THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

6 posts from July 2020

31 July 2020

Translation and melancholy

Fray Manuel de Vega translated the biography of Ludovico Sforza from the Italian of Diego (i.e. Giacomo) Monti in 1699. It recounts Sforza’s life as a warning against overwhelming ambition. (The Library of Catalonia holds a digitised copy

Fr.Manuel opens his Prologue to the reader with meditations on idleness, identified by authorities with the sin of sloth alias acedia and by the early moderns with melancholy. It is, he says, particularly pernicious for those who live in solitude. (He was a member of the Order of St Benedict.) ‘Virtue has no greater enemy than idleness’. It lets in the Devil through the gates of the Imaginativa.

Opening of the prologue to Manuel de Vega, El ambicioso politico infeliz...

Opening of the prologue to Manuel de Vega, El ambicioso politico infeliz: descrito y representado en la vida de Ludovico Esforcia (Barcelona, 1699) [Awaiting shelfmark]

This is familiar territory with an early Christian and medieval history, studied by Siegfried Wenzel and others.

While most translators devoted their prologues to flattering their patrons or potential patrons, Fr. Manuel gives his a twist by recommending translation as a cure for such melancholy. He made good use of his ‘descanso’ [leisure], which was caused by ‘un desengaño que me bolviò a mi retiro’, a ‘disappointment which returned me to my retreat’.

He is by nature opposed to translations (he lards his prologue with untranslated Latin quotes), as traduttore traditore. He uses a striking image of the Spanish language: ‘nunca un cuerpo estrangero, por galan que fuesse en su trage, pudo acomodarse al nuestro, sin que quite algo del espiritu a la gala y gentileza que a nuestra Nacion son tan propias’ (‘a foreign body, however splendidly arrayed, could never match the grace of ours’).

But the book is useful, he says, more useful than some because it is both history and morality, and deserves to be widely known. (I wonder if he is thinking of the large number of works of fiction such as Boccacesque novelle, which were translated into Spanish from Italian.) He attacks those critics who ‘lounging in the midden of idleness’ (‘repantigado en el estrecolar [read estercolar] del ocio’) satirized others’ efforts, accusing them of vanity.

He praises two translators whose work is so brilliant that one cannot tell which is the original: Cristóbal de Figueroa and Juan de Jáuregui, verse translators of Guarini’s Il pastor fido  and Lucan’s Pharsalia respectively. He admits he is not in the same class. He comments that each language has its excellences which are hard to render, particularly puns (equívocos). (Remember this is the age of Góngora, Quevedo and the Metaphysicals.) He, like many a translator such as Alfred the Great, has followed a middle course between the spirit and the letter, where usage allows.

Engraving of Don Quixote in the printing shop

Engraving of Don Quixote in the printing shop. From Miguel de Cervantes, El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (Madrid, 1853-1854) Source: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes

Finally, he admits that Spaniards find it easy to understand and speak Italian, especially with the aid of Latin. But this does not mean that they can translate it so easily. Cervantes touches on this question in Don Quixote, II, lxii. Quixote visits a printing house in Barcelona where he has a discussion with a man who is translating from the Italian. There’s obviously some irony, as Quixote (who is a sophisticated man of letters if you keep him off the romances of chivalry) is delighted to hear that più has been translated as más and su as arriba.

In a final phrase, Fr Manuel says the translator is like an acrobat (bolteador): if he does it well he earns a pittance (medio real) and praise, and if he does it badly he falls from the tightrope and breaks his neck.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References:

Siegfried Wenzel, The Sin of Sloth: Acadia in Medieval Thought and Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967) X.950/9274.

28 July 2020

Inheritance Books: Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

This post is part of our ‘Inheritance Books’ series with the Americas blog, where colleagues choose an ‘inherited’ item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to ‘pass on’ to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they’re important to us. This week, Susan Reed, Lead Curator of Germanic Collections, shares her selections. 

