European studies blog

12 posts from July 2016

28 July 2016

Petrus Cuniculus, Noisy-Noisette and Frau Tigge-Winkel: Peter Rabbit’s foreign friends

Of all the fortnightly pieces which Paul Jennings (1918-89) wrote for the Observer between 1949 and 1966, few are funnier than ‘Babel in the Nursery’, collected in Golden Oddlies (London, 1983; X.958/20513). Glancing at the translations of Beatrix Potter’s works listed on the jacket on one of her books, Jennings reflected on the role of translators (‘heroes or fools’) in opening up the ‘transcendentalized English village’ set firmly in the Cumbrian countryside to young readers throughout the world. Even the characters’ names undergo changes which transform their bearers into very different figures: ‘Sophie Canétang , a Stendhal heroine … the awful Mauriac Famille Flopsaut … Noisy-Noisette, the Mata Hari of the twenties, as depicted by Colette … Tom Het Poesje, a kind of Dutch Till Eulenspiegel … Il Coniglio Pierino, the swarthy Sicilian bandit.’

Today, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth, we may well admire the ingenuity of translators in tackling these challenges and giving her works to the children of the world in multilingual versions, many of which appear in the British Library’s catalogues.

Title-page of 'Histoire de Pierre Lapin' with Beatrix Potter's illustration of the sick Peter in bed
Beatrix Potter, Histoire de Pierre Lapin (London, [1921]) British Library 12800.a.55, Peter Rabbit’s first outing in French

The French translator Victorine Ballon was one of the first to attempt the task of presenting Peter Rabbit in a new guise. Her Histoire de Pierre Lapin was the first of several versions of Potter’s works in French, followed by Histoire de Jeannot Lapin (London, [1921]; 12800.a.56), translated in collaboration with Julienne Profichet, as were Histoire de Poupette-à-l’épingle (London, [1922]; 12800.a.57) and Histoire de Sophie Canétang (London, [1922]; 12800.a.54). While Peter’s cousin Benjamin Bunny was rechristened as the typically French Jeannot, Jemima Puddle-Duck presented more of a problem. Ballon’s clever solution combined ‘caneton’ (duckling) and ‘étang’ (pool), preceded by a first name recalling the French idiom ‘faire sa Sophie’, aptly suggesting the prim old-fashioned airs of Potter’s Jemima.

Cover of 'Le tailleur de Gloucester' with a picture of a mouse seated on a cotton-reel
Beatrix Potter, Le tailleur de Gloucester , translated by Deborah Chataway (London, [1967]) X.998/1267

Young readers in Germany were soon able to enjoy Potter’s tales too with the appearance of Die Geschichte des Peterchen Hase, translated by Clara Röhn and Ethel Talbot Scheffauer (London, [1934]; 12800.a.69.). Before long Peter had been joined by his relatives the Flopsy Bunnies in Die Geschichte der Hasenfamilie Plumps, translated by Hildegarde M. E. Marchant (London, [1948]; 12830.e.15), imagined by Paul Jennings as ‘a lesser version of the Krupp dynasty, an endless succession of stern characters extending the family factories in the Ruhr’. When the same translator set to work on The Tale of Mr. Tod, she found a more straightforward solution, replacing the Cumbrian dialect word for a fox with a name recalling the mediaeval beast epic and Goethe’s Reineke Fuchs in Die Geschichte von Herrn Reineke.

Title-page of 'Die Geschichte von Herrn Reineke' with vignette of two rabbits and frontispiece illustration of a fox entering a house
Title-page from Beatrix Potter, Die Geschichte von Herrn Reineke (London, 1952) 12830.a.120.

Translations into  Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Swedish also followed, issued, like the French and German ones, by Potter’s London publisher, Frederick Warne. Slavonic languages were slower to follow suit, and none are to be found in the British Library’s holdings, presumably because Warne did not publish any. But alongside the more familiar Western European languages, some surprises can be found. Who, for example, is mevrou Kornelia Kat, sunning herself on the stoep as she waits for her guests to join her for tea? Why, it is none other than Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit, mother of Tom Kitten (now Gertjie Kat – short for Gerhardus) and his sisters Pootjies and Oortjies (Mittens and Moppet), mysteriously transported to the veld in an Afrikaans translation by Louise Promnitz (Cape Town, 1970; X.990/4885). The disobedient kittens come to grief after an encounter with the Puddle-Ducks: ‘meneer Hendrikus Plassie-Eend’, Rebekka and Meraai – Jemima in the South African identity which she retains in her own story, Die Verhaal van Meraai Plassie-Eend, also translated by Promnitz (Cape Town, 1971; X.990/4883). Indeed, some of the earliest translations in the British Library’s collections are those into Afrikaans by Antoinette Elizabeth Carinus-Holzhausen, dating from the 1930s, where Benjamin Bunny features under a new alias in Die Verhaal van Bennie Blinkhaar (Pretoria, 1936; 12800.a.64) and Mrs Tittlemouse in Die Verhaal van Mevrou Piefkyn (Pretoria, [1936]; 12800.a.66). Peter had already pipped them to the post in Die Verhaal van Pieter Konyntjie (London, [1930]; 12800.a.65).

Covers of two of Beatrix Potter's stories in Afrikaans
Tom Kitten and Jemima Puddle-Duck in Afrikaans

Closer to home, Welsh-speaking children were able to read the adventures of Jemima Puddle-Duck as Hanes Dili Minllyn, translated by ‘M.E.’ (London, [1925]; 12800.a.61), followed by those of Peter Rabbit, Hanes Pwtan y Wningen (London, [1932]; 12800.a.62), an anonymous translation, and those of his cousin Benjamin Bunny, Hanes Benda Bynni (London, 1930; X.990/5922) by K. Olwen Rees, as well as Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (Hanes Meistres Tigi-Dwt; London, [1932]; 12800.a.63). More recently, just over a century after his first appearance in 1902, Peter Rabbit addressed the world in Scots, courtesy of Lynne McGeachie’s The Tale of Peter Kinnen (London, 2004; YK.2006.a.4550), in which the murderous ‘Maister McGreegor’ finally gets to speak in his own ‘Scots tung’ as he pursues the intruder with a rake, ‘waggin a scartle an roarin oot, “Stop briganner!”’ For those of a scholarly bent, there are even three Latin translations, Fabula Petro Cuniculo (London, 1962; 012845.g.28) by E. Walker, Fabula de Jemima Anate-Aquatica (London, 1965; 12846.t.15) by Jonathan Musgrave, and an anonymous Fabula de Domino Ieremia Piscatore (London, 1978; X.990/10193), where the characters speak in effortlessly Ciceronian language (even Dominus McGregor as he chases Peter with cries of ‘Cessa, fur!’).

