THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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8 posts from January 2019

29 January 2019

Kater Murr at 200: ‘the cleverest, best and wittiest creature of his kind ever beheld’

Visitors to the British Library’s current exhibition Cats on the Page may have caught sight of a curious creature who first saw the light in Prussia 200 years ago – Kater Murr, the famous tomcat created by E. T. A. Hoffmann and based on his own much-loved pet, a handsome striped tabby. While British audiences may be more familiar with works by Hoffmann which provided the inspiration for the ballets The Nutcracker and Coppélia and for Offenbach’s opera Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Murr himself is no mean performer – a worthy companion for his master, the gifted but reclusive musician Johannes Kreisler, who inspired Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana.

Kater Murr 1820 12548.bbb.17

 An early edition of Lebens-Ansichten des Katers Murr  (Berlin, 1820) 12548.bbb.17

Lebens-Ansichten des Katers Murr nebst fragmentarischer Biographie des Kapellmeisters Johannes Kreisler in zufälligen Makulaturblättern was first published in two volumes in 1819-21 (a third volume was promised but never completed). The author claims that Murr taught himself to read by perusing books and papers in the study of his original owner, Master Abraham, and went on to learn calligraphy from the manual compiled by Hilmar Curas. This enabled him to compose such masterpieces as a political treatise entitled Mousetraps and their Influence on the Character and Achievement of the Feline Race, the tragedy Cawdallor, King of Rats, and the ‘philosophical and didactic novel of sentiment’ Thought and Intuition, or, Cat and Dog. By a publisher’s error Murr’s ‘life and opinions’ (not for nothing was Hoffmann influenced by Laurence Sterne) were interleaved with a biography of Kreisler himself and bound into a single volume.

The resulting narrative is an inspired parody of the Bildungsroman, charting Murr’s development from a kitten rescued from drowning by the kind-hearted Master Abraham to a cat of letters and high culture – at least in his own eyes. In the tradition of Wilhelm Meister and his like, Murr encounters a wide variety of characters and falls into some highly dubious company. He joins a cats’ Burschenschaft, a fraternity of the kind so popular among German students in the era of ‘Turnvater’ Jahn (whom Hoffmann defended in court), engaging not only in gymnastics but in rowdier pursuits such as drinking, duelling and caterwauling songs.

Kater Murr Cover
Cover of Lebens-Ansichten des Katers Murr in an edition with illustrations by Maximilian Liebenwein (Zurich, 1923) X.958/995. Currently on display in the Cats on the Page exhibition

Naturally, his sentimental education is also chronicled; he has an emotional encounter with his long-lost mother, (though he absent-mindedly devours the fish-head which he had intended to offer her), and enjoys an ‘instructive’ friendship with Ponto, a poodle (irresistibly evoking thoughts of Mephistopheles’s disguise as a black poodle in Goethe’s Faust). He then embarks on a ‘personality-forming’ love affair with the charming Miesmies which comes to an abrupt end when she falls for the blandishments of a war veteran, a swaggering striped tabby cat sporting the Order of the Burnt Bacon for valour in ridding a larder of mice. Murr’s friend, the black cat Muzius, opens his eyes to the betrayal, but Murr comes off worst in the duel which ensues, and escapes with bleeding ears and minus a considerable quantity of fur.

Kater Murr endpapers
Endpapers by Maximilian Liebenwein for the 1923 edition of the novel pictured above

In a lively and graceful fashion Hoffmann makes fun of the conventions of polite society and its members’ cultural pretensions; Murr scans the pages of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria for ploys to capture the heart of Miesmies or free himself from his obsession, and invites her to sing. This succeeds: ‘Ah! Am I still upon this earth?’ he cried ‘Am I still sitting on the roof? […] Am I still Murr the cat, and not the man in the moon?’ To his request for a song, Miesmies responds with the aria ‘Di tanti palpiti’ from Rossini’s Tancredi. Murr, a veritable homme des lettres très renommé (as he terms himself), is conversant with all the notable authors of the day, quoting freely from Schiller’s Don Carlos and Die Jungfrau von Orleans, Adalbert von Chamisso’s Peter Schlemihl, and, of course, Ludwig Tieck – not only his translations of Shakespeare but also his play Der gestiefelte Kater (Puss in Boots). This story runs parallel to the unhappy tale of Kreisler’s failure to achieve social success and romantic happiness in a petty principality, recounted on pages torn from the printed biography which Murr uses as blotting-paper and which are inadvertently included in the book.

