of three linked portraits of ‘mental healers’ (the others being Franz Anton Mesmer and Mary Baker Eddy). Freud was more guarded in his praise of this than of other works by Zweig, finding the portrayal of him too conventional, and damning Zweig with faint praise for managing a reasonable description of psychoanlaytic theory despite (as Freud believed) knowing nothing about it before starting work. However, Zweig was writing for a more general audience – indeed, this was one of the first studies of Freud aimed at a non-specialist public – and the book, like all Zweig’s works at the time, was a bestseller, whatever Freud’s reservations.

Towards the end of Freud’s life he and Zweig were both living in exile in London. Zweig regularly visited Freud in Hampstead, on one occasion in July 1938 bringing another great admirer, Salvador Dalí, with him. While Freud and Zweig talked, Dalí sketched a portrait of Freud. Later Zweig could not bring himself to show Freud the portrait  ‘because Dalí had prophetically shown death in his face,’ perhaps a strange attitude given Zweig’s admiration for Freud’s fearlessness in facing unpalatable truths, but clearly the reaction of an affectionate friend as well as a keen admirer.

Despite the cancer which was slowly killing him, Freud lived on for over a year after Dalí’s visit, dying on 23 September 1939. Zweig delivered the eulogy at his funeral and said that without Freud’s influence, ‘each of us would think, judge, feel, more narrowly, less freely, less justly.’

 Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/further reading:

Stefan Zweig, Die Welt von Gestern: Erinnerungen eines Europäers  (Stockholm, 1943)  YA.1990.a.17913 (English translation by Anthea Bell, The World of Yesterday (London 2009) YC.2011.a.55)

Stefan Zweig, Die Heilung durch den Geist. Mesmer, Mary Baker-Eddy, Freud (Leipzig, 1931). (English translation by Eden and Cedar Paul, Mental Healers (London, 1933) 7409.b.19.)

Oliver Matuschek, Stefan Zweig: Drei Leben – eine Biografie (Frankfurt, 2006) YF.2007.a.24010

Jasmin Keller, ‘Ein Psychoanalytiker als Literaturkritiker: Sigmund Freud interpretiert Stefan Zweigs Werk’ at


21 September 2015

Joannes Stradanus and his Hunting Scenes

The Flemish artist Jan van der Straet, also known as Joannes Stradanus (1523- 1605), spent most of his working life in Florence where his enormous output included religious paintings, frescoes in the Palazzo Vecchio, tapestry cartoons, and also designs for various series of prints.

Portrait of Stradanus with Latin inscriptions
Portrait of Johannes Stradanus ca 1580. Print made by Johannes Wierix  after J. Stradanus.  British Museum 1879,0510.428  (©Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Between 1566 and 1577 Stradanus executed preparatory drawings for a series of hunting scenes  for tapestries to decorate the Medici villa at Poggio a Caiano near Florence. The success of these led Flemish publishers to commission  hunting scenes by Stradanus for engravings, an indication that the artist’s fame had by then spread north of the Alps. Six large-format engravings with scenes representing the tapestries at Poggio a Caiano were published by the renowned print publisher Hieronymus Cock in 1570, and in 1574 and 1576 Volxcken Diericx, Cock’s widow, published two series prints based on the same designs but without their ornamental borders.

Men and dogs attacking a wild boar
Wild Boar Hunt with Nets. 1570 (Series of hunting scenes with borders). Engraving. Published by Hieronymus Cock, after Jan van der Straet.  British Museum 1870,0514.1233 (©Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Stradanus had by then begun his collaboration with Philips Galle (1537-1612), another engraver and print dealer who had earlier worked in Cock’s workshop. This resulted in two new series of hunting scenes. The first, which numbered 44 prints, was published in 1578-80 and some 15 years later an additional 61 prints were produced, providing a greater variety of scenes. Both series were combined into a single collection  published in 1596 as Venationes, ferarum, arium, piscium [Hunts of wild animals, birds and fish]. Several engravers were engaged on this ambitious publication which was reprinted several times during the 17th century by Galle’s heirs.

