European studies blog

15 posts from October 2015

30 October 2015

The ‘Esbatement moral des animaux’ : a 16th century French adaptation of Aesopian fables and their illustration

The current Animal Tales exhibition includes a copy of the Esbatement moral, Des animaux (British Library C.125.d.23), an anonymous French verse adaptation of Aesop’s fables in sonnet form. It was published in Antwerp in 1578 by the engraver Philippe Galle (1537-1612). Little can be inferred about the identity of the anonymous author, who claims to be ‘tout nouveau en la langue Françoise’, apart from the dedication to Charles de Croÿ and his connections with Philippe Galle himself  and Pierre Heyns, writer of the verse preface, and part of the community of Antwerp humanists. Heyns’s preface refers to ‘des Heroiques vers / En Sonets bien troussez... / A Londres entonnez et finiz en Anvers’, pointing to a cultural relation between Flanders and England, which is also relevant to the illustrator, Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder.

 01 Esbatement
Esbatement moral des animaux
(Antwerp, 1578); image from a copy in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, RES P-YE-550, available online via Gallica

This work shows the interest in Aesopian fables within Flemish humanistic circles in the Renaissance. It expresses the desire to combine classical wisdom with the Christian message, using text and images to support this didactic purpose.

The title of the collection, ‘Esbatement moral’, or ‘moral entertainment’, covers the double ambition of the fables, docere et placere, to instruct and to please. Staging animals to represent human behaviours, foibles and virtues, is part of the appeal of these short didactic tales. The preface immediately plays on this double register, as man is characterised first by religion and second by the Aristotelian category of animal rationabile, as opposed to that of bestia. Interestingly, no reference is made to Aesop, either in the title or in the introduction: at the bottom of the frontispiece, a quotation from Psalm 148 exhorts animals to praise the Lord. The purpose of the book is clearly the didactic dissemination of a Christian moral.

The frontispiece shows animals on a theatrical stage in front of a curtain while men and women are attending the performance. Although the animals are represented in a naturalistic manner, the cushion used as seat by the lion, king of the animals and the fool’s outfit worn by the monkey contribute to their anthropomorphism. Animals are privileged actors on the stage of the theatrum mundi: a century later, Jean de La Fontaine presents his collection of fables as ‘Une ample comédie à cent actes divers, / Et dont la scène est l’univers’ (Fables, V, 1, 1668).

Around the central illustration, medallions containing portraits of individual animals are interspersed with Latin inscriptions allowing the reader to identify the protagonists of specific biblical or classical stories (Eve and the serpent, Balaam’s ass, the speaking dog of Tarquin the Proud...). This sets up a biblical and classical cultural horizon for this collection of fables, even if the core language of the collection is not Latin but French.

02 Esbatement
Dedication of the Esbatement moral des animaux, f. A2.

The Esbatement is dedicated to Charles III de Croÿ, prince de Chimay (1560-1612), a keen collector of books and artworks. The author highlights his religious and educational purpose: in his dedication, the expected association of fables with oral tales and classical fiction, gives way to references to the Gospel and the Holy Writ, mentioning ‘figures’, ‘similitudes’ and ‘paraboles’ as means to access the truth, ‘vive verite’.

The Aesopian sonnets are introduced by Pierre Heyns (1537-1598), who wrote and translated several didactic and pedagogical works. His  preface is directed to the ‘Spectateur et Lecteur’, highlighting the essential combination of the visual and textual aspects of the book.

03 EsbatementVerse preface by Pierre Heyns, from Esbatement moral des animaux, f. A2v

The author also considers the images as essential: his dedication mentions ‘plusieurs nouvelles figures... et divers passages de l’Escriture Sainte, accommodés aux figures et sonets...’. For the author, the biblical quotations seem as important as the fable itself.

04 1567 01aa
Edewaerd de Dene, De warachtighe fabulen der dieren (Bruges, 1567). Image from the Bibliothèque nationale de France copy , RES-YI-19, via Gallica

The artist, Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, had illustrated a collection of Aesopian fables, De warachtighe fabulen der dieren (‘True animal fables’), translated into Dutch by Edewaerd de Dene (British Library 640.l.22 is a collection of engravings from this edition). The Dutch edition has a different frontispiece (above) and is introduced by the engraver and printer Hubert Goltz.

A preface to De warachtighe fabulen… by Lucas d’Heere, a Flemish painter, poet and writer was used as model for Pierre Heyns’s foreword to the French edition. The 1578 Esbatement des animaux also reused 107 etchings from this edition, with 18 additional illustrations, also by Gheeraerts.

06 1567 03a
Durch version of   ‘The Lion and the Mouse’, from De warachtighe fabulen der dieren, ff. 202-203.

In the Flemish copy (above), the illustration of ‘The Lion and the Mouse’ features on the left page, preceded by a motto and followed by two Bible quotations: one from Proverbs 27, and the other from Ecclesiastes 3 (the choice of quotations in the French version is different). The Dutch fable is also versified, but in alexandrines, and is longer. The moral is set distinctively from the narration by the use of an indented paragraph and of italics, and it is preceded by a pointing hand, a manicula.

French version of  ‘The Lion and the Mouse’, from Esbatement moral des animaux, ff. 11v-12.

In ‘Du Lion et le Rat’, the verse fable, placed on the left page, faces an etching on the right page, framed by a devise on top (‘Chascun peut faire recompense’) and a Bible quotation at the bottom (Ecclus. 12:1,2). In the illustration of ‘the Lion and the Mouse’, the lion is depicted with a lot of movement and vivacity, at the forefront of the image: he is trying to untangle himself from the net wrapped around him. He stands on his back legs, tail up, head contorted and expressing anguish, with an open jaw which reveals his tongue and teeth, and an aggrieved look. His confusion contrasts with the calm of the mouse in the bottom left of the image, who starts biting into the thread.

The sonnets follow the rhyme scheme set up by the French poet Clément Marot (1496-1544): two quatrains of alexandrines in enclosed rhymes (abba) followed by a couplet (cc) and a last quatrain of enclosed rhymes (deed). However, visually and syntactically, the poem appears as a sequence of two quatrains and two tercets, in the tradition of the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet. The last tercet is an ideal location for the moral of the fable, which echoes the two sentential statements on the facing page.