Not only social but also literary conventions fall victim to Hoffmann’s pen; Murr’s directions about ‘how to become a great cat’ satirize the contemporary trivialization of the ideals of the Bildungsroman, and his Biedermeier-like complacency and liking for comfort contrast sharply with the uncompromising attitude of the tormented genius Kreisler. In a postscript, the ‘editor’ notes that ‘that clever, well-educated, philosophical, poetical tomcat Murr was snatched away by bitter Death […] after a short but severe illness’ without completing his memoirs: ‘A genius maturing early can never prosper long: either he declines, in anticlimax, to become a mediocrity without character or intellect […] or he does not live to a great age’.

Kater Murr CF Thiele H.2001-426Picture of Kater Murr by Christian Friedrich Schiele from the first edition of the  novel, reproduced on the cover of Anthea Bell’s translation, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr (London. 1999) H.2001/426.

Whatever the reader may feel about the self-congratulatory comments of the egregious Murr, he can hardly be accused of mediocrity. A near kinsman of Tybalt, the cat of mediaeval beast fables, and Perrault’s White Cat and Puss in Boots, he would become the ancestor of a whole line of talking cats, many of whom feature in the exhibition – Gottfried Keller’s Spiegel das Kätzchen, Christa Wolf’s Max in Neue Lebensansichten eines Katers, and perhaps even Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat. Hoffmann, the ‘editor’, assures the reader that he has met Murr personally and found him ‘a man of mild and amiable manners’, and by her accomplished translation Anthea Bell has enabled English-speaking readers to make the acquaintance of ‘the drollest creature in the world, a true Pulcinella’.

Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services.

The British Library’s free exhibition Cats on the Page continues until 17 March 2019, with a series of accompanying events for all ages and interests.

25 January 2019

‘Tom Puss, conjure up a trick!’

Our ‘Cats on the Page’ exhibition features several items on clever and cunning cats. It is probably fair to say that the most famous amongst them is Puss in Boots. He is represented in a charming pop-up book by Vojtěch Kubašta,  published in London in 1958 (W.E.d.692)

But did you know that the Dutch cherish an equally clever, cunning and cool cat? His name is Tom Poes, created by Marten Toonder (1912-2005)

TomPoes2MToonder Portrait of Marten Toonder by Kippa, from Was Tom Poes maar hier (Amsterdam, 2006) YF.2008.a.18079.

Toonder may never have guessed that the doodles of various animal figures he made one day out of sheer boredom would lead to 45 years of newspaper cartoons, cartoon strips, books, films, merchandise, illegal copies of his works, as well as to a statue of his little cat hero in the Rotterdam street where he was born.

TomPoes3shapes The first incarnation of Tom Poes, reproduced in Marten Toonder Heer Bommel en ik (Amstelveen, 2017) YF.2018.a.15780.

The doodles were filed away in a drawer where they lay forgotten, until a Dutch national newspaper, De Telegraaf, asked Toonder to write and illustrate a daily cartoon. Looking for inspiration he found the drawings and decided to give the little cat a try. His wife Phiny Dick, pen name of Afine Kornélie Dik, suggested the name ‘Tom Poes’ and it was she who wrote the first Tom Poes story, Het Geheim der Blauwe Aarde (‘The Secret of the Blue Earth’), which was published on 16 March 1941. However, she soon handed the whole enterprise over to Marten.

Very soon, during his third adventure (‘In the Magic Garden’, 1941) Tom Poes met the brown bear Olie B. Bommel, a ‘gentleman of standing’, for whom ‘money is of no importance’. Tom Poes and he become inseparable and Bommel became more popular than Tom Poes during their many adventures.

TomPoes4OBBommel Olie B. Bommel, detail from the cover of a publisher’s flyer for Marten Toonder: Alle verhalen van Olivier B. Bommel and Tom Poes

Bas van der Schot compared the couple to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Was Tom Poes maar hier (‘If Only Tom Poes Were Here’), a homage to Marten Toonder, published in 2006, a year after his death.

TomPoes5YinYangTom Poes and Olie B Bommel as Yin and Yang, by Bas van der Schot, from Was Tom Poes maar hier (Amsterdam, 2006) YF.2008.a.18079.

Olie B. Bommel may be fantastically wealthy, but he is not very clever, nor is he in touch with the ‘real world’. It is Tom Poes who has the brains, always keeps his cool, and gets them out of many a pickle. ‘Conjure a trick, Tom Poes!’ is another phrase that has entered the Dutch vernacular, which almost literally means the same as Baldrick’s ‘I have a cunning plan’.

TomPoes6VerzineenList

Cover of Marten Toonder,Verzin toch eens een list (Amsterdam, 1973) X.990/6049

De Telegraaf insisted Marten Toonder used the format of the text cartoon by which the text is printed underneath the illustrations, rather than in speech balloons. This format had been invented by the Swiss teacher, author, artist and cartoonist Rodolphe Töpffer, who was famous in the Netherlands for his Histoire de Monsieur Cryptogame, which was actually the very first cartoon to feature in Dutch newspapers. In Calvinist Holland speech balloon strips were frowned upon well into the 20th Century, but text cartoons were just about acceptable.