Covers of Beatrix Potter books in Scots, Welsh and Latin
Some of Potter’s characters in (l.-r.) Scots, Welsh and Latin

Though her marriage to William Heelis was childless, Beatrix Potter had a great love of her many young friends and correspondents (several of the books began as illustrated letters), and would no doubt have been delighted that her work was available to readers throughout the world. She never condescended in her use of language or compromised in the artistic quality of her illustrations for children’s books (C.S. Lewis, for example, in his autobiography Surprised by Joy ([London], 1959;, recalled those to The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (London, 1903; Cup.402.a.5) as epitomizing the essence of autumn for him as a boy). On her 150th birthday, she would surely have wished to celebrate the efforts of those who had helped her creations to travel, like Pigling Bland, ‘over the hills and far away’.

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

27 July 2016

Facsimile editions of works by Taras Shevchenko with artistic designs of Volodymyr Yurchyshyn

2016 marks the 155th anniversary of the death of the outstanding Ukrainian writer and artist Taras Shevchenko. The writer’s works published during his life became rare even by the middle of the 19th century, which led to the reproduction of Shevchenko’s original editions as photographic reprints.

Self-portrait of Taras Shevchenko
Shevchenko's self-portrait from 1847 (From Encyclopedia of the life and works of Taras Shevchenko

One of the main sources for the study of Shevchenko’s life and artistic heritage are his manuscript books. Almost all of them, the manuscript series Try lita (‘Three years’), Mala knyzhka (‘The Small Book’), Bil'sha knyzhka (‘The Larger Book’), Shchodennyk (’The Diary’), novels, autograph copies of some poems, letters, and albums, are now kept in the Department of Manuscripts and Textual Criticism of the Shevchenko Institute of Literature of the National Academy of Science of Ukraine. This material is completely inaccessible for a wide audience. That is why the photographic reproductions of the original material have such enormous importance, allowing many people to study Shevchenko's writings, his editorial work, sketches in the margins of his manuscripts, and so on.

In 1963 for the 150th anniversary of Shevchenko’s birth there was published a facsimile of his ‘Small Book’ (the so-called ‘top-boot booklet’) – a manuscript collection of his poems written during the first four years of his exile (1847-1850). Later editions followed in 1984 and 1989, issued by the publishing house Naukova Dumka  in an edition of 50,000 copies. Their introduction was written by the well-known Ukrainian philologist, literary historian, and director of the Shevchenko Institute of Literature Evhen Shabliovs'kyi. The excellent artistic design of these editions was created by the artist Volodymyr Yurchyshyn. The book and the separate introduction to it appeared in a slip-case decorated by red and black floral ornaments and thorns characteristic of his works.

Shevchenko's 'Small Book' with a slip-case decorated by red and black floral ornaments

Mala Knyzhka. Facsimile edition of 1989.  YA.1992.a.4330

Title page of 'Mala Knyzhka' with floral decoration and a frontispiece portrait of Shevchenko

The original edition of Kobzar (1840) from the collection of the Shevchenko Institute of Literature of the National Academy of Science of Ukraine was used for the 1974 reprint by the Dnipro publishing house. This book was published in an edition of 25,000 copies. The introduction was written by Vasyl' Borodin. The facsimile and the separate booklet containing the introduction in a slip-case (picture below) were also designed by Yurchyshyn, with black, red and white lace-like patterns created by lines, dots and ornaments. The artist used other colours as well in a delicate graphic style.

Decorative slip-case with black, red and white lace-like patterns

Volodymyr Yurchyshyn (1934-2010) was an eminent Ukrainian graphic artist, creator of scripts, master of book design, Honoured Artist of Ukraine (1990), winner of the Shevchenko National Prize (1990) for the artistic design of The Primary Chronicle (1989).

Photograph of Volodymyr Yurchyshyn with a sculptural group in the background
Photo of Volodymyr Yurchyshyn by H. Potiahailo (From the Yurchyshyn family archive.  Reproduced with kind permission of the family).

A deep knowledge of Ukraine’s past and of folk art, a mastery of graphic techniques, the skilful creation of fonts and ornaments – these are the qualities of Yurchyshyn’s heritage which add his name to the the greatest followers of Heorhii Narbut, Vasyl Krychevsky, and Olena Kulchytska.  These famous predecessors of Yurchyshyn created a new Ukrainian style of art in the first half of the 20th century; Yurchyshyn himself, whose artistic activity covered the period 1960-2010s, created contemporary Ukrainian book design.

Yurchyshyn always worked with the book as a unit, creating not separate elements, but a harmoniously unified design of the whole book. The elements of the book (slip-case, dust-jacket, cover, title-page, section-titles etc.) and its design (type, ornaments and illustrations) are always skilfully unified in his work into one complete artistic object – the book.

The largest collection of the artist's works and documents in Ukraine is now preserved in the Museum of the Book and Printing of Ukraine  in Kyiv. In 2015 the Museum organized an exhibition entitled ‘Volodymyr Yurchyshyn. Book Art. Selected Works’ to mark the 80th anniversary of the artist’s birth. The exhibition, accompanied by a catalogue in Ukrainian and English, was the first comprehensive presentation of the heritage of this master.  Among many other original works by Yurchyshyn included in the exhibition was the sketch for the slipcase for Shevchenko’s Mala knyzhka: Avtohrafy poezii Shevchenka 1847–1850 rr. (Кyiv, 1984 (paper, indian ink, gouache, quill pen, brush. Drawing. – 40×48,7сm.). The Museum collection also includes the facsimile of Shevchenko’s Kobzar (1840), published in 1974.