Engraved title page of 'Venationes Ferarum, Avium, Piscium', with pictures of various animals
Title page of Venationes Ferarum, Avium, Piscium. British Library C.107.k.7

The British Library has two copies of the work, and C.107.k.7. Both  have the same engraved title page, on which the name of Joannes Galle  has replaced that of  his father Philips, as it does on all the plates. This edition was first published in 1634 but as the date does not appear on the title page of either of our copies, perhaps they are later reissues. Judging by the quality of the plates, is the earlier of the two. It is incomplete – a selection of 38 plates – whereas  C.107.k.7 has all 104 plates. 

The prints are approximately 20 x 26.5 cm. They are grouped into thematically related depictions of animal and bird hunts, fishing, scenes from history or legend, fights between animals, or between wild animals and men in arenas. At the bottom of each picture there are verses explaining its subject. The examples below  give an idea of the great variety of subjects and their treatment, and of Stradanus’s inventiveness and exuberance. The landscapes, drawn following Flemish and Italian pictorial traditions, are a reminder both of the artist’s country of origin and of  his adopted country.

Scenes from history and legend

Spectators watching a staged whale hunt with the whale attacking a boatWhale Hunt by the Emperor Claudius at Ostia. Engraved by Adriaen Collaert [Plate 86]. Claudius fought a killer whale which was trapped in the harbour, an event witnessed by Pliny the Elder. The whale sinks a boat with a gush of water from its mouth.

Animal hunts

Panthers lured by mirrors into box-like traps and netsHunting panthers using mirrors. Engraved by Jan Collaert II  [Plate 16]. In the foreground panthers are lured into traps which contain mirrors; on a wooded outcrop above, huntsmen wait to spring the traps; to right, other panthers are caught in nets; a group of hunstmen, with spears, approach along a riverbank.

Different stages of a gazelle huntGazelle hunt.  Engraved by  Joannes Galle [Plate 51]. One of the most spectacular engravings in the collection.  At right foreground a group of hunters are preparing for the hunt, two of them putting on their climbing shoes. At left mid-ground, hunters armed with spears, accompanied by dogs, chase gazelles up cliffs; on the opposite side of the ravine, men drive the gazelles off the cliff.

Bird hunts

Hunters lying in wait to capture small birds lured by owlsHunting of reed warblers with owls. Engraved by Jan Collaert II [Plate 68]. Three owls perch on poles tethered with cords and a fourth stands on a cage. They attract the warblers which fly down to mock them. Lying on the ground are hunters camouflaged as bushes (their hands and faces can be seen) holding lime-twigs on which the birds land and become trapped. In the foreground, a couple is handing dead birds to an older woman who is putting them in a basket; a little boy observes the hunt.

Boys catching swallows from the rooftops of a city squareCatching swallows from rooftops using discs. Engraved by Joannes Galle [Plate 85]. One of the rare cityscapes in the series. In the foreground, boys catch swallows from the roofs and balconies of buildings using circular discs suspended from long sticks; groups of figures watch them from an Italianate square.

A man climbing a tree to capture beesBeekeeping. Engraved by Joannes Galle [Plate 83]. Beekeeping is curiously included as an example of bird hunting. A man on a ladder scrapes bees from the trunk of a tree into a hive; another figure supports the base of the ladder; two figures beat pans with sticks , and a third watches a swarm of bees flying above. A row of hives can be seen to right.


Fishermen wading into the River ArnoFishing with dip nets in the river Arno. Engraved by Joannes Galle [Plate 96].  In the right foreground a river god, holding a cornucopia, is seated upon a lion representing Florence; fishermen wade in the river Arno with dip nets; to left and right, the city of Florence flanks the river.

Chris Michaelides, Curator Romance Studies

References/further reading

Jan van der Straet, Philippus Gallæus, Cornelis van Kiel  Venationes Ferarum, avium, piscium, pugnæ bestiariorum et mutuæ bestiarum. … . ([Antwerp, after 1634?]).