TomPoes7Textstrip2 Example of text strip in newspaper De Telegraaf. Reproduced in Marten Toonder, De Andere Wereld (Amsterdam, 1982) X.958/14755.

Toonder perfected Töpffer’s format by treating text and illustrations as equal, so the reader needed both to make sense of the story.

Right from the start Tom Poes was translated into various languages: Swedish and Czech were the first, published in 1941, soon followed by French, Spanish and some British titles. The Loch Ness Monster, published in Tom Puss Comics is one example.

TomPoes8TPComicsCover of Tom Puss Comics (London, 1949) 12831.g.31.

Over 45 years Toonder wrote 177 Tom Poes / Olie B. Bommel stories. The newspaper strips became known as the ‘Bommel Saga.’

A sign of its popularity is the Toonderstripkatalogus (‘Toonder cartoon catalogue’), meticulously detailing all manifestations of the Tom Poes stories; in newspapers, in weekly magazines, in book form, in translation and in other media, accompanied by a history of Toonder and his creations.

TomPoes9Bommelbibliografie Title page of H. R. Mondria, Bommelbibliografie. 2nd ed. (‘The Hague, 1974) X:908/80234

In his study of Toonder and the Bommel Saga, Henk R. Mondria discusses whether Tom Poes can be considered to be ‘Literature’. He answers in the affirmative. His arguments are that Olie B. Bommel is a rounded character, Toonder is a language virtuoso and the stories always have deeper layers than just the plot line. Furthermore, literary critics wrote polemics about this burning question, which is a sure sign of the literary value of Tom Poes.

Then, in 2008 the publisher De Bezige Bij embarked on a project of re-issuing all Tom Poes stories in a series Marten Toonder: alle verhalen van Olie B. Bommel en Tom Poes, plus commentary, in 60 volumes. The last volume was published in 2018: Als dat maar goed gaat (‘What could possibly go wrong?’). That settles the discussion once and for all; Tom Poes is well and truly part of the Dutch literary canon!

TomPoes10AlleVerhalenFront cover of a publisher’s flyer for Marten Toonder: Alle verhalen van Olivier B. Bommel and Tom Poes

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

References / Further reading

Wim Hazeu, Marten Toonder: biografie (Amsterdam, 2012) On order.

Marten Toonder, Vroeger was de aarde plat: autobiografie. (Amsterdam, 2010) ZA.9.a.5120

Marten Toonder, Alle Verhalen (Amsterdam, 2008-2018). 60 vols. Individual volumes held at various shelfmarks.

The British Library’s free exhibition Cats on the Page continues until 17 March 2019, with a series of accompanying events for all ages and interests.

23 January 2019

Agustín Fernández Mallo and the Nocilla Project

The Spanish writer Agustín Fernández Mallo, who will be coming to speak at the British Library Knowledge Centre on 24 January along with his translator, Thomas Bunstead, and myself, is part of an elite group of writers after whom entire generations have been named. In this case, however, we speak not of the ‘Fernández Mallo generation’ but of the ‘Nocilla generation’.

Photograph of Agustín Fernández Mallo  by Aina Lorente Solivellas
Photograph of Agustín Fernández Mallo  by Aina Lorente Solivellas

Nocilla is the name of a Spanish delicacy similar in every way to Nutella, and the title Mallo gave to his literary project, made up of three separate books: Nocilla Dream, Nocilla Experience and Nocilla Lab. It is also the subject of a song by the Spanish punk band Siniestro Total, the lyrics of which can be reproduced in their entirety here:

Es la merendilla que nos gusta más; es tan suavecita, que gusto nos da Nocilla, que merendilla!
Mamá, más!
Nocilla que merendilla!
(This is something to the effect of: “We love having Nocilla for tea, it’s really delicious, Mum, give us some more Nocilla!”)

And yet the Nocilla project is also a far-reaching and ambitious one which shook up Spanish letters at a time when many felt that the Spanish novel was in dire straits. This juxtaposition of pop culture, advertising, and high-minded, self-declared literary ambition, is at the heart of these books, which with their rapidly-shifting mixture of quotations (some modified, some verbatim), Wikipedia-sourced research, counter-histories and total fantasy seek not just to tell a story, but to explore new pathways for narrative in the infinitely fragmented reality of the 21st century. Like Joyce and others before him, Fernández Mallo insists that he is a realist, and that the style and structure of his work is only as unusual and vertigo-inducing as the augmented reality we all inhabit. In one interview, he said: “When I use the term ‘complex realism’, what I’m suggesting is that the writer must be realist, always realist, but not realist in the sense we have usually used the term in literature. If reality today is different from the reality of 30 years ago, we can’t keep describing reality in the same way as we did 30 years ago.”