Cover of 'Volodymyr Iurchyshyn. Mystestvo knyhy' with decorative foliage and floral designs in black and white
Volodymyr Iurchyshyn. Mystestvo knyhy = Volodymyr Yurchyshyn. Book art (Kyiv, 2015). YF.2015.b.1834 

These facsimile editions give us the chance to study some of the manuscripts and the artistic heritage of Shevchenko, revealing to us the hidden secrets of his creations, and Yurchyshyn’s masterly artistic designs bring to these editions the true aesthetics of the Book.

Nataliia Globa, Leading Research Assistant of the Museum of the Book and Printing of Ukraine.

References/further reading:

Pokazhchyk vydan' Shevchenkovykh tvoriv: pershodruky i okremi vydannia ta spys literatury pro nykh. Zibrav i vporiad. V. Doroshenko. 2-e vydannia, perehlianute i znachno dopodnene. (Chicago, 1961).

T.H. Shevchenko: bibliohrafichnyi pokazhchyk (1965-1988). Uklad.: L.V. Beliaeva, N.M. Myslovych. (Kyiv, 1989). 2725.e.1288.

Vydannia tvoriv Tarasa Shevchenka ta hrafichnoi Shevchenkiany: kataloh. Muzei knyhy i drukarstva Ukrainy. Uporiad. M.A. Korniichuk, H.V. Karpinchuk, N.V. Globa, L.P. Poriis'ka. Peredmova M.A. Korniichuk, L.P. Poriis'ka. (Kyiv, 2011).

Vydannia tvoriv Shevchenka u fondakh Shevchenkivs'koho natsional'noho zapovidnyka: kataloh. Upodiadnyky, O.O. Solopchenko, L.H. Silenko. Avtor proektu ta peredmovy I.D. Likhovyi. (Kyiv, 2004). YF.2005.a.29902.

Volodymyr Iurchyshyn. Mystetstvo knyhy. Vybrane. Z kolektsii Museiu knyhy i drukarstva Ukrainy = Volodymyr Yurchyshyn. Book art. Selected works from the collection of the Museum of the Book and Printing of Ukraine. Uporiadnyky katalohu: Viktoriia Belyba, Nataliia Hloba, Anna Dovbush, Halyna Emets', Hanna Sokyrina. Vstupna stattia: Ihor Dudnyk, Valentyna Bochkovsʹka. (Kyiv, 2015) YF.2015.b.1834.

Hloba Nataliia Volodymyrivna, ‘Faksymil'ni vydannia tvoriv T.H. Shevchenka u kolektsii MHDU.’Ukrains'ka pysemnist' ta mova v manuskryptakh i drukarstvi: materialy 1-i 1 2-i nauk.-prakt. konf. do Dnia ukrains'koi pysemnosti ta movy. (Kyiv, 2012).

Hloba N.V. ‘Fototypichni, faksymil'ni ta repryntni vydannia tvoriv T. Shevchenka.’Ukrains'ka literatura v zahal'noosvitnii shkoli, 2011, vol. 2, pp. 41-43.


25 July 2016

Esperanto and Fair Communication

On 26 July 1887 the censor’s office in Warsaw approved the publication of a booklet with the title Mezhdunarodnyi iazyk. Predislovie i polnyi uchebnik, translated into English in 1888 as Dr. Esperanto’s International Tongue. Preface and Complete Method (12902.aa.55.(1.)). Since then Esperanto speakers throughout the world have celebrated 26 July as Esperanto Day. The slogan on this year’s posters is Fair Communication. The marriage between Esperanto and Fair Communication has now lasted for over a century.

Poster for Esperanto Day 2016
Fair Communication Poster for 2016 (Designed by  Peter Oliver)

Many people over the centuries have attempted to create their own language, but their reasons for doing so have not always been the same. In the Middle Ages the motive was religious. The 11th-century abbess Hildegard of Bingen invented her Ignota Lingua to speak with the angels. After the Renaissance, the motive was more likely to be philosophical. A typical example was the language created by Francis Lodwick. In 1652 he published his work The Ground-Work, Or Foundation Laid, (or so intended) For the Framing of a New Perfect Language: And an Vniversall or Common Writing. And presented to the consideration of the Learned.

Opening pages of Francis Lodwick's 'Ground-Work'
 The beginning of Francis Lodwick’s, The Ground-Work… (London, 1652).  623.g.4.(1.)

At the time of the French Revolution the emphasis was more on languages with a practical application, and that tendency increased during the 19th century, when inventions such as the steam train and the telegraph led to an explosion in fast travel and new ways of communicating. To all this Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, the author of the 1887 booklet, added a social dimension. As a Jew he had experienced ethnic struggles and violence in his native city of Białystok: pogroms by Russians against the Jews, rebellions by Poles against the Russians, nationalistic self-assertion by the Germans and so forth. What a wonderful thing it would be, thought the teenage Zamenhof, if all men could be brothers and stop killing one another! A naïve hope of course, but if you were living now in Syria or Congo, probably that would be your greatest desire as well.

At all events, the ideals of the brotherhood of peoples and a just form of communication survived throughout the last century and are still relevant today. Naturally these ideals have been promoted by Esperanto speakers, but also by others. Let’s take a look at several books published in recent years.

In 1996 Esperanto speakers in collaboration with other organizations inaugurated a series of symposia named after  Inazo Nitobe, one of the Under-Secretaries General of the League of Nations in the 1920s, who proposed that the use of Esperanto should be debated in the General Assembly. His proposal was vetoed by France, who at that time considered itself to be the keeper of the world’s international language. The Nitobe Symposia are outstanding occasions for a meeting between linguists, communications experts, and high-ranking politicians, who have various approaches to the language problem in international organizations and in international life in general. Participants in the first symposia (Prague, 1996), included linguists and translators alongside representatives of the EU, UNESCO and the UN. The proceedings were published under the title: Towards linguistic democracy: proceedings of the Nitobe Symposium of International Organizations, ed. Mark Fettes and Suzanne Bolduc (Rotterdam, 1998; YF.2006.a.31177). The main topic in all contributions was linguistic democracy, not only between nations but also within nations. At that time the struggle of national minorities was a very pressing issue.