Jan van der Straet, Joannes Gallæus, Cornelis van Kiel, Venationes ferarum, auium, piscium….  (Antwerp,  [after 1634?]). C.107.k.7.

Alessandra Baroni & Manfred Sellink, Stradanus, 1523-1605 : court artist of the Medici  (Turnhout, 2012). LD.31.b.3160

Alessandra Baroni Vannucci,  Jan Van der Straet detto Giovanni Stradano: flandrus pictor et inventor.  (Milan, 1997).  LB.31.b.19393

Manfred Sellink, Philips Galle (1537-1612): engraver and print publisher in Haarlem and Antwerp.  ([Amsterdam?], 1997).  YA. 1999.b.4195.

Johannes Stradanus, compiled by Marjolein Leesberg; edited by Huigen Leeflang. (Amsterdam, 2008). YF.2009.b.2177

Yvonne Bleyerveld, Albert J. Elen, Judith Niessen, Bosch to Bloemaert : early Netherlandish drawings in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (Paris,  [2014]). YF.2014.b.1669. 

18 September 2015

‘Fables of another type’: some Animal Tales from Russia

Very few people now know the name of Ivan Ivanovich Bashmakov (?-1865) or his pen-name Ivan Vasenko. Even fewer can remember reading anything by him. A prolific Russian writer, he published novels, fairy tales, short stories, books for children, and even patriotic tracts (e.g., Enemies of the Holy Russia about the siege of Sebastopol), primers and textbooks for learners.

In literary encyclopaedias Bashmakov is described as an author of popular literature for common people. Critics agree that he was best known for his fables in verses (first published in 1854), which although not masterpieces, were lively, witty and funny.

The tradition of fables had been established in Russia by Mikhail Lomonosov, Ivan Krylov, Ivan Dmitriev and others, and Bashmakov successfully followed their steps, although supplied his book Semeinye prikliucheniia zhivotnykh (‘Animals’ family stories’; British Library 12304.c.8) with a subtitle: ‘basni inogo roda’ (‘fables of another type’). The book consists of two parts with a small appendix of three fables ‘Mysli i chuvstva rastenii’ (‘Thoughts and Feelings of plants’).

Bashmakov’s imagination took him on a trip of discovery of human features in almost every living creature: Goat’s valour, Bear’s taste, Crawfish’s  heroism, Bumblebee’s wish, Cat’s melancholy, Piglet’s annoyance, Cricket’s  dignity, Jackdaw’s gossip, Sparrow’s anger, Mouse’s impulse, etc. However, only two out of four lithographed images illustrate animals other than perfectly domesticated cats and dogs. Here is one:

A lion and an elephant

Although the fable tells a story of a Hare who, having overheard a conversation between an Elephant and a Lion, realised that all have their own weaknesses (as Lion was afraid of mice, he was afraid of dogs), it looks as if the illustrator decided to ignore the ‘main hero’ altogether. The two animals are of the same size and it is obvious that the artist had been trained to draw lions as they appeared in the European visual tradition, but had almost no idea how to approach drawing an elephant. Maybe, that is why the elephant is well hidden in the bushes?

A snake and a skylark under a tree

The picture above  illustrates the fable called ‘Snake’s tenderness’. You can probably guess already that instead of a kiss for fantastic singing a Skylark got poisoned.

In the pictures that accompany the tales, ‘Dog’s instructions’ about an old female Dog recalling a story of her love and ‘Dog’s fate’ that, by comparing cats’ and dogs’ life in one household, concludes that we should to be happy with what we have, not wishing to obtain another fate, people clearly dominate the scene.

  An encounter between a man and woman with their dogs

A peasant and his dog

 Maybe, the artist really liked cats, as he supplied ‘Dog’s fate’ with one more picture, featuring a cat:

Two dogs by a kennel being watched by a cat from a windowsill

Quite unlike other images where animals were portrayed without any impersonation that was prompted by the text of the fables, only one cat in the whole book looks like a lady.