The book I have inherited is one that I have never actually read in the form in which I have inherited it, but which was indirectly responsible for my interest in the German language and, by extension, for my choice to study German at university and the path of my career ever since. It is a 1930s adaptation of Emil Kästner’s children’s classic Emil und die Detektive, simplified for English-speaking learners of German. Why have I inherited it? It’s a slightly long story.

Cover of the 1933 edition of Emil und die Detektive

Erich Kästner, Emil und die Detektive, adapted and edited by Dorothy Jenner (London, 1933). W.P.8659/4

On the outbreak of war in 1939 my mother Jean, then 12 years old, was evacuated from her home in North London. Like many early evacuees, she returned home after a few months as the feared attacks on cities failed to materialise, although ironically the family house was in fact bombed early in the Blitz. Thankfully the whole family – including Tanner the dachshund – survived, but that’s another story. The point of this story is that, while Jean and others were away, the pupils at her school who had not been evacuated had started learning French. Those returning were simply given a textbook and told to catch up. It was Jean’s first experience of learning a language and she did not enjoy it. She always remembered being baffled by the teacher repeatedly saying what she heard as ‘on cauliflower’ – in fact ‘encore une fois’, the request to repeat a sentence.

So when Jean started learning German from scratch in the following school year, it was a bit of a revelation. Her textbook was the long-lived Deutsches Leben by A.S. Macpherson (first published 1931-34; 12964.de.4.) but what really stuck in her mind was that, as early as they were able, they started reading the simplified Emil und die Detektive. Even in a much abridged and simplified form it made her realise that it was possible to read something in another language that was a real story and genuinely entertaining.

Although Jean never pursued language studies beyond school, her stories of the difficulty of French and the relief of learning German must have planted a seed in me. Although I actually found French initially easier to learn at school, I was far more excited about starting German, and German was the language that I pursued and still love. In a strange and indirect way, the Second World War, with help from Emil und die Detektive and my mum, made me a Germanist.

After 27 years in the BL there are many books I could pass on, and the one I have chosen is perhaps over-familiar, having often been featured in blogs, in exhibitions and on the website, but it remains the most memorable and exciting acquisition of my career.

When I started researching the history of German-language printing in 19th-century Britain, I was surprised to discover that the first edition of the Communist Manifesto was published in London by a group of German radical exiles and immigrants in February 1848. I was less surprised (although disappointed) that the BL didn’t have a copy: it was after all a clandestine publication and none of those revolutionaries in neighbouring Fitzrovia would have thought of dropping a copy off at the British Museum Library to comply with legal deposit legislation (then not particularly rigorously enforced even for mainstream publications). Also, the Manifesto quickly faded from view after its first publication following the outbreak of European revolutions based on more moderate calls for change and largely led by middle-class liberals rather then the united proletariat. It was only in the 1870s and 80s that European socialists rediscovered the Manifesto and started to spread its message.

Cover of the first edition of the Communist Manifesto

First edition of the Communist Manifesto (London, 1848). C.194.b.289

Ironically, by the early 21st century the few surviving copies of the first edition of the Manifesto were highly expensive and sought-after items – potentially luxury purchases for rich collectors. The then Lead Curator of 19th-Century British printed books and I kept our eyes open for copies on the market, and in late 2008 we spotted one that fulfilled all our requirements regarding condition, printing and provenance. It was to be sold at auction in Paris and, by a fortunate coincidence, I was travelling to Paris shortly before the auction date for a work-related visit, so was able to go to the auction house and meet the agent who was going to bid on our behalf in order to inspect the book together. Auction houses near the Champs-Élysées are not my usual stamping-ground and I had mixed feelings of excitement and heavy responsibility as we examined the book and agreed that the BL would go ahead with our bid.

On the day of the auction I was back in the office doing routine things when my 19th-century British collections colleague came rushing in to say “We’ve got it!” Uncharacteristically for two rather restrained Brits, we hugged each other for joy, and I remember feeling thrilled that this important piece of world history and Anglo-German publishing history was finally going to find a home in the BL. And I was the one who got to catalogue it!