Covers of the Proceedings of the Nitobe Symposia
Proceedings of the Nitobe Symposia in British Library's Collections

The same topics came up again in the following symposia. For example, the third symposium was entitled: Towards a new international language order (proceedings, edited by Lee Chong-Yeong and Liu Haitao, published Rotterdam, 2004; YF.2006.a.31175). Since the symposium was held in Beijing, and since the Chinese participants tended to emphasise China’s new role as a major power, speakers at the seminar were more interested in international relations rather than linguistic democracy within countries.

An important contributor to these seminars was Robert Phillipson, joint winner of the Linguapax Prize in 2010, and well known as an advocate for linguistic democracy. His book Linguistic Imperialism (Oxford, 1992; 93/06193) received numerous undeserved criticisms from defenders of the status quo. His second book English-Only Europe? Challenging Language Policy (London, 2003; YC.2007.a.282) was translated into Esperanto with the title Ĉu nur-angla Eŭropo? Defio al lingva politiko (Rotterdam, 2004; YF.2006.a.29602; photo below). For years his arguments have been debated in Europe, but his observations have made little headway among European politicians, who prefer to listen to his opponent Philippe Van Parijs. In his book Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World, (Oxford, 2011; YC.2012.a.10920), Van Parijs prefers to support the use of English at the international level with a tax for those who profit from its use. Van Parijs has been another participant at the Nitobe symposia.

Covers of 'Ĉu nur-angla Eŭropo?' and 'English-only Europe'
The French and Italians have also added their voices to the debate. One of these has been the famous French linguist Claude Hagège, recipient of a number of awards and other honours. He defends the French language in the name of linguistic and cultural diversity, for instance in his book Combat pour le français: au nom de la diversité des langues et des cultures (Paris, 2006; YF.2009.a.32989), where he also defends Esperanto as ‘one of the best allies of plurilingualism’. He repeats this assertion in his interview with Esperanto speaker François Lo Jacomo: Esperanto kaj lingva diverseco: intervjuo kun Claude Hagège (Rotterdam, 2006; YF.2008.a.6597).

Italians such as Andrea Chiti Batelli, for many years an important functionary at the European Parliament, have taken the lead in the struggle to restore the standing of the traditional Greek-Latin-Romance culture within Europe. He wrote the booklet Politika hegemonio kaj lingva hegemonio en Eŭropo (Rotterdam, 1995; YF.2006.a.29616) together with Pierre Janton.

For Esperanto speakers, 26 July is the occasion for reflecting on these events.

Renato Corsetti (Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics at La Sapienza University in Rome, former president of the World Esperanto Association, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto.)

22 July 2016

Delacroix, Shakespeare and the London Stage in 1825

29 June 1855. Othello. Pleasure sublime and total; the tragic force, the succession of scenes and the gradual build-up of interest fill me with an admiration which will bear fruit in my mind. I saw once again that same Wallack whom I saw in London exactly thirty years ago (and maybe to the day, for I was there in June) in the role of Faust. Seeing that play which, however altered, was extremely well arranged, gave me the idea of doing my lithographs.  Terry who played the devil was perfect.  (Eugène Delacroix, Journal, I, 917-918)

Eugène Delacroix never forgot his experience of the London stage in the summer of 1825.  Seeing James William Wallack in a performance of Othello in Paris in 1855 transported him back 30 years to the many evenings which he had spent at the theatre during his three-month stay. As he indicates in this journal entry, an adaptation of Goethe’s Faust by George Soane and Daniel Terry entitled The Devil and Dr Faustus that he saw at Drury Lane, with Terry playing Mephistopheles and Wallack as Faust, inspired his famous series of 18 lithographs, published as illustrations to Albert Stapfer’s translation of Faust in 1828. The British Library has a fine copy of this important work, considered one of the jewels in the history of the illustrated book.

Mephistopheles flying above the skyline of a city
Eugène Delacroix, ‘Méphistophélès’, lithograph, from Faust. Tragédie de M. de Gœthe (Paris, 1828)  1875.b.9

But Delacroix’s stay in London was especially filled with Shakespeare. His interest in Shakespeare had begun long before, perhaps in connection with his friend Charles-Raymond Soulier, who as the son of émigrés had been raised in London and later gave Delacroix English lessons. In 1819 Delacroix had attempted a translation of Richard III which at the time he considered one of Shakespeare’s best plays for showing ‘the tallent of the author in the living painting and investigation of secret motions of human heart’ (Lettres intimes, 84-85). Given the poor quality of his English, it is fortunate that he gave up translating and read Shakespeare largely in Letourneur’s French translation, published in 1821 (British Library 840.f.2-8). But seeing Shakespeare played live on stage sparked a fascination that would become one of the most prominent elements of Delacroix’s art and thought: dozens of paintings and prints on Shakespearean subjects, and a lifetime of reflecting on what Shakespeare represented for the history of art and aesthetics — for concepts such as realism, the sublime, unity, beauty and naturalness.

The London stage in 1825 was a heady mix of sublimity and melodrama. On the one hand, one could attend a play nearly every evening and see actors who have since entered the annals of Shakespearean performance – Edmund Kean, Wallack, Charles Mayne Young, Daniel Terry. On the other hand, productions often altered the originals, performances were rowdy and the plays were paired with vaudeville-like pastoral ballets, pantomimes and musical farces. 

The British Library’s collections of playbills and theatrical journals allow us to identify what and whom Delacroix saw. Frequenting the two main theatres of the time – Drury Lane and the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden – he went to openings of Richard III on 20  June, with Kean as Richard and Wallack as Henry, The Tempest on the 22nd with Young in the role of Prospero, Othello on the 25th with Kean as Othello and Wallack as Iago and The Merchant of Venice on 2 July with Kean as Shylock and Wallack as Bassanio.

Playbill advertising performances of Othello and other works at the Drury Lane theatre, 25 June 1825
Playbills for the performances that Delacroix saw of Othello (above; Playbills 21, p. 204) and The Merchant of Venice (below; Playbills 100, p. 210)

Playbill advertising performances of 'The Merchant of Venice' and other works at the Drury Lane Theatre, 2 July 1825

Although he missed Hamlet with Young in the title role on 27 June, the resemblance of Delacroix’s Macbeth, in his 1825 lithograph, to illustrations of Kean in this role suggests that he saw Kean play Macbeth on the 30th.