A cat in a bonnet and dress looking of a window

Can you imagine that this lady-Kitty in the fable ‘Cat’s sensibility’ interrupts her aria to her beloved Pussycat to catch a mouse? Oh, no!!! But will you drop your love song when your iPhone notifies you of new pictures on friend’s Instagram?

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections


16 September 2015

Bruto, a clever dog from the 1490s

Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo (1478-1557) is best known nowadays as the author of the Historia general y natural de las Indias (1535, second edition 1547),  a pioneering account of the history and natural history of the Americas.

He is also of interest as a writer and courtier whose career spanned the Atlantic.  He was also obviously something of a dog-lover.

The focus of today’s blog is the Libro de la cámara del príncipe don Juan.  This is a very full account of the personnel and activities of the court of Prince John (born 1478), son of the Catholic Monarchs.  John died young in 1497 at the age of 18.  The Libro (first manuscript version 1547-48, revised a year later) was prepared by Oviedo for the guidance of Prince Philip (later King Philip II).

One detail which Oviedo added in the second version was this account of Bruto (Brutus), the prince’s greyhound. 

He had black and white patches.  He was not a handsome beast, as his father must have been a mastiff, and so he did not have a pretty head, but he was strongly built and not very tall.   But he was clever, as dogged as could be and marvellously quick at the attack.       

Mediaeval picture of a group of men with a greyhound outside a chapelA contemporary greyhound.  No stain of the mastiff here (British Library Royal MS 16 F II)

When on the road or hunting, the prince would deliberately drop a glove or handkerchief and once they had gone on a league or so, would say, “Bruto, bring me my glove.”  And the dog brought it to him in his mouth, as pristine and clean of dribble as if a man had brought it; and this regardlesss of whether the terrain was open or thickly covered in trees.

A number of men could be fifteen, twenty or thirty paces away, and the prince would say, “Bruto, bring me that man.”  And he would go and take him by the arm, very gently and without sinking his teeth.  And when the prince said, “Not him,” Bruto left him and fetched another.  And when he said, “Not him, but the one with the green, or grey cape,” as he was commanded so he did, in such as way that it seemed he knew his colours, like a person of good judgment.  He was a marvellous tracker.

When the prince was buried at dawn on 5 October 1497 in the Cathedral of Salamanca, Bruto lay down at the head of the tomb, and whenever they took him away he returned to his place; so that finally they supplied him with a cushion to lie on, day and night, and they fed and watered him there, and when he went out to perform his necessities, he returned to his cushion.  When the King and Queen left for their daughter’s weddding in Portugal, on their return they found him there still.

The prince’s final resting place was at Avila.

  The tomb of Prince John of Spain
The tomb of Prince John at Avila (Image from Wikimedia Commons)           

Writing in 1549 of events of 1497, Oviedo obviously found Brutus as admrable as Greyfriars Bobby was to be four and a half centuries later, an exemplar of canine loyalty above the bestial standards of the late medieval court.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies


Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Libro de la cámara del príncipe don Juan, ed. Santiago Fabregat Barrios (Valencia, 2006), pp. 135-37.

Libro de la Cámara real del Príncipe Don Juan, é officios de su casa é seruiçio ordinario, ed. J. M. Escudero de la Peña (Madrid, 1870) Ac.8886/7.

Angel Alcalá and Jacobo Sanz, Vida y muerte del Príncipe Don Juan : historia y literatura (Valladolid, 1999)  YA.2002.a.11935


14 September 2015

Champfleury and his Cats

Champfleury, pseudonym of Jules Husson Fleury (1821-89), is little read nowadays,  though his name is familiar to students of French 19th-century culture because of the variety of his interests and activities, both literary and artistic. A prominent member of bohemian circles in Paris in the 1840s, a novelist and short story writer, he also championed the painter Gustave Courbet and realism in art and literature, and played a key role in the ‘rediscovery’ of the Le Nain brothers, 17th-century painters of ‘reality’ who, like Champfleury himself, were born in Laon in Picardy. He had a lifelong interest in ‘popular’ arts  and wrote on a wide variety of subjects including  pantomime, caricature,  popular imagery, Japanese prints and ceramics. For the last 17 years of his life he was the curator of the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres.