This collection of Aesopian fables in French can appeal to different kinds of audience: readers will enjoy this poetical rewriting of the fables in the short sonnet form, but the author first puts the emphasis on the moral and Christian instruction they provide, along with the lively illustrations which will appeal to both younger and older readers.

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator, Romance Collections

References / further reading:

Edward Hodnett, Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder of Bruges, London, and Antwerp (Utrecht, 1971) X.421/5858.

Hollstein’s Dutch & Flemish etchings, engravings and woodcuts (1450 - 1700) (Rotterdam;  Amsterdam, 1949-2001)  

Manfred Stefan Sellink, Philips Galle (1537-1612) : engraver and print publisher in Haarlem and Antwerp (Rotterdam, 2000) YA.1999.b.4195



29 October 2015

The Panizzi Lectures - The invention of rare books

The Panizzi Lectures, based upon the original researches of eminent scholars of the book, have been delivered annually since 1985. They cover a wide and international subject range within the overall umbrella of historical bibliography. In this year’s series of three lectures, on Monday 2, Thursday 5 and Monday 9 November 2015, Professor David McKitterick will look at the printing revolution in 15th-century Europe which brought unprecedented quantities of books into the world.   CM Panizzi lecture poster

It quickly became clear that some selection was necessary if readers were not to drown in a sea of paper. But how to select? What was worth keeping, and what could be ignored? Different groups of people had different ideas, whether based on religious, political or other principles.

These lectures will consider how some kinds of books became marked out as being curious in some sense, and as rarities. The criteria established in the 16th century gradually developed into our ideas today of rare book collections, and rare book libraries.

 Lecture 1  A seventeenth-century revolution

CM Panizzi lecture 1                               Sutton Nicholls The Compleat Auctioner. Etching c. 1700 ©The Trustees of the British Museum

The beginnings of an idea. How were different copies of books to be compared? How could rarity be established? How far was rarity to be equalled with a scale of financial values? By the end of the 17th century the foundations were in place for a newly organized world of trade and collecting.

Lecture 2. Selling the Harleian Library

 Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford. c. 1725; attributed toJonathan Richardson the elder. © National Portrait Gallery, London

The Harleian manuscripts are famous as one of the foundation collections of the British Museum in the mid-18th century. The vast Harleian collection of printed books, dispersed at auction, has been less studied for their part in a bibliographical and social revolution in Britain and on the continent.

Lecture 3. Private interest and public responsibility

CM Panzzi lecture 3
Spiridione Gambardella Portrait of Sir Anthony Panizzi (1797-1879). Painting on canvas.©The Trustees of the British Museum

The generation and dispersal of major private libraries in 18th-century France proved to be the groundwork for fresh approaches to collecting both among individuals and in the creation of national libraries, with their new priorities and responsibilities. Amidst new levels of competition and jealousy, bibliophily grew institutionally as well as amongst private collectors.

David McKitterick FBA, Honorary Professor of Historical Bibliography in the University of Cambridge, retired earlier this year as Librarian of Trinity College, Cambridge. He has written widely about the history of printing and of libraries, and is one of the general editors of The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. His books include a three-volume History of Cambridge University Press (1992-2004), and Print, manuscript and the search for order, 1450-1830 (2003). In his most recent book, Old books, new technologies (2013), he explored the ways that books have been treated, conserved and changed since the 15th century.

The lectures are held at 6.15 pm in the Auditorium of the British Library Conference Centre. Admission is free, and seats will be allocated on a first come first served basis. The last lecture will be followed by a drinks reception to which all are welcome.

  CM Panizzi lecture flyer main imageUniversity Library at Leiden. Engraving by Willem Swanenburch, after a drawing by Jan Cornelisz Woudanus. 1610. Het Scheepvaartmuseum, Amsterdam



28 October 2015

A life for a language: Ľudovít Štúr (1815-54) and the Slovak nation

28th October is celebrated annually in the Czech Republic as a national holiday commemorating the establishment on that day in 1918 of the independent state of Czechoslovakia under its first president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. With the ‘Velvet Divorce’ of 1993, the peaceful dissolution of the union between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, it is no longer a holiday in the latter, although many Slovaks continue to feel that it should be. Instead, Slovakia remembers 1st January 1993, the first day of the existence of a separate Slovak state. However, in 2015 the Slovaks have an additional reason to celebrate on 28th October – the bicentenary of the birth of the man without whom the Slovak language as spoken nowadays might never have existed.

Ludovit_SturPortrairWikipedia                   Portrait of Ľudovít Štúr by Jozef Božetech Klemens (From Wikimedia Commons)

Ľudovít Štúr (1815-1856) was born in Uhrovec (in the same house, incidentally, which was later the birthplace of Alexander Dubček) as the second child of the schoolmaster Samuel Štúr and his wife Anna. The area was strongly Lutheran, and the religious tradition into which he was baptized would exercise a powerful influence on him throughout his life. After receiving a good grounding in Latin and other subjects from his father, the young Ĺudovít was educated at the Lutheran Lyceum in Bratislava (then known as Pressburg), where he became acquainted with the writings of Slavonic patriots including Ján Kollár, Pavel Jozef Šafarík and Josef Dobrovský, and joined the Czech-Slav Society. Rising to become its vice-president, in 1836 he approached the well-known Czech historian František Palacký, appealing for his support in the creation of a unified Czechoslovak language and claiming that the Czech spoken by Slovaks in Upper Hungary was no longer intelligible to their countrymen elsewhere. In the interests of Slavonic unity and impartiality, he proposed the acceptance on both sides of a number of Czech and Slovak words, but this proved unacceptable to the Czechs, leading Štúr and his circle to mount a campaign for a new standard Slovak language. They travelled through Upper Hungary to canvass on behalf of this after a meeting on 24 April 1836 at the ruined castle of Devín (Dévény, near Bratislava) where they not only swore an oath of loyalty to their cause but chose new Slavonic names, with Štúr himself adding Velislav to his own.