Macbeth encountering the three witches

Above: Eugène Delacroix, Macbeth, lithograph, 1825.  © The Trustees of the British Museum (Creative Commons license); Below: C. Williams, Kean as Macbeth, engraving from The Theatrical Inquisitor, 2 January 1815 PP. 5210

William Kean in character as  Macbeth, holding two daggers

Like Byron and Keats, Delacroix was very impressed by the passionate, expressive and sensational Kean, especially in the role of Shylock, which he called ‘admirable’. Contemporary prints show that a drawing of Delacroix’s bearing the date of the performance of The Merchant of Venice (2 July) indeed represents Kean in this role, despite a false annotation, with the elopement of Lorenzo and Jessica suggested in the background.  

Sketch of Edmund Kean as Shylock, with the elopement of his daughter in the background
Eugène Delacroix, Kean as Shylock, graphite on paper, 2 July 1825.  (Musée du Louvre)

Kean was then at the height of his fame, popularity and indeed notoriety. In January he had gone through a very public trial for adultery which had seen him pilloried in the Times for immorality and had inspired riotous reactions – by both opponents and supporters – in the theatres. The irony of his playing the seemingly aggrieved husband Othello provoked especially raucous responses: the Morning Post (29 January 1825) reported ‘Kean forever’ banners in the gallery, groans and hisses in the pit, so much shouting that Wallack (as Iago) could not be heard and so much interruption that many speeches had to be dropped; the manager came onstage to calm the uproar, and Kean himself offered to withdraw (to cries of ‘No!, No!’).

By the time of Delacroix’s visit the scandal had abated somewhat, but Kean continued to have a highly emotional relationship with his audience: the Richard III that Delacroix attended was the Kean’s first appearance after a long absence and the papers report the rapturous applause and cries of appreciation that, in the curtain calls, kept him from being heard. Of his Othello on the 25th the Theatrical Observer gushed, ‘There is a grandeur of conception, a boldness of execution, and an overpowering reality of tenderness which we are quite unable to withstand’ (27 June). Kean’s acting itself had an electrifying, terror-inspiring quality such as Delacroix had never previously seen. 

Kean in the character of Shylock, holding a large knife
Henry Meyer after Walter Henry Watts, Kean in the character of Shylock, mezzotint, 1814.  © The Trustees of the British Museum (Creative Commons license)

The London plays seem to have led Delacroix immediately to some first attempts at Shakespearean subjects: in addition to the Shylock drawing and the Macbeth lithograph, he painted a Desdemona and Emilia based on Othello.

In the following years, he painted over 30 works on episodes from Shakespeare, notably from Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Macbeth.  He also produced an important series of lithographs from Hamlet (1843) of which the British Library has a full set of the second edition (Paris, 1864; 1872.c.28). 

Michèle Hannoosh, University of Michigan


Eugène Delacroix, Lettres intimes, ed. Alfred Dupont (Paris, 1995). YA.1995.a.23416

Eugène Delacroix, Journal, ed. Michèle Hannoosh (Paris, 2009). YF 2009.a.27250


20 July 2016

‘The best of these was Derzhavin…’: Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin (1743-1816)

In 1924, introducing the first Oxford Book of Russian Verse (Oxford, 1924; 011586.f.70), the British travel writer, wit and man of letters Maurice Baring noted that the first author represented in it was Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin. Like Baring, Derzhavin had had a distinguished military career (he had won renown while serving in Catherine the Great’s army during the Pugachev rebellion), but was also a man of wide cultural interests, well-read and fluent in French. It was this which caused Baring to describe him as ‘a master of the French classical manner, in whose work the elements of real poetical beauty entitle him to be called the first Russian poet’. True, poets had begun to emerge in Russia as French literary influences spread during the reign of the enlightened Empress, but none equalled his gifts, leading Baring to remark that ‘the best of these was Derzhavin’. In selecting and editing the poems for the first anthology to make Russian verse available in the original to a wider public, Baring considered that Derzhavin represented the true beginning of the country’s poetic tradition.

Title-page with frontispiece portrait from Derzhavin's 'Sochineniia'
Title-page with portrait from G.R. Derzhavin Sochineniia (St Petersburg, 1851)

Although Derzhavin’s family claimed descent from Morza Bagrim, a member of the Golden Horde  who settled in Moscow in the 15th century, accepted baptism and became a vassal of Grand Prince Vasilii II, his own circumstances were comparatively humble. He was born in Kazan on 14 July 1743 to a father who was little more than a modest country landowner, and who died before Gavrila grew up. Educated at the Kazan gymnasium, he served as a private in the army but rose through the ranks to achieve a still more distinguished career in the civil service, appointed as Governor of Olonets and of Tambov, personal secretary to Catherine the Great, and finally Minister of Justice (1802) in the government of Alexander I.

Title page from an early edition of Derzhavin’s works
Title page from an early edition of Derzhavin’s works (St Petersburg, 1808) 1509/3064

When dismissed from this post the following year (he opposed the new Tsar’s liberal views), he was able to retire to his estate at Zvanka near Novgorod and devote himself to literature. He also had an establishment on the banks of the Fontanka in St. Petersburg where he hosted meetings of the Lovers of the Russian Word (Beseda liubitelei russkogo slova), a conservative literary society which met from 1811 and (ironically in view of major influences on Derzhavin’s work) attempted to cleanse the Russian language of Gallicisms and promote folk traditions and Old Church Slavonic as a more acceptable foundation for national culture.

Title-page of 'Title page of 'Irod i Mariamna' with a handwritten inscription and the 'ex libris' stamp of a former owner
Title page of Derzhavin’s play Irod i Mariamna (St. Petersburg, 1809) 1609/4532

The reasons for the society’s opposition to French influences were entirely comprehensible in view of the turbulent political climate of the times; indeed, one of Derzhavin’s most celebrated odes was a ‘lyric-epic hymn’ on the driving of the French from Russia in 1812 (St. Petersburg, 1813; 1601/452. (2.)). However, the influence of the classical drama of Racine and Corneille persisted in his five-act tragedy Irod i  Mariamna (‘Herod and Mariamne’) , although the Anacreontic verses which he had penned earlier, are part of a tradition found in other areas of European literature, notably in German, at that time.