Cover of 'Nocilla Dream' showing the back view of a woman in a bikini
Cover of Agustín Fernández Mallo, Nocilla Dream (Canet de Mar, Barcelona, 2006) YF.2007.a.32878

One critic has described the experience of reading the books as akin to “having multiple browser windows open and compulsively tabbing between them”, and Bunstead, in his translator’s preface to the trilogy’s American edition, has described Fernández Mallo as “the first Spanish author to go viral”.

Mallo was no stranger to controversy before Nocilla, having already caused a minor upset with his previous book, El Hacedor (de Borges): Remake, in which the layout (but not the actual contents) match those of the Argentine author’s 1960 collection of poems and short prose texts. The book was ultimately withdrawn after a complaint from Borges’ notoriously litigious widow María Kodama.

So as we mark the publication of Nocilla Lab in a (highly accomplished) English translation, I don’t think we’d be wrong to called the author himself a sort of translator, one who, like Borges’s own Pierre Menard makes us look again at familiar words and text through a process of radical deracination and repositioning.

All this and more will be discussed at the event in the Knowledge Centre. Tickets are still available; you can find more information and book here

Rahul Bery, British Library Translator in Residence

References:

Agustín Fernández Mallo, Proyecto Nocilla (Madrid, 2013). YF.2014.a.194. The three novels Nocilla Dream, Nocilla Experience and Nocilla Lab published in one volume.

Agustín Fernández Mallo, Nocilla Dream, translated by Thomas Bunstead (London, 2015) H.2017/.6518

Agustín Fernández Mallo, Nocilla Experience, translated by Thomas Bunstead (London, 2015) H.2017/.6136

Agustín Fernández Mallo, Nocilla Lab, translated by Thomas Bunstead (London, 2019) Awaiting shelfmark

Agustín Fernández Mallo, El Hacedor (de Borges): Remake (Madrid, 2011) YF.2011.a.15220

18 January 2019

You can’t go out dressed like that! A crack-down on extravagance in 17th-century Lisbon

A recent acquisition lays down the law on who could wear what in the streets of Portugal.

Sumptuary Laws Pregmatica e ley por que Sua Alteza ha por bem pellos respeitos nella declarados prohibir os trajes, vestidos de Seda com ouro, guarnições de fitas, ouro, prata, dourados, bordados coches de seis mulas, & o mais que nella se declara (Lisbon, 1677). RB.23.b.7984.

The decree stretched from from Portugal to the Cape of Good Hope.

Prince Regent Dom Pedro, responding to requests from Parliament, wishes to halt the harm to the state caused by excessive expenditure on finery, the decoration of houses (I think he means the exteriors), the design of coaches, the clothing of lackeys and the increase in their numbers, extravagant expense on funerals. The finest families are being reduced to penury by this profligacy.

He forbids the use of gold or silver (real or imitation) as decoration (except in a few cases, in small amounts, and when the fabric was made in India), the wearing of long gowns except by the clergy and the university students of Coimbra and Evora, and clothing made from fabric not manufactured in Portugal.

Coaches with more than four mules or horses are banned.

Portuguese_carriage 17th cent An elaborate 17th-century coach from the Museu Nacional dos Coches in Lisbon  (Photo by cytech from Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0])

Anyone disobeying this law will not only be fined, but will be forbidden to enter the presence of the king or any royal official.

Sumptuary laws, as they’re called, in the west go back to the Romans. Their purpose seems to have been sometimes to protect local industries by restricting imports, and sometimes to stop common folk aping their social betters. On a higher moral level, both Christianity and pagan Stoicism were against ostentation in dress.

Silk was a common focus, though we have it on good authorities that in silk-producing areas such as Valencia even the poorest went in silks.

Such restrictions might seem outdated to us, but clothes are still a bone of contention in some areas: do you recall when in 2004 the exclusive Burberry brand was allegedly taken over by ‘chavs’

The baroque period is often described as one of display, but not everyone saw its down side.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References/Further reading:

Juan Sempere y Guarinos, Historia del lujo y de las leyes suntuarias de España (Madrid, 1788)

Alan Hunt, Governance of the consuming passions: a history of sumptuary law (Basingstoke, 1996) YC.1997.a.188

14 January 2019

Pan Kotsky

Pan Kotsky, or ‘Mister Cat’, if we translate his name literally, is the most famous cat in Ukrainian folklore. You will find him in virtually any anthology of traditional children’s tales . What does the story tell us about the Ukrainian way of life?

Pan Kotsky Hrinchenko
Opening of the story of Pan Kotsky from Boris Hrinchenko, Ukraïnsʹki narodni kazky vybrani dlia diteĭ (Kyiv, 1907) 12209.aaa.47.