Slovakia-Devin_castle6        Castle Devín, Bratislava (Devín village), Slovak Republic (Photo by Radovan Bahna from Wikimedia Commons)

The Slovak language movement might have seemed to be doomed from the outset because of the threefold opposition which it faced. Not only had it experienced a rebuff from the Czechs, but as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire the territory in which Štúr grew up had had German imposed on it as the language of bureaucracy and officialdom, and there was also an increasingly vocal movement in promotion of the Hungarian language.  Štúr was fluent in German, and studied from 1838-1840 at the Protestant University of Halle, while continuing to maintain contacts with Czech patriots and, in 1839, publishing an account of his journey to Lusatia, the ‘smallest Slavonic nation’ centred around Bautzen.

While teaching grammar and Slavonic history at his old school, Štúr acted as co-editor of the literary journal Tatranka (Pressburg, 1832-45; British Library PP.4874.bbh), and planned to start a Slovak political journal. However, his application for a licence to do so was rejected in 1842, when he also launched a petition against the persecution of Slovaks by Hungarians in Upper Hungary. The following year he was compelled to leave his Lyceum post after an investigation into the activities of its Institute of Czechoslovak Language, and to publish his summary of the Slovaks’ grievances against the Hungarians, which no Hungarian publishing house would touch. At the same time, however, he and his followers were working on the codification of a new Slovak language, which gradually came into literary use in 1844. Advocating the Slovaks’ right to their own language, schools and political independence within Hungary, he was chosen in 1847 as a deputy in the Hungarian Diet in Bratislava, representing Zvolen (Zólyom), two months after the formal adoption by both Roman Catholics and Protestants of the new standard Slovak language.

The events of 1848, however, interrupted his political career, as the Diet ceased to meet after April. Instead Štúr visited Prague to establish Slovanská Lipa, an organization to foster cooperation between Slavs, and took part in the first Slavic Congress there. His involvement in the presentation of the petition Žiadosti slovanského národa (Requests of the Slovak Nation) in May 1848, including calls for the abolition of serfdom, universal suffrage and freedom of the press, led to a Hungarian warrant for his arrest, and in September he and the other members of the Slovak National Council proclaimed independence from Hungary. After organizing the Slovak military volunteer campaign, Štúr headed a delegation which on 20 March 1849 formally presented the Slovak nation’s demands to Franz Josef II at Olomouc, but when, after lengthy negotiations, the Slovak volunteers were disbanded in November he returned to Uhrovec. His spirit remained unquenched despite further obstacles and tragedies (he was placed under police surveillance in Modra, where he moved to care for his seven nephews and nieces following his brother Karol’s death in 1851) which did not prevent him from publishing several more important works on Slavonic songs, myths and culture, including O národných povestiach a piesňach plemien slovanských (On the national songs and myths of the Slavonic races; 1852: YA.2002.a.21123) and Das Slawenthum und die Welt der Zukunft (Slavdom and the world of the future; Bratislava, 1931; X.800/2232).

Ironically, having survived the armed uprising of 1848-49, Ľudovít Štúr met his end through a gunshot – but one which he accidentally inflicted on himself during a hunting expedition on 22 December 1855. He lingered for three weeks, dying on 12 January 1856, and was honoured with a national funeral in Modra. In his forty years of life, this man from an obscure town in Slovakia had given his people the gift of a versatile and expressive language, as suited to poetry as to political debate, and fought tirelessly for its place in the world, in keeping with his creed: ‘My country is my being, and every hour of my life shall be devoted to it.’

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Engagement


26 October 2015

The Tale of Mélusine

The ongoing exhibition in the British Library’s front hall, Animal Tales brought to mind one tale which holds particular resonance on the theme of allegory, which is so expertly dealt with in the exhibition.  This tale, however, is beyond the remit of the exhibition because it deals with mythological creatures.

The tale in question is the tale of Mélusine. It stands as a clear signpost in the transition which marks the intersection between myth and historicity. At the turn of the 14th century to the 15th century two versions of the legend of Mélusine appeared the first by Jean d’Arras (1393-1394), with another penned by Coudrette sometime in the opening years of the 15th century. This tale is about one of the most compelling female characters in medieval French fiction. It most likely draws on earlier myths dating back to Gallo-Roman and Celtic prototypes. Even the name ‘Fair Melusina’ may derive from the same ancient Gaulish root for the fair beings such as mermaids, water sprites, and forest nymphs.

The intriguing story tells or the beautiful Mélusine, the result of the marriage of the King of Scotland and his fairy wife. In her youth Mélusine entombed her father in a mountain leaving her mother heartbroken. The deed displeased her mother and as punishment Mélusine was condemned to transform into a serpent from the waist down every Saturday.

Picture of the serpent-tailed Mélusine bathing while a man secretly looks on
Mélusine, from a 19th-century edition of the version by Jean d’Arras (Paris, 1859) British Library 12430.m.2. [vol. 7]

Archetypally for late medieval narrative, while out hunting in the forests (typically sites for magical encounters in fairy stories) of the Ardennes, Raymond, Lord of Forez in Poitou, a poor but noble gentleman, meets Mélusine. She was sitting beside a fountain in “glimmering white dresses, with long waving golden hair, and faces of inexpressible beauty”.  In discovering Mélusine by a watersource, this indicates a connection between her and the supernatural world. Raymond, so taken by her beauty and her amiable manners, falls totally in love with her. Mélusine agrees to marry Raymond, but on the condition he vows not to attempt to see her on Saturday when she will go into seclusion.   

Woodcut showing Mélusine bathing in secret
Mélusine bathing in secret, woodcut from Dis ouentürlich buch bewiset wie von einer frauwen genantt Melusina ... ([Strassburg, ca 1477]) C.8.i.5.

Over the following years under Mélusine’s direction the region of Poitou, situated in the westerly central France around modern day Poitiers, blossomed; forests were cleared, the land developed for agriculture and the planting of crops. She oversaw the building of cities and castles including her own seat, the Château de Lusignan. Here we see the connection between Mélusine, with her fae heritage, and the growing prosperity and fertility of the region of Poitou is indicative and the foundations of our modern construct of the benevolent fairy godmother. 