Champfleury’s most  popular work was his book on cats, published in 1869.  Les Chats, histoire, moeurs, observations, anecdotes was advertised by a poster with a lithograph by Manet, Le rendez-vous des chats (‘The cats’ rendezvous’), showing two cats on a rooftop engaged in a mating game. The black cat was no doubt a reminder of the cat that featured prominently in Manet’s Olympia, the painting that had caused a scandal when first displayed in 1865. Manet’s lithograph was also used on the poster for the second edition of Champfleury’s work a few months later and an engraving of it appears in the book itself. 

Cover of 'Les Chats' with a picture of two cats on a roof
Poster with a lithograph by Manet, advertising Champfleury’s Les Chats
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The popularity of the book was such that it was reprinted twice in quick succession and two deluxe editions followed in 1870 with several additional texts and illustrations including, in the fifth edition, an etching by Manet, Le Chat et les fleurs (‘Cat and Flowers’), showing a cat on a balcony near a ceramic jardinière, an image influenced by Japanese prints and also a reference to Champfleury’s interest in ceramics. [Fig.3]

Etching of a cat and a bowl of flowers
Edouard Manet, Le Chat et les fleurs. Etching  in  Les Chats (5th edition, 1870)

The book’s 23 short chapters (34 in the de luxe editions) and numerous appendices look at cats in ancient civilizations, popular traditions, heraldry, art and literature. There are also chapters on friends, enemies and painters of cats. It is profusely illustrated  with  full-page illustrations, decorated letters and vignettes, and several chapters have delightful tailpieces, several of them copied from a sheet of studies of cats  by Hiroshige (which Champfleury erroneously attributes to Hokusai).

Sheet of drawings of cats in different posesAndo Hiroshige , Sheet of cat studies from Ryusai gafu. ca 1836

The frontispiece of the original 1868 edition is a drawing by the Swiss artist Gottfried Mind (1768-1814), ‘the Raphael of cats’, a nickname given to him (according to Champfleury) by Mme Vigée Lebrun.  Mind painted an infinite variety of cats and he would sit for hours drawing with a cat sitting on his lap and two or three kittens perched on his shoulders; a general massacre of cats in 1809 in his native Berne was the greatest tragedy of his life. Another Mind drawing in the text (below right) has the elegance and grace of a Matisse line drawing.

Image of a cat washing itself Image of a cat washing itself

Images of cats by Gottfried Mind, frontispiece and p. 142 of the 1869 edition of Les Chats

Champfleury’s erudite interests are much in evidence in the book in the inclusion, for example, of two devices of the Sessa family of printers, active in Venice in the 16th century, showing a cat.


Printer's device of a cat sitting in a decorated frame
Sessa’s printers device, Les Chats (1869) p. 152

 There are also examples of cats in heraldry, in legends and, above all, in popular prints. They include a 17th-century French woodcut showing a concert of cats in a fairground, their trainer surrounded by cats reading from scores headed ‘miaou’ and a Russian lubok colour print showing ‘The Mice  Burying the Cat’, a typical example of the world turned upside down.

Picture of a man watching a choir and orchestra of cats

‘La Musique des Chats’ [above] and ‘The mice burying the cat’ [below], from Les Chats (1870)

   Mice holding a funeral procession for a cat

An impressive full-page Japanese print (below) showing  a composite head of a cat is another example of the author’s interest in Japanese art.

  Composite image of a cat's head made up of other cats

The numerous  portraits of writers and artists who were cat-lovers include Montaigne, Chateaubriand, Hoffmann and Baudelaire, but pride of place is given to Victor Hugo and his cat Chanoine.