The tale tells how a cat was too old to be able to do his job properly – catching mice - and his master decided to dump him in a forest. A dark and horrible future was waiting for the cat: he would slowly die of hunger and loneliness. But all of a sudden, our poor puss was given a second chance. A Lady Fox met him in the wood and became interested.

“What’s your name?" She asked.
“Pan Kotsky.”
“Great! Be my husband!”
“What a kind proposal!” thought the cat and agreed.

And they form a ‘typical’ Ukrainian couple often depicted in Ukrainian folkore: a clever and active woman with a kind and passive man. The Lady Fox cherishes her husband and presents him to the community. The Hare is the first to come to the house, and the Lady Fox announces her new situation: “Beware of my husband, Pan Kotsky, he’s fierce and will easily tear you to pieces!”

And the Hare believes her! The same happens with the other villagers: the Wolf, the Bear and the Boar. All of them are afraid of the new master of the forest.

“Let’s prepare a supper and invite him!” they decide. But nobody has enough courage to invite the fearsome Pan Kotsky personally, and so the Hare has no choice but go to the Lady Fox’s house. She plays her role awesomely well: “I’ll come with him, but hide away! Or he will tear you to pieces!!!” The others have no reason not to believe her, so the Bear climbs a tree, the Wolf hides behind a bush and the Boar finds a hole in the woodpile…

The table is full of tasty food and drink, waiting for the guests to dine. Pan Kotsky is a simple fellow and does not have good manners; he is just a peasant. He climbs on the table and starts to gorge himself on the meat. All of a sudden a mosquito decides to bite the Boar, who moves in his hiding place. Our cat does not forget his instincts and catches what he thinks is a mouse - but it is the Boar’s tail! The Boar roars and terrifies Pan Kotsky who promptly jumps into the tree, where he accidently disturbs the Bear… What a row! The surprised Bear falls on the Wolf and hurts the Hare, and all of them think they are going to die…

The image of Pan Kotsky as the most dangerous creature in the wood is well established now!

PanKotskyсто-казок-том-1

Pan Kotsky as seen by prominent Ukrainian illustrator Kost Lavro. Reproduced in: 100 kazok (Kyiv, 2005) LF.31.b.6371

What is this tale about? The Lady Fox is a master of manipulation, and Pan Kotsky just follows her without any opposition. Why should he oppose her?! He has a place to stay and food to eat; somebody takes care of him and makes decisions for him. He is a man, a ‘patriarch’, and as such, even if he is a fake one, he still deserves special treatment. The Lady Fox behaves like a ‘traditional’ wife: it’s better to be married to somebody than to be a single woman, even if you are perfectly self-sufficient and intelligent enough to live alone. But she uses her husband for her own purposes – to scare away other men and to establish her own social status.

Pan Kotsky Hnizdovsky
Pan Kotsky and Lady Fox as seen by J. Hnizdovsky.  Reproduced in Ukrainian folk tales, translated by Marie Halun Bloch (London, 1964). X.990/127

A conwoman and a conman, sly, dishonest and manipulative? Yes! In real life characters like them often succeed beautifully. The Lady Fox had her ‘LOL’ moment, and she and her husband do not seem to be punished in this tale for what they’ve done. They are the winners. It is a story of what the French call ‘être et paraître’, ‘to be and to appear’. A good image is more effective than actual status: fake it until you make it! It’s perfectly understandable in our own era of Instagram domination.

But we can see a different interpretation here, from Pan Kotsky’s point of view. Even if you are old and apparently useless, do not give up! You may still get a second chance. Maintain a positive attitude in life, stay open to opportunities…

The tale of Pan Kotsky inspired the Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko to compose an opera of the same title in 1891, and the writer Borys Hrinchenko  to write a version of the tale in 1904. In 1969 an animated film of the story, The Scary Creature, was created by a Kyiv animation studio - and many Ukrainian children are lucky enough to see Pan Kotsky on the stage!

Stamp_of_Ukraine_Mi521 (1)
Postal stamp of Ukraine from 2002 depicting Pan Kotsky (From Wikimedia Commons

Olena Yashchuk Codet, Artist, Author, Cultural Events Organiser, The creator of Katou-Matou Cat character

11 January 2019

Katharina Luther and a Letter to a Laureate

Checking and correcting catalogue records can lead down some interesting pathways. Recently I was looking at records for books by the German theologian Johann Friedrich Mayer (1650-1712) and was keen to untangle, among others, the records for three editions of a Latin dissertation on the life of Katharina Luther, first published in Hamburg in 1698. A note, which had become attached to all three records in the online catalogue, mentioned ‘a MS letter from F. Martin to Robert Southey’. As well as wanting to make clear which edition really did include the letter, I also wondered what its contents were. 