During this time of plenty she bore Raymond ten sons. Some became Kings while others became tyrants. Some were marked with strange signs and deformities because of their mixed heritage. Here the elements of myth and folklore are blended with epic to align the supernatural founder of the dynasty of Lusignan with the aspirations of late feudal society. By weaving the mythology of the supernatural from the folklore tradition into the lineage the myths and the powers therein can be ascribed to a family name, adding glamour and legitimacy.  

Woodcut showing  a serpent-tailed Mélusine bathing, Raymond spying on her, and Mélusine flying away
Title-page of Mélusine (Paris, 1530)

With such ambivalence about Mélusine’s background and her activities on a Saturday tensions arose, possibly suspicsions of infidelity were planted in Raymond’s mind. Ultimately he was overcome with curiosity. Spying through the keyhole at Mélusine’s bizarre metamorphosis, Raymond was astonished to see her lower part of body take on serpentine qualities. His transgression was only apparent to her when later he called her a “serpent”. This results in Mélusine transforming in to the shape of a winged dragon and flying off. The mythology of a fairy bride whose body is not to be looked on and who. when the husband transgresses, immediately vanishes is common enough in folklore across a number of cultures. 

Woodcut showing Mélusine flying away, watched by three men from a tower
Mélusine takes flight, from Dis ouentürlich buch …

It was said that Mélusine would return periodically to keep watch over her sons, flying around the castle crying mournfully. In parts of Europe to speak of the whining of Mélusine,“often refers to the sound the wind makes swirling around the chimney breast”.

In terms of common depictions of Mélusine, the siren on the Starbucks logo has been likened and contrasted with a Mélusine. This link via a coffee shop franchise brings us back to Animal Tales, where a copy of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is on display. The character of Starbuck in Moby Dick, of course, lent his name to the coffee shops.

Jeremy Jenkins, Curator Emerging Media, Contemporary British Collections

References/further reading:

Jean D’Arras, Melusine (London 1895) 3642.97500 Vol.68.

Women, Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopaedia, Editor Margeret Schaus  (London 2006) HLR 305.409  

Women in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopaedia, Vol.II, Editors: Katharina M. Wilson & Nadia Margolis (London, 2004)  HLR 305.409

Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology Vol.I  (London, 1900) HLR 293.13

Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Legend, Editor Maria Leach  (New York, 1972) HLR 398.03

S. Baring-Gould, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages (London, 1892)

Ann Rippin, "Space, place and the colonies: re‐reading the Starbucks' story", Critical perspectives on international business, Vol. 3 Iss: 2 2007, pp.136-149.  E-Resources.



25 October 2015

History Written by the Victors, Poetry by the Losers? Charles d’Orléans, the Prisoner-Poet of Agincourt

25th October 2015 marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, one of the most celebrated British military victories. The struggle between the armies of Henry V of England and Charles VI of France, in which, according to the French eye-witness Jean de Wavrin’s statement, ‘the French were six times more numerous than the English’, immediately captured the imagination of chroniclers in both prose and verse, and was commemorated in the famous Agincourt Hymn Deo gratias, Anglia which was sung as Henry, bare-headed and on foot, made his triumphal entry into London, as well as in the ballad The Bataille of Agincourt, attributed to John Lydgate. Most famously of all, it inspired Shakespeare’s Henry V, familiar not only through countless stage performances but through two notable films in which Laurence Olivier (1944)  and Kenneth Branagh (1989) portrayed the young warrior king. The play’s message of chivalry and the English fighting spirit which won out against tremendous odds lent itself to the climate of Britain in the closing years of the Second World War but also to a more generous and impartial perspective in the later version with its emphasis on the sufferings of war.

The saying of Walter Benjamin that ‘history is written by the victors’ might therefore seem to apply to poetry and drama too, but is far from the truth in this case. Not only were there notable accounts of the battle from the French side, including those by Enguerrand de Monstrelet (c. 1400-1453) of which the British Library holds a first printed edition from around the beginning of the 16th century  illustrated with numerous wood engravings.

Charles d'Orleans Monstrelet 1The English fleet sets out to France, from Le premier volume de enguerran de monstrellet … (Paris, between 1499 and 1503) British Library C.22.d.6. (f.203 v)

One of the outstanding poets of his age, who actually appears in Shakespeare’s play, was also one of the hostages of war and spent 21 years in captivity in England. Charles d’Orléans (24 November 1394–5 January 1465) succeeded to the dukedom of Orléans at the age of 13 after the murder of his father Louis I on the orders of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy. His mother Valentina, the daughter of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan, did not long survive this loss, and in the early years of his reign Bernard VIII, Count of Armagnac, the father of his second wife Bonne (Bona) was a strong influence, which led to his followers being known as Armagnacs. When the battle lines were drawn up on St. Crispin’s Day 1415 the newly-knighted Duke was placed in the front line, but although he survived the conflict he, together with the Duke of Bourbon, Marshal Boucicaut and the Counts of Richemont, Eu and Vendôme, was among the 1,500-1,600 noble prisoners captured by the English. Their impressive but cumbersome armour made it difficult to move quickly in hand-to-hand combat, and Charles was discovered alive but immobilized under a pile of corpses (the Earl of Suffolk was less fortunate, and suffocated in similar circumstances).

Charles d'Orleans Monstrelet 2 Armoured knights in battle, from Le premier volume de enguerran de monstrellet … (f. 211 v.)

The prisoners were transported to England in the hope that their kinsmen would ransom them, but in Charles’s case this would not happen until 1440. A cynic might conclude that his countrymen were in no hurry to have him back, but in fact Henry had placed a specific embargo on his release, fearing that as the natural head of the Armagnac faction he would represent a source of danger. Finally, having received an undertaking that Charles would not seek vengeance for his father’s assassination, Philip the Good, the current Duke of Burgundy, arranged for his release.