Picture of a long-haired cat with a facsimile inscription by Victor Hugo

A vignette of Chanoine in the first edition became the frontispiece of the de luxe editions (above) with a note in Hugo’s hand quoting Joseph Méry’s dictum “God made the cat to give man the pleasure of stroking a tiger.”

Drawing of the head of a cat

While a drawing of a cat by Delacroix (above) almost looks like a self portrait, cat’s ears are sprouting on Champfleury’s own head in the final illustration in the book, a humorous portrait of the author in his study, poring over a book about cats and observed by a cat perched on a bookcase behind him. 

Chris Michaelides, Curator Romance Studies


Champfleury Les Chats. Histoire-mœurs-observations-anecdotes.  Troisième édition. (Paris, 1869).  7207.aa.23; 

Quatrième édition. (Paris, 1870). 7208.aa.10. 

1869 edition available online from the Bibliothèque nationale de France via Gallica

Luce Abélès, Champfleury: l'art pour le peuple. (Paris, 1990). ZV.9.a.67(39)

Caricature of Champfleury with the ears of a cat

A cat-eared Champfleury in his study, portrait by Edmond Morin from Les Chats (1869), p. 287.

11 September 2015

Joost Zwagerman (1963-2015)

On Tuesday of this week Joost Zwagerman, one of three most read Dutch authors of our generation, took his own life. 

Photograp of Joost ZwagermanJoost Zwagerman in 2010 (picture by Jost Hindersmann from Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0) 

Zwagerman was a prolific author, poet, commentator, art critic and polemicist. In 2010 he was awarded De Gouden Ganzenveer  (The Golden Quill) for his whole oeuvre, one of several literary awards during his career. In the same year he wrote the Boekenweekcadeau the annual ‘gift’ for the Dutch National Book Week. Being invited to write this is considered one of the biggest accolades in the literary world.

Zwagerman very much engaged with his readers and the general public in the Netherlands and abroad. He spent two weeks as author-in-residence at the University of Sheffield. Whilst his work is not (yet) translated into English, English speakers can get a real flavour of his wonderful style from the account he wrote of his experiences in Sheffield on (click on ‘Engels’ for the translation).

He frequently appeared on television, where he talked about art and culture, a topic he wrote about in many of his works. A better advocate for art and literature will be hard to find. His enthusiasm was inspiring.

He also wrote about suicide (his father attempted suicide and a close friend of his died by assisted suicide). In ‘Door eigen hand: zelfmoord en de nabestaanden’, freely translated as ‘By one’s own hand: suicide and next of kin’ he strongly argued against it, which makes his own suicide all the more poignant.

His work was translated into German, French, Czech, Hungarian and Japanese, but as already stated,  does not appear in English. That is a shame. Joost Zwagerman deserves to be translated into the world language that is English and reach a much wider audience.

Covers of three of Joost Zwagerman's books
Some of Jost Zwagerman's books from the British Library's collections

The British Library holds most of his works, which can be found by using our catalogue Explore.

Marja Kingma, Curator Low Countries collections

A brief selection of titles by Joost Zwagerman, held by the British Library:

De Houdgreep (Amsterdam, 1986). YA.1994.a.3152

Gimmick! (Amsterdam, 1992) YA.1990.a.3895

Vals Licht (Amsterdam, 1992) YA.1993.a.27376

Collegas van God (Amsterdam, 1993) YA.1993.a.25914

De Mooiste Vrouw ter Wereld: gedichten (Amsterdam, 1993) YA.1993.b.8597

Duel (Amsterdam, 2010;  Gift for the National Book week) YF.2010.a.9478

Alles is gekleurd: omzwervingen in de kunst (Amsterdam, 2011) YF.2013.a.7001

De wereld is hier: een keuze uit eigen werk (Amsterdam, 2012) YF.2012.a.34077

Kennis is geluk: nieuwe omzwervingen in de kunst (Utrecht, 2013) YF.2013.a.22414

09 September 2015

A Series of Illustrated Books on Russia before the First World War

 The years between 1910 and 1913 were an opportune time for publishing house Adam & Charles Black to produce a series on Russian culture for a British audience.