The letter turned out to be in the first of the three editions, and having sorted out the catalogue records, I settled down to see what ‘F. Martin’ – actually Frederick Martin – had to say. His letter, dated 21 March 1831, shows that he was sending the book as a gift to Southey. He begins by expressing his hope that Southey ‘may be a stranger to the charms for which “Maister Martin Luther” was content to risk the gibes of sir T. More’. (These ‘gibes’ were in fact vicious attacks by Thomas More on Luther’s marriage: he described it, among other things, as ‘whoredom’.)

The opening of Frederick Martin's letter to Southey, dated 21 March 1831
The opening of Martin’s letter

Martin casts doubt on the accuracy of Katharina’s portrait on the title page, speculating that ‘the features … were … collected … nose from one, chin from another’, although he acknowledges that ‘they tally sufficiently with the monumental effigy [an engraving of Katharina’s tomb] further on.’ In fact the title-page portrait is a reproduction – albeit a rather clumsy one – of a portrait of Katharina by Lucas Cranach.

Cover of  'De Catharina Lutheri conjuge dissertatio' (1698) with an engraved portrait of Katharina Luther
Title-page of Johann Friedrich Mayer, De Catharina Lutheri conjuge dissertatio (Hamburg, 1698). 1371.c.29. 

The letter continues in a slightly whimsical vein, with Martin conflating book and subject as he offers the former to Southey:

As she was no Wife of Bath and will cause no great expense of bookroom, it is her prayer hereafter on your shelves to be protected from the anti-Protestant worm which, during a long seclusion from air and light, has dared nibble a corner of her garment.

Despite this suggestion of damage, the book is in very good condition with no obvious wormholes.

Martin goes on to mention other volumes that he is planning to send to Southey. He explains that, since he cannot find ‘a convoy answering the two conditions of going near, yet not to, Keswick’, he intends to ‘commit them to the good offices of the Kendal guard.’  After offering his ‘best compliments to Mrs Southey’, he then signs off, but adds a brief postscript to the effect that he is not ‘in the least likely to want Warton or his two companions’ – presumably books which Southey had offered to him.

I was curious as to who Frederick Martin was and how he knew Southey. Neither an online search nor a brief survey of recent biographies and studies of the poet turned up anyone of that name other than a literary critic who was born in 1830 and is therefore not our man. The context of sending books made me briefly wonder if Martin was a bookseller, but the copy of Mayer’s book was clearly being offered as a gift, and it appears that the others are also to be sent as gifts or in exchange for other works rather than sold to Southey. There are no letters to or from any Frederick Martin in the Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey produced by Southey’s son Charles in 1849, and since there is no definitive modern edition of Southey’s complete correspondence – an online edition is in progress, but has only reached 1821 – there seemed little hope of finding other related letters without  far more research than I could spare the time for. 

There was, however, a clue to Martin’s identity in an inscription on the verso of the book’s front endpaper: ‘FM Coll: SS TRIN. 1824’.

Frederick Martin's ownership inscription: 'FM Coll: SS TRIN. 1824’
Martin’s ownership inscription in the copy of De Catharina Lutheri conjuge dissertatio

This implies that Frederick Martin was a student or fellow of Trinity College in Oxford, Cambridge or Dublin. I drew a blank with the alumni lists for Oxford and Dublin, but there was a Frederick Martin who entered Trinity College Cambridge in 1822 and received his MA in 1831. He went on to a career in the church and was for 16 years Rector of South Somercotes in Lincolnshire, the epithet given to him in the pre-1975 printed catalogue of the British (Museum) Library, which records three works by him.

Entries from the British Library's pre-1975 catalogue of printed books under the name of  Frederick Martin
Entry for Frederick Martin in vol. 213 of The British Library general catalogue of printed books to 1975 (London, 1979-1987) HLC 017.21 BMC

If this is the Frederick Martin in question, I still have no clue as to how he knew Southey and how close or lasting their acquaintance was. The letter implies some previous correspondence or meeting between the two, and the light-hearted tone and regards to Southey’s wife suggest a degree of personal acquaintance, although Martin addresses Southey as ‘My Dear Sir’ rather than the ‘Dear Southey’ that a close friend would probably use. 

Whoever Martin was, Southey thought it worth preserving his letter, and did indeed find ‘bookroom’ for Mayer’s work and grant Katharina the protection of his shelves. The book is listed in the catalogue of his library, offered for sale after his death (p. 98, no. 1867), where it is described as a ‘presentation copy, calf, gilt leaves, from Fred. Martin, with a humorous note in his autograph’, and thus it survives in the British Library to this day.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/further reading:

The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, edited by his son C. C. Southey (London, 1849-1850)  10855.de.15.