Charles d'Orleans Royal 16 F IICharles d’Orleans in captivity at the Tower of London, from a manuscript collection of his poetry, BL Royal MS 16 F II, f. 73

Charles had not been idle during his captivity. He was kept on the move from one fortress to another, including the Tower of London; in an uncanny reprise he spent part of his imprisonment in Pontefract Castle like Richard II, whose child widow Isabella of Valois had been Charles’s first wife. By the time he was returned to France, the English chronicler Holinshed observed that he spoke better English than French, which equipped him to write over 500 poems in both languages. The British Library holds an illuminated manuscript of these (Royal MS 16 F II), and also a volume of those in English at C.101.a.38, ‘first printed from the manuscript [i.e.  Harley MS 682] of the library in the British Museum’ in 1827 by George Watson Taylor, which contains a autograph letter by the editor presenting it to the Museum.

Charles d'Orleans Watson Taylor letterGeorge Watson Taylor’s letter presenting his book to the British Museum Library, from Poems, written in English, by Charles, Duke of Orleans, during his captivity in England, after the battle of Azincourt. With an introductory notice by G. W. Taylor. (London, 1827) C.101.a.38]

The poems in both languages bemoan the pains of captivity and of courtly love in the ballade and rondeau forms. They attracted several musical settings, including a group of three by Claude Debussy and another by Edward Elgar. The Duke’s colourful life also inspired a historical novel by the Dutch author Hella S. Haasse, Het Woud der verwachting (1949).

Once liberated, Charles returned to France, was joyfully welcomed by the people of Orleans, and embarked on a third marriage to Marie of Cleves which produced three children, including the future King Louis XII. His Italian ancestry led him to press a claim to Asti, but without any real conviction, and he lived out the rest of his life as a Knight of the Golden Fleece and, fittingly, as a generous patron of the arts. His library had been saved by Yolande of Aragon and was awaiting him on his return, and, like another creation of the dramatist who had put him on stage, Shakespeare’s Prospero, he might well have remarked,  ‘… my library was Dukedom large enough’.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Engagement.


Pierre de Fénin, Mémoire de Pierre de Fénin, escuyer et panetier de Charles VI., roy de France, contenant l'histoire de ce prince depuis l'an 1407 jusques à l'an 1422. Recueillis par G. de Tieulaine … (Paris, 1825) 909.e.9.

Jean-Juvenal des Ursins, Histoire de Charles VI., Roy de France, et des choses memorables advenuës durant 42 années de son Règne depuis 1380 jusques à 1422 … (Paris, 1836)

Hella S. Haasse, Het Woud der verwachting. Het leven van Charles van Orléan. (Amsterdam, 1959) 10865.d.17; English translation In a dark wood wandering (London, 1990) Nov.1990/506.

23 October 2015

Hungary 1956: revolution, refugees, reprisal

On this day in 1956 a peaceful demonstration organised by students took place in the Hungarian capital, demanding reforms of the oppressive communist regime. Soon broad sections of the population joined the cause, and soon the rattle of gunfire and the clatter of tanks resounded in the streets of Budapest and other cities.

A flag with a hole on the 1956 monument outside the building of Parliament in Budapest. Communist insignia were torn or cut from flags during the October 23 demonstrations, an iconic image from the days of the Revolution. (Image by Ian Pitchford. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 From Wikimedia Commons)

The Revolution only lasted for 13 days, until 4th November, yet it became a symbol of fearless defiance against dictatorship behind the Iron Curtain. In a few days, Hungarians achieved what could only be dreamt of for many years beforehand. On the first evening Stalin’s six-tonne statue was toppled, with only his boots left on the pedestal.

Four days later a new, democratic government was formed by the reformist Imre Nagy, and without much delay negotiations started about the withdrawal of Soviet troops. The secret police was disbanded, political prisoners were freed, previously banned political parties were allowed to reorganise and preparations were started to hold free elections. The fact that Hungary was also determined to leave the Warsaw Pact and declare its neutrality hastened the tragic end of the Revolution. The Soviets responded with resolute ruthlessness, as it was not in their nature to stand by and watch one of their satellites leave orbit and create a gaping hole in the buffer zone towards the West.

Soviet tank in Budapest 1956
Soviet tank in Budapest, 1956. (Image by the CIA (PD). From Wikimedia Commons)

The British Library holds a substantial collection relating to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, a wealth of resources for academic or personal research. Collecting started shortly after the first refugees arrived in Great Britain. Almost 200,000 had fled their homeland and were given asylum in 35 countries worldwide after the brutal crushing of the Revolution. The earliest items received were leaflets and manifestos:

  • [A collection of leaflets issued by the Forradalmi Bizottmány and other bodies during the Hungarian revolution of 1956] ([Budapest], 1956).
  • [A collection of pamphlets dealing with events in Hungary in the autumn of 1956]. Cup.401.i.10.

Some of these are quite rare as even the possession of such ‘incendiary’ items was prohibited for over three decades.

Two flyers from Cup.401.i.10
Left, a flyer demanding free elections and calling to arms and strikes to gain independence. Right, an open letter to Soviet troops, in Russian, saying they were deceived when given orders to fight fascists in Hungary and that they should not shoot at demonstrators but withdraw. Cup.401.i.10.

Other sources include post-1989 publications of secret police archives, minutes of Communist party leadership sessions in 1956-1957, and documents from the British Foreign Office. It is also interesting to explore the domestic and international press coverage of the revolt, both in contemporary newspapers and compilations published retrospectively. The latter come partly from radio broadcasts including those by the BBC and Radio Free Europe. The Revolution generated a broad spectrum of sympathetic reactions in world politics and foreign public opinion, from neighbouring Yugoslavia to India, and from the International Commission of Jurists in The Hague to the United Nations in New York. Inside Hungary, however, it was too little too late for those supporting views or reports to have any real effect. On 4th November Soviet tanks returned and power was restored to the Moscow-backed faction, who methodically rounded up participants still in the country and had them condemned to lengthy imprisonment or death. One of those executed was Prime Minister Imre Nagy.

PlaquePlaque in Budapest to commemorate Imre Nagy and his associates. With the exception of G. Losonczy, who died in prison earlier, they were hanged and buried in an unmarked grave in 1958. (Image by Andor Derzsi Elekes. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. From Wikimedia Commons)

Key figures of the Revolution are the subject of many works, as are its lesser-known martyrs, and the victims of reprisals. Documents of secret trials and protracted systematic revenge have largely been brought to light by now.