 Cover of Russia (London, 1913; British Library

George Dobson’s St. Petersburg (1910), Henry M. Grove’s Moscow (1912.) and Hugh Stewart’s Provincial Russia (1913) are all stand-alone works, collected together in 1913 for the larger and more expensive volume simply titled Russia. A further book aimed at younger readers had been produced in 1910 as part of the Peeps at Many Lands series. Colourful illustrations by Frederic de Haenen accompany all five works, showing a picturesque side to Russia far from the Russophobic caricatures the British public would have been used to.

The terrace of the Kremlin, from Moscow (1912)

Conservative concerns about the threat posed by Russia to the British Empire, and Radical opposition to the Autocratic form of government, had long nurtured suspicions about Russia. The growing threat of German militarism to British imperial interests and the democratic gains achieved after the 1905 revolution allayed these fears somewhat, opening up space for a more positive view. Between the Anglo-Russian entente  of 1907  and the beginning of the First World War vigorous attempts were being made to build mutual understanding between the two countries, and a historic visit by members of the Duma to Britain in 1909 raised the interest of the public further.

 Members leaving the Duma. from St. Petersburg (1910)

These popular books, aimed at the general reader, can be seen as an expression of, and a contribution to, what Michael Hughes called the ‘repositioning of Russia in the British imagination’ at this time. And it seems that such repositioning was not only one way, as Grove records in Moscow (1912, p. 118):

There was a Russian I knew well and met often – a schoolmaster. He and I were always quarrelling, for he professed to be and was a pronounced Anglophobe. At last I persuaded him to learn a little English, and go over to England for a few weeks, to see if we really were as bad as he thought. When he came back he was converted into a violent Anglomaniac. I asked him what had converted him, and he said, “Your British Museum.” He said that only the greatest nation on earth could have such a marvellous institution as that; he always felt as if he were in church when he was there, and always held his hat in his hand all the time he was in the building. I am afraid the British Museum does not have the same effect on the average Englishman.

Mike Carey, Collaborative Doctoral Student


George Dobson & Frederic de Haenen, St. Petersburg (London, 1910). 10292.dd.6.

Henry M. Grove & Frederic de Haenen, Moscow (London, 1912). 10291.bbb.11.

Hugh Stewart & Frederic de Haenen, Provincial Russia (London, 1913).

Michael Hughes, ‘Searching for the Soul of Russia: British Perceptions of Russia during the First World War’, Twentieth Century British History 20, 2 (2009), 198-226.

Lavinia Edna Walter & Frederic de Haenen, Peeps at Many Lands: Russia (London, 1910). 010026.g.1/26.



07 September 2015

The Lion, the Wolf and the Wardrobe: Smil Flaška’s council of Bohemian birds and beasts

As we commemorate the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, it is interesting to reflect that England was not the only country in mediaeval Europe where the interests of the king clashed with those of his barons. When he succeeded his father Charles IV as king of Bohemia in 1361, Wenceslas IV faced a similar situation. Like his brother-in-law Richard II in England, he was of a temperamental disposition which did not make it easy for him to come to terms with the nobles who were concerned about his attempts to encroach on their ancient rights and organized themselves into a union of lords, the Panská jednota, to combat them. In 1402 Wenceslas was taken captive, leading to prolonged negotiations for his release and fighting between the nobility and the mainly German inhabitants of the royal towns. He was clearly in need of some sound advice about how to rule his turbulent kingdom.

It came from a somewhat surprising source – a man with a personal grudge against the Crown. Little is known about the early life of Smil Flaška of Pardubice except that he studied at the University of Prague in the 1350s, and in 1394 was appointed chief notary of the land court of the Panská jednota. It was also around 1394 that he composed the allegorical poem Nová rada (The New Council), the first example of its kind in mediaeval Czech literature.