Alumni cantabrigienses: a biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of office at the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900, compiled by John Venn and J. A. Venn. (Cambridge, 1922-1954) RAR 378.42

Catalogue of the Valuable Library of the late Robert Southey, Esq., LL.D. Poet Laureate, which will be sold at Auction ... by Messrs. S. Leigh Sotheby & Co. … on Wednesday May 8th, 1844, and fifteen following days (London, [1844]) S.C. Sotheby

08 January 2019

Translating Cultures: French Caribbean History, Literature and Migration

On 24 September 2018, the British Library welcomed a galaxy of leading specialists to a study day addressing the history, literature and arts of the French Caribbean and its diaspora.

The day kicked off with a comparative overview of Francophone and Anglophone Caribbean colonisation and post-war migrations by keynote speaker Professor H. Adlai Murdoch. French colonisation of the Caribbean was such that by the late 18th century Haiti, an island of 600,000 slaves, produced 60% of the world’s coffee. Despite the abolition of slavery, France retained political power over les Antilles and the legacies of colonisation remain to this day. In 1946 the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe were given the status of départements, i.e. officially part of France. However, when Martiniquans and Guadeloupeans were invited to join the French workforce in the 1960s, they were met with racial prejudice and unfairly treated as immigrants, when they were only moving from the periphery to the centre of their own country. (A finalized version of Professor Murdoch’s presentation is available on the website of the French Studies Library Group).

The morning panel focused on history, heritage and migration. Sophie Fuggle spoke about the legacy of the ‘bagne’ (penal colonies) in French Guiana and ‘dark tourism’, and Antonia Wimbush discussed the French Caribbean’s contribution to the Second World War, events that are left out of official French narratives. Emily Zobel Marshall, the granddaughter of writer Joseph Zobel, movingly read excerpts from letters he wrote to his wife describing his experience as a Martiniquan in Paris in 1946.

Beth Cooper closed the morning’s proceedings with a presentation of the British Library’s exhibition ‘Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land’.

Translating Cultures Emily Zobel Marshall  Emily Zobel Marshall talking about her grandfather Joseph Zobel (Photo by Phoebe Weston-Evans).

The afternoon opened with a panel on Francophone Caribbean literature. Jason Allen-Paisant gave a presentation on French Caribbean theatre and showed us a fascinating video of the first production of Aimé Césaire’s  Le roi Christophe at the Salzburg festival in 1964. Vanessa Lee talked about Suzanne Césaire’s plays, and Kathryn Batchelor looked at how Frantz Fanon’s classic The Wretched of the Earth was disseminated worldwide: the English translation was written in much more accessible language than the original French, which explains its impact in the Anglophone world.

Translating Cultures Jason Allen PaisantJason Allen-Paisant presenting the video of the 1964 production of Le roi Christophe. (Photo by Emily Zobel Marshall).

The state agency in charge of organizing the migration flows from the Antilles to France between 1963 and 1981 was the BUMIDOM (Bureau pour le développement des migrations dans les départements d'outre-mer). Jessica Oublié and Marie-Ange Rousseau, the author and illustrator of the graphic novel Peyi an nou, told us about their research into the small histories of families who came to France. The book originated in Jessica’s desire to record her terminally ill grandfather’s life for a family scrapbook. It rapidly became clear to her that the story of his move to Paris was about much more than one individual, and reflected the destinies of a wider community. The graphic novel thus shows the author’s research process using archives and interviews, “pour relier petite histoire et grande Histoire” (to connect the story with History).

The event concluded with a presentation from Jean-François Manicom on curation and visual arts in the French Caribbean.

Translating Cultures Jessica Oublie - Copy Charles Forsdick introducing Jessica Oublié and Marie-Ange Rousseau. (Photo by Phoebe Weston-Evans).

The study day was rounded off by an evening with Canadian-Haitian writer Dany Laferrière at the Institut français focusing on his book The Enigma of the Return. He reluctantly but jokingly read an excerpt he was not proud of, and talked about his election to the Académie française. Describing Québecois as humble and Haitians as “megalomaniac”, he affirmed that the award was both “beyond him” and “simply not enough”. He is, after all, in his own words, “le plus modeste poète du monde” (the most modest poet in the world).

The study day was organised by Professor Charles Forsdick (University of Liverpool/AHRC) and Teresa Vernon (British Library). in partnership with the AHRC ‘Translating Cultures’ theme, the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library and the Institut français.


Laura Gallon

Laura Gallon was a PhD placement student at the British Library where she worked on a project assessing holdings of migrant narratives in the North American collections. She is in the second year of her PhD at the University of Sussex looking at contemporary American short fiction by immigrant women writers.