In an attempt to recalibrate people’s minds and to discourage any notion of opposition, the propaganda machine was also put to work. Amongst its copious output were the so-called ‘white books’, in which the communist puppet government painted its own version of events, denouncing the uprising as counter-revolutionary and criminal. These unassuming-looking booklets were translated into several languages to ensure that the endorsed account was accessible to foreign audiences as well. In addition to the Hungarian original we also have the English and Russian editions in our collection.

The legacy of 1956 was kept alive by émigré circles in the West, who published tirelessly and had clandestine support links to the dissenter movements growing from the early 1970s back home. Beside theoretical and commemorative writings, the literary heritage of both groups testifies to the immense impact the Revolution made on people’s lives.

Numerous survivors have had their diaries or memoirs printed, imparting some truly poignant stories.

Korvinkoz-budapestMemorial to a young freedom fighter in Budapest’s Corvin köz, one of the hubs of armed resistance. Many teenagers were among the active participants in clashes against the Soviet Red Army. Image by Andreas Poeschek. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. From Wikimedia Commons

Ildi Wollner, Curator, East-Central European Collections


22 October 2015

Some birthday thoughts on friendship, love and ‘luxury’ editions

Today we celebrate 145 years since the birth of the Nobel Prize-winning Russian author Ivan Bunin.  On 22 October 1945 he was celebrating his 75th birthday in post-war Paris. He was in desperate need of money, as nothing could be published in occupied France and the occasional fees he earned in America were difficult to receive. His loyal friend the writer Mark Aldanov, who at the beginning of the war had fled Europe and settled in New York, tried to help.  In 1942, Aldanov became one of the founders of Novyi  Zhurnal=The New Review which remains the oldest and most influential Russian émigré literary journal. He invited Bunin to contribute his latest short stories to the journal. They were later published together as a book under the title Temnye allei (Dark Avenues) – a book about love. When Aldanov started receiving Bunin’s stories for publication in America, he felt a little uncomfortable, as quite a few of them were rather more erotic and explicit than was permissible in the puritan post-war US, even in foreign languages.

In his letter of 28 August 1945 to Bunin’s wife Vera Nikolaevna,  Aldanov wrote:

Today I received two wonderful short stories by Ivan Alekseevich: ‘The Oaklings’ and ‘The Riverside Inn’. This is very fortunate, as in the 11th book [of The New Review] we were planning to publish ‘Madrid’ and ‘The Second Pot of Coffee’, but this would have been a bit inconvenient. Yesterday, we had a quick meeting to discuss how to collect a bit of money for Ivan Alekseevich on occasion of his anniversary. […]  But you probably understand that ‘Madrid’ and ‘The Second Pot of Coffee’ would be met with displeasure in some ‘puritan’ New York circles. We do not care, but this might affect our collection: rich ladies are angry – their virginal prudery is offended by Ivan Alekseevich. That is why it is better to publish in the 11th book these recently received stories and the other two – after the celebration.

To collect more money for Bunin’s jubilee Aldanov and other prominent figures in the Russian American circles decided to present a token of gratitude to those who wanted to contribute to Bunin’s collection: each contributor would receive a ‘luxury’ edition of one of Bunin’s stories. ‘Riechnoi traktir’  (‘The Riverside Inn’) was chosen to be published as a separate edition.  The book was designed by Mstislav Dobuzhinsky free of charge.

Image 1Cover of Ivan Bunin, Riechnoi traktir (New York, 1945) British Library X.902/3839

In his letter, Aldanov informed Bunin that they would like to reproduce of one the typewritten pages with Bunin’s handwritten annotations and ideally  his portrait.

Image 2
                                                        The facsimile of a typewritten page

On 23 November 1945 Aldanov thanked Bunin for the photograph: “I’m grateful for everything, and especially for the photograph and the inscription (a very nice one which cheered me up a lot). As soon as the printer has finished with it, I will frame it and put it in the most honourable place”.   Bunin liked some of his photos, but hated looking old, so the portrait that appeared in the book (below) dates from 1899, when he was 29.

Image 3

The book was published in a limited edition of 1000 numbered copies. The British Library’s copy is no. 412, and was purchased in June 1980 (shelfmark ).

Image 4               Verso of the title-page with the British Library’s acquisition stamp 

Aldanov and Bunin’s other friends managed to raise ca 1,000 dollars on the occasion of his 75th jubilee.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, European Studies

References/further reading

Aldanov’s letters to the Bunins; University of Edinburgh Special Collections, Gen 565 (4) 262/17 I. Bunin.

Temnye allei. (Paris, 1946) 12591.p.51. English translation by Hugh Aplin, Dark avenues. (Richmond, 2008). H.2009/2984 


19 October 2015

The Goats that Got Away

As one of the co-curators for our current Animal Tales exhibition, one of the most enjoyable parts of the process was selecting the exhibits.  An opportunity to spend time exploring the collections, to revisit the known but also to make new discoveries, is a stimulating part of the work.  One of the frustrations was that, with such a broad subject area, we were not able to include all the items we might have liked.  There were inevitably some that ‘got away’. One such, a personal childhood favourite, was the story of the Three Billy-Goats Gruff. It comes from the compendium of Norwegian folk tales collected and edited by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe in the 19th century.  These tales are much-loved classics in Norway, printed in many editions over the years. 

Billy Goats Gruff Folkeeventyr cover                     Detail from the cover of the 1874 edition of Norske Folke-Eventyr (Christiania [Oslo], 1874) 12430.dd.6                 

The story’s original Norwegian title in full (a bit less snappy than the English one we know) was De tre Bukkene Bruse, som skulde gaa til Sæters og gjøre seg fede which roughly translates as ‘The three Billy-Goats Gruff who were going to mountain pastures to fatten themselves up’.  ‘Bruse’, which is the name of the goats, was translated as ‘Gruff’ in the first English version, and this translation has stuck ever since but in fact the word refers to the hairy tuft on a goat’s forehead, as shown on the splendidly regal goat below, illustrated by Otto Sinding  in an 1896 edition. 