  Title-page of 'Anakreonticheskiia piesni' with a bust of Anakreon and a lyre
Title-page of Derzhavin’s anacreontic poems, Anakreonticheskiia piesni (St Petersburg, 1804) 1160.k.11

Derzhavin’s work was soon translated; in 1793 August von Kotzebue  published a German translation of his poems in Leipzig (, and the British Library also holds a Latin version of his hymn to the Deity: De Deo. Carmen Rossiacum illustris Derzavini Latinis elegis explicuit Stanislaus Czerski (Vilnius, 1819; 11426.ccc.17. (6.)). It also possesses a translation of the same ode ‘translated from the Russian of Derzhazin [sic]’. It appears in an album compiled by Sir John Bowring, a scholar and diplomat with an interest in Slavonic languages and literature, and is described as ‘Printed for Mr. W. Stokes, teacher of memory. For the use of his pupils’.

Printed broadside with a translation of Derzhavin's 'Ode to the Deity'
Derzhavin, Ode to the Deity, translated by Sir John Bowring (London, [1861]) 1872.a.1(77)

Derzhavin’s own memory, though honoured in his native country, has not fared so well outside it. After his death on 20 July 1816, the literary society which he had done so much to foster was dissolved, although it was resuscitated in the 1850s, and for modern readers Opinion, the anti-Semitic tract which he wrote when commissioned by Tsar Paul to investigate famines in Belorussia, makes unpalatable reading with its proposals to deny autonomy to Jewish communities in the Russian empire and enforce their resettlement in colonies on the Black Sea. As an innovator, though, his use of broken rhythms would prove to be a powerful influence on subsequent writers of Russian verse, and he did much to promote awareness of the potential of the Russian language as a rich literary medium and ensure its place in the world of European literature, despite his prophetic view that although French was a language of harmony, Russian was one of conflict.

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

18 July 2016

Three symbols of Franco’s Spain

80 years ago today, on 18 July 1936, Spanish generals, later led by Francisco Franco, staged an uprising . By 1 April 1939 what became the Spanish Civil War was over and Franco made a triumphal entry into Madrid. Three years of war and 40 years of dictatorship (the Generalísimo finally died on 20 November 1975) turned Spain from what had been a progressive republic with a programme of mass literacy and the most liberal divorce laws in Europe to a pseudo-medieval dictatorship, priest-ridden, vindictive and subject to famine.

Regressive regimes often look back into history to legitimise themselves, and Franco’s was no exception. The regime’s appropriation of three historical symbols is described below:

1. Yugo y flechas

Francoism – motto [España] ‘Una, grande, libre’ – looked back with nostalgia to the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs, who united Castile and Aragon by marriage in 1469 and won Granada from the Moors in 1492. What better emblem for the new-old Spain than the Yugo y flechas, Yoke and arrows?

Woodcut coat of arms with various devices including the Yoke and Arrows

 Coat of arms with the yoke and arrows motif from a 16th-century Rationale divinorum officiorum (Granada, 1504) 1474.dd.9.

The Gordian knot, attached to a broken cord, signifying that the end justified the means, was juxtaposed with the arrows bound together, a version of the Roman fasces (unity is strength).

It also represented the initials Y (Yoke-Yugo-Ysabel) and F (Arrows-Flechas-Fernando).

Half-title page of 'De Sevilla a Madrid' with the yoke and arrows device and an inscription

Inscribed half-title page of Candido G.Ortiz de Villajos, De Sevilla a Madrid: ruta libertadora de la columna Castejón (Granada, 1937) 9043.ff.30, showing the yoke and arrows.

The appeal to the political strongman of the 20th century is obvious.

After the Civil War, and when I first saw Madrid in 1975, it was everywhere – banknotes, public buildings, etc. It was added to the flag.

1970s Spanish postcard showing the arms of different cities surrounding the national arms with yoke and arrows
Spanish postcard from the 1970s showing the arms of different cities surrounding the national arms with yoke and arrows

A law of 2007  called for the removal of Francoist insignia.

2. El Cid

There’s the Cid of history, the Cid of literature and the Cid of Franco.

The historical Cid, Rodrigo [Ruy] Díaz de Vivar (ca. 1043-1099),won Valencia from the Moors. He was probably neither more or less cruel than any other medieval knight.

His deeds are sung in the Cantar de Mio Cid (circa 1207). Here he’s praised for his moderation. His motivation is political rather than ideological: he’s no culture hero fighting for Spanish Christian values against the Moor: Moors and Christians are both his allies and his enemies.

Title-page of a 1541 version of the Cid poem with a woodcut of an armed knight on horseback

Title-page of Cronica del muy esforçado cauallero el Cid ruy diaz campeador ([Seville], 1541). C.39.g.5

The domestic element is strong in the Cantar: The Cid takes revenge on his son-in-law princes who batter his daughters, and this was extended by Guillén de Castro (and hence Corneille in Le Cid, who focus on his marriage.

Statue of The Cid on horseback in Burgos

 Statue of The Cid by Cristóbal González Quesada in Burgos, unveiled by Franco in 1955. (Picture by ElCaminodeSantiago09 2006 via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 2.0)

Quite a benevolent figure. But by 1939 he has regressed and has become as primitive as Franco himself, a symbol of a unified Christian Spain fighting the Crusade, which was what the Francoists called the Civil War.

Title-page of 'Dos claves históricas' 

  Printed dedication to Franco in 'Dos claves históricas'
Title page, with the date 1939 designated ‘year of victory’ and dedication to Franco – ‘il Caudillo – in Darío Fernández Flórez, Dos claves históricas: Mío Cid y Roldán (Madrid, 1939) 11864.b.35.

3. Isabel the Catholic

She and Fernando of Aragon married in 1469: Castile and Aragon were united in person but were separate kingdoms with their own laws until 1715.

Theirs was a magnificent court, full of latter-day troubadours and Latin humanists and decorated with Flemish primitives. And obviously their reign founded various institutions of the modern state: they patronised the introduction of printing, exempting imported books from tax in 1477 ‘Because foreign and Spanish merchants have recently brought in many good books, which redound to universal benefit and the ennobling of our kingdom ...’.

And Nebrija dedicated the first Spanish grammar to Isabella.

Nebrija's printed dedication to Queen Isabella in his 1492 'Gramatica Castellana'

 Dedication to Isabella on the first page of Antonio de Nebrija, Gramatica Castellana (Salamanca, 1492) IA.52814.