Flaska, Nova Rada 1950 of a modern edition of Nová rada (Prague, 1950). British Library

Beast allegories were already widespread throughout Europe, both in Latin and the vernacular languages, from the tales of Reynard the Fox to Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls (c.1380), written to mark the marriage of Wenceslas’s sister Anne of Bohemia to Richard II. They were the successors to the classical fables of Aesop and Phaedrus,  in which amusing anecdotes about the follies of the animal protagonists could be used to point a moral which might have been unacceptable if expressed in another guise. This tradition was picked up in France by Gervais du Bus in a satire attacking the corrupt reign of Philippe IV, Le Roman de Fauvel (c.1310), where the run-down nag Fauvel represents the shabby condition of church and state.

Flaska, King LionThe king of the beasts, from an edition of Nová rada iIlustrated by Antonín Strnadl (Prague, 1940). Cup.502.aa.12.

Smil’s poem begins with the young king of beasts (recalling the double-tailed lion of Bohemia) summoning a council of forty-four birds and beasts to advise him. In a series of speeches each presents his views, based on the natural characteristics of their species. The beaver, for instance, advises the lion to build his castles of wood in watery places, a reference to Wenceslas’s well-known fondness for taking baths. The swallow, however, counters:

No, do not build in marsh or mire,
But where the air is healthy, higher;
With stone and mortar, dry and fast,
So what you build is sure to last.

Every aspect of kingly activity is covered, from the lynx’s tips on military strategy to the camel’s advice on charity towards those in misfortune and the elephant’s on the moral upbringing of the royal children. Not everyone is so high-minded, though; the peacock, understandably, urges the king to dress in a style more suited to his station (Wenceslas was notorious for slipping out in humble garb to enjoy the low-life pleasures of the town), and the horse enthusiastically agrees, advocating the splendours of the tournament surrounded by richly bedecked lords and ladies (though we may detect a satirical note in his decidedly unheroic account of the unhorsed knights rolling in the dust, shedding teeth and imploring aid with cries of ‘Rette, rette!’ – revealing their alien origins and tastes).

Flaska, Camel and Elephant            The elephant and the camel, from Cup.502.aa.12.            

Courtierly self-interest is also evident in the recommendations of the fox (if the king needs advisers at all, surely smaller ones with their wits about them are the best?) and the cat:

And, in addition, you’ll need spies
To watch at night with shrewd sharp eyes;
Murderers and thieves are apt, I think,
Softly in darkness to creep and slink;
But spies will seize them right on the stair
And drag them to court, for punishment there.
           (Translations by Susan Reynolds/Halstead)

The wolf, too, with his shoulders mantled in grey hair suggesting a cowl, symbolizes the rapacity of certain monastic orders, with an interpolated reference to the falsification of documents which caused Smil’s ancestral estates to be forfeited to the king, one of several cases where Wenceslas deprived noble families of their lands by the feudal right of reversion. He is also associated with the much-resented ‘new men’ whom Wenceslas had taken onto his council and allowed to buy positions in the land court, to the fury of the barons.

Flaska, Leopard, Bear and WolfThe leopard, bear and wolf from Cup.502.aa.12.

Perhaps the author could have used the lynx’s wise advice about how best to avoid an ambush; having taken an active part in the fighting on the side of the nobility, he was fatally wounded on 13 August 1403 during the siege of the royalist town Kutná Hora.

Smil was too astute to speak out unambiguously and counsel the king directly, even in an allegory, but the results make for a colourful and entertaining poem which was one of the first to be published in a new edition with a parallel text in modern Czech by Jan Gebauer, a pioneer of mediaeval Czech studies, in 1876 (Ac.800/7). In 1940 a new translation by František Vrba was published by Orbis in Prague, illustrated with woodcuts by . They prove that though Smil Flaška’s poetry originated from a specific time of personal and national crisis, its appeal is timeless and universal.

Susan Halstead,  Content Specialist, Research Engagement.