Since then my path has continued to cross with the Manifesto. It was featured in the British Museum’s 2014 exhibition Germany: Memories of a Nation, and readers in the UK can hear me (among other more expert voices) talking about it in the accompanying radio series here. And of course it had to be part of our own Russian Revolution exhibition in 2017. There it was displayed at the start of the exhibition between two large maps showing the extent of the Russian Empire at the start of the 20th century. We wanted to illustrate the fact that this flimsy, obscurely-published pamphlet was like the pebble that started the avalanche that would destroy that vast empire.

Photograph of the Manifesto displayed in the BL's 2017 Russian Revolution exhibition
The Manifesto as displayed in the 2017 BL exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths (Photograph: Sam Lane Photography)

Whatever you think of the Communist Manifesto and its legacies, it was probably the most influential (for good or ill) foreign-language work ever printed in Britain, and I will always remember the excitement and pride I felt at bringing a copy of the original, London-printed edition to the BL.

21 July 2020

Inheritance Books: Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

This post is part of our 'Inheritance Books' series with the Americas blog, where colleagues choose an 'inherited' item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to 'pass on' to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they're important to us. This week, we hear from Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator of East European Collections. 

What my predecessor Dr Christine Thomas left for me was unprecedented: in a small Slavonic book, offered to the British Library by a rare books dealer, she recognised a copy of the first dated Slavonic Primer (Azbuka C.104.dd.11(1)) printed in Lviv in 1574. It was not just another copy – it turned out to be the second surviving copy of this book. The second in the world, and nobody had known about its very existence! Before the British Library acquired this book in 1982 on Chris’s recommendation, only one surviving copy had been recorded at Harvard University Library. A facsimile edition of the Primer had been published just several years earlier, and therefore Chris could match the items and could not believe her luck.

Of course, to be completely honest, this wonderful curatorial success story has been a constant source of melancholy envy for me. On the other hand, it was a real present from Chris, as it provided me with a wide variety of creative opportunities. I can proudly report that I followed in my predecessor’s footsteps by writing an article and a couple of blogs promoting and interpreting this collection item and co-organising a conference Revisiting Ivan Fedorov’s Legacy (UCL SSEES-British Library, 2014). In the digital environment it was only natural that, as part of the conference outcomes, the Primer was fully digitised and is now available via the BL catalogue. During the lockdown, when I suddenly had more time on my hands, my colleagues suggested a tool that can cope with OCR, and I decided to give it a try. This is a new and exciting skill to acquire and I am really enjoying the project. I hope the text will be available alongside the images very soon.

Screenshot showing work on the Primer in Transkribus

Working on transcribing the Primer using Transkibus

One of my memorable acquisitions is linked to one of the strengths of our collections – Russian futurist and constructivist books. There was no mystery or drama associated with this acquisition, although the story is quite sad, like many stories that originate from the period of early Soviet history.

The Soviet propaganda journal USSR in Construction (P.P.7500) is probably quite well known, not only among those who have a special interest in Soviet history. The style of the journal was visual and cinematographic, and became iconic among designers. Not only were photographs ‘constructed’ using photomontage as a major tool, but some of the issues were really ‘assembled’ containing, for example, pieces of fabric, aluminium foil or vinyl disks.

I acquired a set of the magazine that was a ‘little brother’ of the famous USSR in Construction project. This Soviet art-illustrated monthly magazine has a long and peculiar title Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov (‘At the Construction of Machine Tractor Stations and State Farms’; HS.74/2243). It did not have international editions in various languages and was quite short-lived: 1934-1937. However, despite this, full sets are extremely rare in library collections.

Eight front covers of Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov

Front covers of Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov.

The magazine covered just one sector – Soviet agriculture. It specialized in promoting the achievements of state farms and collective farms and stood out as a separate edition of the magazine USSR in Construction. Magazine photo essays advocated ‘the best examples of honest work on the farm, the best examples of organizational activity in the MTS and state farms, and the best achievements in raising agriculture, culture and life of the collective and state farms’. Seven issues were designed by El Lissitzky.