Billy Goats Gruff GoatIllustration from Norske Folke- og Huldre-Eventyr  (Copenhagen, 1896) 12431.f.44.  

The story was originally published in Christiania (as Oslo was called at that time) in 1843 in the third of four parts of Norske Folkeeventyr (Norwegian folk tales). 

The first English translation came in 1859 in Popular Tales from the Norse by G. W. Dasent.  It was also included in the shorter, illustrated edition in 1862, A Selection from the Norse Tales for the use of children.  From an introductory note in this edition it becomes clear that the subtitle ‘for the use of children’ has been very deliberately chosen. Dasent muses regretfully  that ‘this selection has been made to meet the scruples of those good people who thought some of The Norse Tales too outspoken for their children’. Luckily for us, The Three Billy Goats Gruff was not one of those considered unsuitable for Victorian tastes and, unlike most of the stories in the collection, it has continued to enjoy popularity in this country down to the present day. 

Billy Goats Gruff Dasent                   Illustration from A Selection from the Norse tales for the use of children  (Edinburgh, 1862) 12431.d.29.

Like many of the items featured in Animal Tales, this is a story about animals that allows the teller and the listener to explore some very human situations and emotions. The Three Billy Goats Gruff has echoes of other European folk tales of the time on a very similar theme, such as the Grimm brothers’ Little Red Riding Hood: in essence it is the story of a journey during which the protagonists pass from danger to safety. 

Billy Goats Gruff Troll                                             Illustration from Norske Folke- og Huldre-Eventyr  (12431.f.44)  

And the story itself?  The action unfolds as follows: three goats of different sizes, small, medium and large, have to cross a bridge on their way to pasture.  Under the bridge lurks a fearsome troll intent on gobbling them up.  The first two goats get over by promising bigger goats to come.  The final, largest, goat confronts the troll and sees him off in style, with the following words (in Dasent’s lively translation):

Well, come along! I’ve got two spears,
And I’ll poke your eyeballs out at your ears;
I’ve got besides two curling stones,
And I’ll crush you to bits, body and bones

So what made the story so appealing to my younger self?  In part it was the satisfaction of the goats outwitting the troll, in part it was the structure of the plot, simple, but with clever use of repetition (the presence of ‘three’ being a recognised feature of folk tales).  I remember too what fun it was to hear the story being read aloud. This is, after all, a story that was preserved for many years as part of an oral tradition.  The narrator can do a lot with the goats’ voices which are described as rising in volume according to the size of the goat. Stamping one’s feet to echo the sound of the goats tramping over the bridge and joining in with the roar of the troll, brings a mounting intensity to the story which culminates in the thrill of the troll’s resounding defeat!

Barbara Hawes, Curator Germanic Collections


16 October 2015

The Truth about Waterloo?

A few days ago I attended a talk by Belgian author Johan Op De Beeck, who specialises in the Napoleonic Wars. His latest book Waterloo: De laatste honderd dagen van Napoleon focuses on the roles played by Dutch, Belgian and Nassau troops before and during the battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815.

Photo1OdBcover (2)Johan Op de Beeck, Waterloo: de laatste honderd dagen van Napoleon. (Antwerp, 2013). British Library YF.2015.a.14916; the cover shows 1814 by Jean-Philip-Ernest Meisionier (The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore)

It is often said that the truth is the first casualty in war and Waterloo is no exception. Op de Beeck’s view is, that all parties involved created their own ‘truth’ and that future historians have been all too gullible in accepting highly one-sided accounts from mainly the British. After all, ‘history is written by the victor’, as Winston Churchill observed. For nearly 200 years the accepted narrative has been that the British army, under command of the Duke of Wellington secured victory practically singlehandedly. No-one contests the fact that Wellington’s army won the battle of Waterloo, but there has been a distinct lack of acknowledgement of the major and sometimes decisive contributions and sacrifices the Dutch, Belgian, Nassau and Prussian armies made on the battlefield. Wellington’s own account of affairs does not mention that it was the Dutch, Belgian and Nassau armies who held the French at bay at Quatre-Bras until British reinforcements arrived on 16 June. Nor does the Duke mention the Dutch actions that proved instrumental in securing the victory during the final stages of the battle at Waterloo.

The Dutch King William I and his son, the Prince of Orange, who had fought in the front line and was wounded, were outraged. They demanded acknowledgment of the sacrifices the European allies of the Brits had made, but to no avail.

Prince William of Orange (later King William II), from Het leven van Koning Willem II (Amsterdam, 1849) 10760.d.8.

Things did not get any better for the Dutch and Belgians when William Siborne (1797–1849) published his History of the War in France and Belgium in 1844. In it, Siborne dismisses the Dutch and Belgians as deserters. He particularly attacks the Prince of Orange, whom he describes as ‘incompetent’ and ‘inexperienced’ , a bit of a loose cannon. Siborne’s book had such an impact that it was simply accepted as the truth by future British historians, until far into the 20th century: Jac Weller criticizes the Dutch in his 1992 book Wellington at Waterloo.

Siborne’s account was challenged as early as 1846, amongst others by Dutch Lieutenant-General and military historian W.J. Knoop (1811-1894). His reaction to Siborne appeared as a pamphlet, entitled Beschouwingen over Siborne’s Geschiedenis van den oorlog van 1815 in Frankrijk en de Nederlanden. Knoop strongly objected to Siborne’s view that practically the whole Dutch army deserted at Waterloo. The same year his pamphlet was translated into German, (M.L.df.1) and French ( 9076.ff.41) and met with great approval. In Britain it was merely noted.

W.J. Knoop, Beschouwingen over Siborne’s Geschiedenis van den oorlog van 1815 in Frankrijk en de Nederlanden (Breda, 1847). 1435.g.4.

The Dutch government did not give up and sent Knoop’s pupil François de Bas to Britain to research Siborne’s archives. De Bas found that Siborne had been rather selective in choosing his resources, but he did not get anywhere with the Brits. On the contrary, the British views were only reinforced when Siborne’s son Major-General Herbert Taylor Siborne (1826-1902) published Waterloo Letters in 1891.