04 January 2019

Pascual de Gayangos and the British Museum Library

Many researchers who have explored the extensive Spanish collections of the British Library will have consulted the Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Spanish Language in the British Museum (London, 1875-1893; RAR 090.16 Eng). Compiled by the orientalist and bibliophile Pascual de Gayangos y Arce (1809-1897), the work can be seen not only as a scholarly catalogue, but also as exemplifying his role as a cultural bridge between Spain and the English-speaking world.

Gayangos portrait

Pascual de Gayangos y Arce, from La Ilustración Española y Americana, 8 October 1897. LOU.F899

For some six decades, Gayangos was arguably the most respected Spanish scholar in both Britain and the United States. His first contact with the British Museum occurred during a research visit to London in 1835 when he learned of the acquisition of manuscripts from the library of Juan de Iriarte (1703-71), who had been the Spanish Royal Librarian. He even added to the Spanish collections the following year when he sold a series of original letters relating to the history of England and Spain to the Museum (now BL Egerton MS 616).

In 1837, Gayangos set up home in London in order to carry out research for his major work, The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain (London, 1840-1843; 14003.f.23), based on manuscripts held by the Museum. Soon, he became a familiar figure in the reading rooms. The American historian Jared Sparks commented to William H. Prescott in 1840 that among ‘a hundred readers and transcribers, of all nations and tongues … you see Gayangos eagerly poring over his Arabic manuscripts’. During this time he willingly aided a growing number of scholars; hunted in library, book trade and auction catalogues and in private collections for Spanish books and manuscripts; wrote on Spanish topics for books, journals and encyclopaedias; gained the friendship of Hispanophiles such as Richard Ford; and performed the role of ‘literary ambassador’ for Spain in London. It was in 1842 when, according to Gayangos himself, he began his catalogue of the Museum’s Spanish manuscripts as an aid to his own research. In 1843, however, he returned to Spain where he was appointed to the chair of Arabic at the University of Madrid, but this did not prevent him from strengthening his links with ‘dear old England’.

Gayangos reading roomThe British Museum Reading Room. Wood engraving after C. Gregory from The Pictorial World, 5 December 1874. MFM.M93349 [1874]

Annual visits to London began in 1855 and he continued to note systematically the Museum’s new acquisitions of Spanish materials. He also investigated its rare riches such as the Bauzá collection of maps and charts when, in the 1860s, he was commissioned by the Spanish Government to study documents relating to the historical rights of Spain to her colonies. Significantly too, he generously shared his discoveries with fellow scholars such as William Stirling-Maxwell, John Rutter Chorley, Edward Churton, Frederick W. Cosens and, later, Henry Spencer Ashbee and Norman Maccoll. The British Museum Trustees were therefore happy to entrust the Spanish manuscripts project to a scholar who, on Stirling-Maxwell’s recommendation, ‘has had some considerable share in furnishing materials for almost every good English book on any Spanish subject which has appeared during the last thirty years’. Gayangos made the formal proposal in 1867. He retired from the chair in Madrid in 1870.

GayangosCat2 Title page of vol. IV of Gayangos’ Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Spanish Language in the British Museum

Despite his age, Gayangos showed phenomenal vitality during the last three decades of his life and, while continuing to work on the Catalogue, he visited Simancas, Brussels and Vienna. He was also employed by the Public Record Office in the continuation of the Calendar… of State Papers relating to England and Spain. His career came to a sad end on 28 September 1897 when, crossing Southampton Row, probably en route to or from the Museum, a ‘badly driven horse’ knocked him to the ground, causing his death some days later. For those interested in ‘las cosas de España’, he left behind the Catalogue and the Calendar, just two of ‘his long series of impersonal, objective works’ that, in the words of James Fitzmaurice-Kelly, ‘but faintly mirrored’ his true stature. Today the two works, the Catalogue and the Calendar, remain essential reference tools and can be consulted on the open access shelves of the British Library.  

Santiago Santiño Ramírez de Alda, Historian and Author

References/further reading

Calendar of letters, despatches and state papers relating to the negotiations between England and Spain… vols. 3-7 (London, 1871-99) HLR 941.

Cristina Álvarez Millán and Claudia Heide (eds.), Pascual de Gayangos. A Nineteenth-Century Spanish Arabist (Edinburgh, 2008) YC.2009.a.4466.

James Fitzmaurice-Kelly, ‘Chronique’, Revue Hispanique, 4 (1897), 337-41, p. 341.

Santiago Santiño, Pascual de Gayangos (1809-1897). Erudición y cosmopolitismo en la España del Siglo XIX (Pamplona, 2018) YF.2018.a.9696.

Barry Taylor, Manuscritos hispánicos de la British Library: estado de su investigación y publicación

Roger Wolcott (ed.), The Correspondence of William Hickling Prescott (1833-1847) (Boston & New York, 1925) 010902.i.30..