It’s only fair to point out that the Catholic Monarchs were not wholly benevolent or modern in outlook: they also ordered the expulsion of the Jews  in 1492.

By 1939 the Queen had regressed. Franco made her the model of the 20th-century Catholic wife and mother, ready to make every sacrifice for church and state: she was said to have sold or pawned her jewels to finance the voyages of Columbus, and swore not to change her chemise until Granada was delivered from the Moor. In 1958 he tried to have her canonised.

Title-page of 'Isabel la Católica, fundadora de España'
César Silió Cortés, Isabel la Católica, fundadora de España (Valladolid, 1938) 10635.e.16

This life of the Queen draws parallels between the contemporary situation in Spain and her reign. For César Silió Cortés, Isabel’s reign saw 

the transformation worked in Spain as an already decadent age was being replaced by a new one, with its roots in the past [...] made gay with plumes of youthful growth, swelling with plans of growth and expansion. [...]

His book had been begun with the intention of studying these great changes – a revolution from above – in tranquility, but

the fates have wished it to be written amid the clamour and horrors of another revolution undertaken by the canaille of the river beds, in which Spain continues to be bled dry as the author writes these lines and whose significance will be given to us by the future [...]

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies

14 July 2016

Born on a Fourteenth of July: Joseph Arthur, Comte de Gobineau

On 14 July 1816, the 17th anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, a son was born to Anne-Louise Madeleine de Gercy, the wife of Count Louis de Gobineau, an officer of the Royal Guard who had followed Louis XVIII into exile during the Hundred Days of Napoleon’s return the previous year. When young Arthur was 11, his mother decamped with her three children and a lover to Germany and then to Switzerland, which gave the boy the advantage of 18 months at the Collège de Bienne. His prospects were compromised by the family’s Legitimist sympathies and the lack of mathematical knowledge which barred him from a military career, but his Germanic education was to lay the foundations for a life’s work based on orientalism and organicism.

Portrait of Gobineau sitting in an armchair
Portrait of Gobineau from his The Golden Flower (New York and London, 1924) 10633.d.36.

In October 1835, having failed the entrance examination for Saint-Cyr, Gobineau landed with 50 francs in his pocket on the Paris doorstep of his wealthy and eccentric uncle Thibault-Joseph, who was obsessed with the restoration of the legitimate kings of France. After three weeks of complete neglect, his nephew threatened to commit suicide on the spot, at which the elderly adventurer deigned to pay him some attention. However, he provided little practical help, and Gobineau had to rely on letters of introduction to Sainte-Beuve and other literati while he rented a garret and attempted to launch his literary career. By 1846 he had succeeded enough to marry, but it was not until 1849 that he secured a post as first secretary of the French Legation in Berne through the good offices of his mentor Alexis de Tocqueville, now minister of foreign affairs.

Although Gobineau’s 30-year diplomatic career took him all over the world, with postings to Greece, Switzerland, Germany, Newfoundland, Sweden and Brazil, he was temperamentally unsuited to the profession. It did, however, allow him to travel twice to Persia, where he camped among Bedouins and enjoyed the splendours of life as the head of the French Legation in Teheran in 1855-58. A second appointment as plenipotentiary (1862-63) enabled him to develop his knowledge of Persian and Arabic, peruse rare manuscripts, and compose his Traité des écritures cuneiforms (Paris, 1864; 7702.f.13) as well as Les Religions et les philosophies dans l’Asie Centrale (Paris, 1865; 2217.d.3). Aghast at the prospect of being posted to the United States, which he abhorred because of its cruel treatment of Native Americans and black people, and its uniform mass culture based on the uncritical worship of technology and democracy, he was relieved to be appointed to Athens instead in 1865. After bitter disillusionment at the conduct of Germany in 1870-71, he was delighted to become plenipotentiary in Stockholm in 1872, feeling a profound affinity with the lands from which he believed his Norman forebears had originated.

Title-page of 'Histoire d’Ottar Jarl'
Title-page of Histoire d’Ottar Jarl, pirate norvégien (Paris, 1879; 10761.e.27), in which Gobineau describes a (fanciful) Viking-Norman descent for his family.

Not surprisingly, his nomadic existence took its toll on family life, and by 1876 resulted in a complete break with his wife and two daughters. His declining years, in which his health suffered as a result of recurrent fevers contracted in Brazil, were mitigated by his relationship with Mathilde de La Tour, an Italian diplomat’s wife, and literary and intellectual friendships such as that with Richard Wagner, whom he first met in Rome in 1876 and who invited him to stay at Bayreuth.

Had Gobineau confined himself to writing fiction, travel memoirs and works of scholarship, he would probably be remembered nowadays as little more than a minor literary figure. However, a book which he published in the aftermath of the 1848 Revolution, Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines (‘Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races’), secured him a far more notorious reputation.

Title-page of 'Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines'

 Title-page of the first volume of Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines (Paris, 1853). 10006.dd.14 (and available online)

Although the Essai caused Gobineau’s contemporaries to prevent his election to the Académie française, this was not on the grounds of racism but of scientifically unconvincing theories and anti-Christian determinism. Ironically, in view of the author’s detestation of the United States, it was first published in English in Philadelphia in 1856 (10006.d.30). A German translation ( appeared in the same year, and Wagner  was sufficiently interested in Gobineau’s ideas to collaborate with him on an article which appeared in the Bayreuther Blätter (P.P.1943.b.) for May-June 1881.

Gobineau’s division of the human species into three major groupings, white, yellow and black, claiming to demonstrate that ‘history springs only from contact with the white races’ and distinguishing the ‘Aryan’ race as the pinnacle of human development and the basis of all European aristocracies, certainly exerted a sinister influence on the pernicious racial ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries. Yet a close reading suggests that the Nazi thinkers who espoused his theories had not  read them in depth: Gobineau had a high regard for the cultural and intellectual achievements of Judaism, and nothing but condemnation for discrimination and inhumanity proceeding from racism. Indeed, Wagner’s son-in-law Houston Stewart Chamberlain, a far more direct precursor of National Socialist theories, was dismissive of Gobineau as a paranoid unrealistic dreamer, whose writings were irrelevant to Chamberlain’s own vision of the future. Moreover, the unwieldy treatise was little read in Germany until the 1890s, when Gobineau, who had died in Turin in 1882, was unable to defend his ‘divination’ of the distant future against those who seized upon and distorted his ideas. He emphasized the dangers of expansionism which could only lead to its own destruction, and in this, at least, he was a true prophet of the disasters to come.