So strong was support for Siborne that the Scottish historian Sir Herbert Maxwell was accused of being ‘anti-British’, when he dared point out how important the Dutch, Belgian and Nassau contributions to the victory had been in his 1899 Life of Wellington.

However, the Brits weren’t the only ones to exaggerate their role in events. The Dutch and Belgians did the same for their sides, mainly inspired by a desire to strengthen the position of the very young new Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was only established two years earlier.

Throughout the 19th century commemorations and celebrations of Quatre-Bras and Waterloo were held at every opportunity, which led to a flood of highly patriotic songs, poems and other publications, such as those illustrated below.

Photo3Triomftogt (1)Programma van den triomftogt, te houden binnen ... Amsterdam, op den 19 Junij 1865 ... ([Amsterdam, 1865]) 1871.e.1.(108*.)

 Vooruit maar! Feestliedje ter herdenking aan den strijd bij Quatre-Bras en Waterloo.(Utrecht. [1865]) 1871.e.1.(111.) 

1815-1865 Waterloo-lied (Leiden, [1865]) 1871.e.1.(124.)

It wasn’t until well into the 20th Century that more balanced views started to be aired, both within and outside Britain. When written in English, the latter are better picked up by British scholarship, which promotes a more critical approach of earlier studies, such as Siborne’s. Jeremy Black’s The Battle of Waterloo (2010) and Alan Forrest’s Waterloo (2015) are good examples of this less biased approach.

There is of course no one real truth about Waterloo and so researchers will have plenty of work to do unpicking the truth and debunking the myths surrounding Waterloo. What better place to start than at the British Library?! Very few libraries in the country can rival our holdings published both within and outside Britain, expressing many different views, in various languages and forms.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

References/further reading:

William Siborne, History of the War in France and Belgium, 1815; containing minute details of the battles of Quatre-Bras, Ligny, Wavre, and Waterloo. (London, 1844) 1435.g.7-8, and online:

Jac Weller, Wellington at Waterloo. (Greenhill, 1992). YK.1992.a.7961.

Herbert Taylor Siborne, Waterloo Letters: a Selection from Original and hitherto Unpublished Letters bearing on the Operations of the 16th, 17th, and 18th June 1815, by Officers who served in the Campaign (London, 1891), and online:

Sir Herbert Maxwell, The Life of Wellington: the Restoration of the Martial Power of Great Britain ... (London, 1899) 010817.k.14.

Jeremy Black, The Battle of Waterloo (New York, 2010) m10/.15369

Alan I. Forrest, Waterloo. (Oxford, 2015) (awaiting shelfmark)

Jeroen van Zanten, ‘Hoe dapper was ‘Silly Billy’?’ Historisch Nieuwsblad, Vol. 24, no. 6 (June 2015) pp 33-39. []

Ruscombe Foster, Wellington and Waterloo: the Duke, the Battle and Posterity. (Stroud, 2014) YC.2015.a.2532


14 October 2015

Solitary voices from the people’s chorus: the painfully human art of Svetlana Aleksievich

677px-Swetlana_Alexijewitsch_2013 (1)
                   Swetlana Alexijewitsch 2013 (From Wikimedia Commons,   ©Elke Wetzig; Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

On 8th October a new winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was announced. Svetlana Aleksievich became the first writer from Belarus and the first woman author who writes in Russian to receive this prestigious award. Born in Ivano-Frankivsk to Ukrainian mother and Belarusian father, Aleksievich also provides Ukraine with an opportunity to take pride in her.

The Nobel Prize has always attracted so much attention and controversy that very few laureates were received with solid approval and joy. Aleksievich is not an exception, being in the honourable company of Ivan Bunin, Boris Pasternak, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Herta Müller, Orhan Pamuk and others. I will leave it for the readers to find more immediate responses to this award for themselves and take this opportunity to reflect on Aleksievich’s writings. 

Journalist by training, Svetlana Aleksievich finished her first book The Unwomanly Face of War just a few years before the launch of perestroika in the Soviet Union. Cut by censorship, cautious editors and the author herself, fragments of this book were first published in literary magazines and in 1985 – as a book. In a short time the overall print run of several consequent editions reached two million copies. The book told real stories of women – participants in WWII. Aleksievich interviewed hundreds of women veterans and let them speak for themselves in their own words, so that the book reads as a series of individual monologues: memoirs, accounts, cries and confessions. The tone of the book presented a sharp contrast with the Soviet official line on treating the subject of the war with Nazi Germany as heroic sacrifice for the Soviet Motherland. Aleksievich showed the war in its entirety as horror and madness, fear and pain, hard labour and exposure of the best human and the worst beastial features in people. On the one hand, Aleksievich followed the steps of Ales Adamovich and Daniil Granin with their The Blockade Book and Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. Some critics trace the roots of her style to Truman Capote, Norman Mailer and Joan Didion.  On the other hand, Aleksievich turned document-based prose into a unique creative method. By removing the author figure from her books Aleksievich eliminated any distance between her heroes and the reader and created a narrative where the reader felt unprotected by an intermediary. The reader is ‘naked’ in front of the text and is wounded by the simple words in which the stories are expressed.

For the next 30 years Aleksievich continued to work in this genre, which I would describe metaphorically as ‘written oral history’. Together with her first book The Last Witnesses: A Hundred of Unchildlike Lullabys (about children at war), Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War, and Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster form the cycle that she entitled Voices from the Big Utopia. Her other two books Enchanted with Death (stories about suicides in the early post-Soviet period), and Second-hand Time (2013), that examines such as phenomenon as the Soviet Man, are written in a similar style and are closely linked to the cycle.

Prior to her major award, Aleksievich had received over twenty national and international prizes. Her works are translated into more than 30 languages. Over 20 films and a dozen theatre productions are based on Aleksievich’s books, including Prayer for Chernobyl  directed by Jenny Engdahl  at the New Vic Basement in 1999 and Juanita Wilson’s directorial debut The Door, a 16 minute short film based on Monologue About a Whole Life Written Down on Doors, the Testimony of Nikolai Fomich Kalugin – one of the accounts from Voices from Chernobyl. We sincerely congratulate Svetlana Aleksievich and wish her further great strength to write more books that challenge our understanding what it is to live, love and be human.

 Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, European Studies