It is a final irony that a man with a lifelong distrust of bourgeois monarchy, indiscriminate democracy and the forces of revolution should have been born on the day still celebrated as that on which the French Revolution and the cause of national democracy in France burst upon the world.

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

12 July 2016

Balkan Day II in Drawings by Ian Long

The south-eastern countries of the Balkans were in focus of Balkan Day II: A Rich Heritage of Stories, a public event held at the British Library on 24 June 2016.

The Balkans is home to a great number of fascinating stories and traditions, many of which remain untold in English. This event brought together some of the leading contemporary academics, writers and translators who talked about writing and creating in this fertile cultural space.

The event featured a range of authors, translators, publishers and others speaking on various topics.  Artist Ian Long captured the speakers in the course of the day, and some of his portraits are reproduced below. You can also hear some of the talks from the event here.

In the first two keynote speeches, Kapka Kassabova's website (below) spoke on the theme Borderland: Notes from a Journey to Europes Last Frontier, where Bulgaria and Turkey Meet, and Robert Elsie described The Chaotic Course of Albanian Literature.

Portrait of Kapka Kassabova by Ian Long

 In a session chaired by poet and editor Fiona Sampson, Ioana Parvulescu and Alek Popov spoke on the theme of Authors as Cultural Ambassadors: How does the history and mythology of the homeland influence the stories we tell today?

Portrait of Ioana Parvulescu by Ian Long
Ioana Parvulescu

A panel of translators - John Hodgson, Christopher Buxton, Stephen Watts and Mevlut Ceylan, with Christina Pribichevich Zoric in the chair - reflected on the question ‘Should translators of ‘small languages’ aim to be invisible or consider themselves a second author?’ in a session entitled Bringing the Balkans Westward. 

Portrtait of John Hodgson by Ian Long
John Hodgson 

Portrait of Christopher Buxton by Ian Long

Christopher Buxton

Portrait of Christina Pribichevich Zoric by Ian Long
Christina Pribichevich Zoric

The event ended with a screening of the film Balkan Spirit, followed by a discussion with its director Hermann Vaske.

Ian Long

Ian Long is a writer and graphic artist. He is keen to take drawing out into the world and see what it can do, in the widest possible variety of situations.


10 July 2016

The English and football – then and now

Many people will have seen the sadly familiar images of some English football fans engaging in antisocial behaviour in the streets of French towns during Euro 2016. The reputation of the English for violent pastimes and delight in disorder has a long pedigree. Here’s a Swiss view from the last decade of the 17th century.

Béat Louis de Muralt (1665-1749), the scion of a patrician family from Berne, visited England in 1694. His Lettres sur les Anglois (translated into English in 1726 as Letters describing the character and customs of the English… nation, ), consisting of six letters to an unnamed Swiss correspondent, were written during this visit, but not published until 1725.

Title-page of 'Lettres sur les Anglois et les François', printed in red and black
Titlepage of Béat Louis de Muralt, Lettres sur les Anglois et les François et sur les voiages … (Cologne, 1725). 792.c.3 (also available online)

A friendly, though not uncritical observer, Muralt, in common with other foreign visitors, comments adversely on the ferocious pastimes of the common people such as throwing at cocks, watching men or animals fight, and playing football in the streets:

Quelquefois il [le Peuple] se divertit de maniere incommode, & où il y a de l’insolence mêlée; comme lors qu’il pousse le Balon à coup de pieds par les ruës; & se plait à casser les Vitres des Maisons  & les Glaces des Carrosses qu’il rencontre sur son chemin… (Lettres sur les Anglois, pp. 44-5)

There’s another [diversion], very troublesome and insolent; this is Foot-ball, where they take a great deal of Pleasure in breaking Windows, and Coach Glasses if they meet any… (Letters describing the character and customs..., p. 38)


Men playing football in an empty market-place, one of them knocked to the ground
A small, but seemingly aggressive, 18th-century football game in the market place at Barnet. Reproduced in Robert W. Malcolmson, Popular Recreations in English Society 1700-1850 (Cambridge, 1973) X.529/44470.

Teresa Vernon, Lead Curator, Romance Collections

08 July 2016

Grey Power

When Zayn Malik dyed his hair grey, I’m reliably informed, sales of grey hair dye rocketed.

Of course, it was all the rage in the 18th century to have grey hair or wigs, as we see in this portrait of Marie Antoinette:

Portrait of Marie Antoinette in a grey wig

Portrait of Marie Antoniette by François-Hubert Drouais (1781). Image from Wikimedia Commons 

In order to cool down this fashion fervour, let us turn to Rabbi Santob de Carrión (more properly Shem Tov), active in Castile in the reigns of Alfonso XI and Pedro the Cruel. His most famous work in Spanish (he also wrote in Hebrew) is the Proverbios morales, which typically takes an idiosyncratic view of the world.

  Reproduction of a page in Hebrew manuscript of 'Proverbios Morales'
One curiosity of the transmission history of Santob’s work is that it is preserved in Latin script and in Hebrew script. Image from Santob de Carrión, Proverbios Morales. Edited with an introduction by Ig. González Llubera. (Cambridge, 1947). 11453.d.11.

Santob’s contribution to the grey debate runs:

Las mis cañas teñilas,
Non por las aborresçer,
Nin por desdesyrlas,
Nin mancebo paresçer,
Mas con miedo sobejo
De omnes, que buscarian
En my seso de viejo,
E non lo fallarian

[I dyed my hair black
Not to hide my age,
But to stop men thinking
My hair made me a sage.]

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance studies


Barry Taylor, ‘Sem Tob de Carrión, Proverbios morales’, in Diccionario filológico de la literatura medieval española: textos y transmisión, ed. Carlos Alvar and José Manuel Lucía Megías, Nueva Biblioteca de Erudición y Crítica, 21 (Madrid, 2002), pp. 941-44. YA.2003.b.1351