The bold and powerful covers by talented artists and designers, and the essays written by gifted journalists and writers tell lies about life in the Soviet Union. The lives of these artists and writers tell a more truthful story about this time:

Semen Borisovich Uritskii (chief editor) – arrested in 1938 and executed in 1940;
Petr Petrovich Kriuchkov (author) – executed in 1938;
Artemii Bagratovich Khalatov (author) - executed in 1938;
Boris Fedorovich Malkin (member of the editorial board) – executed in 1938.

Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov has been already researched and cited, but certainly lends itself to further enquiries.

Further reading:

Christine Thomas. 'Two East Slavonic Primers: Lvov, 1574 and Moscow, 1637'. eBLJ, 1984. https://www.bl.uk/eblj/1984articles/article2.html

Ivan the Terrible, primers, ballet and the joys of curatorship https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2014/05/ivan-the-terrible-primers-ballet-and-the-joys-of-curatorship-.html

Classroom curiosities https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2013/11/classroom-curiosities-.html

E. Rogatchevskaia. ‘“A Beautiful, Tremendous Russian Book, and Other Things Too”:
An Overview of Rare Russian Books from the Diaghilev-Lifar Collection in the British Library.’ Canadian-American Slavic Studies (2017, 51:2-3) https://brill.com/view/journals/css/51/2-3/article-p376_10.xml?language=en

Victoria E. Bonnell, Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters Under Lenin and Stalin (Berkeley, 1997) YC.1998.b.1122 (Limited preview available)

Margarita Tupitsyn, Matthew Drutt, El Lissitzky, Ulrich Pohlmann. El Lissitzky: Beyond the Abstract Cabinet: Photography, Design, Collaboration (New Haven, 1999) LB.31.b.17233 (Limited preview available)

Victoria Bonnell. “Peasant women in Political posters of the 1930s” In: Public Sociology at Berkeley, 2nd edition (1997) https://publicsociology.berkeley.edu/publications/producing/bonnell.pdf

Erika Wolf, ‘When Photographs Speak, To Whom Do They Talk? The Origins and Audience of SSSR na stroike (USSR in Construction)’ Left History, Vol 6 No 2 (1999) ZA.9.a.9420 https://lh.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/lh/article/view/5382/4577

17 July 2020

The Gilbert White of Bohemia? Aleš Pařízek

As we prepare to celebrate the 300th anniversary tomorrow of the birth of Gilbert White, whose Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne has proved so popular that it has never been out of print since its first appearance in 1789, we may wonder whether a similar figure – both priest and naturalist – ever emerged in Bohemia. In fact, there is a close parallel in his nearly exact contemporary, Aleš Pařízek, whose accomplishments ranged from composing and performing music to drawing, painting and illustrating some of his own books.

Portrait of Aleš Vincenc Pařízek

Portrait of Aleš Vincenc Pařízek. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pařízek was born on 10 November 1748. Although his parents were not wealthy, he received a good education, and in 1765, aged 17, he entered the Dominican order and was ordained to the priesthood in 1771, serving in Prague as a confessor, preacher and monastery librarian.

When a new teacher training college was established in Prague he studied the Socratic method, attended lectures on pedagogics, and was appointed to conduct catechism classes at the parish school of St. Aegidius. He subsequently taught history, calligraphy and natural history at the college, and in 1783 became head of a new high school in Klatovy. By the time of his death on 15 April 1822, he had risen to become dean of the faculty of theology at the University of Prague. His works in both Czech and German include a book of prayers in Czech for children (1789) a concise history of the world for young readers (1782), handbooks on religious education for parents and teachers, and a manual of Czech orthography for schools in Bohemia (1812). Here, however, we consider the Kurzgefaßte Naturgeschichte Böhmens, zum Gebrauch der Jugend (‘Concise Natural History of Bohemia, for the Use of the Young’), published in 1784, of which the British Library possesses a first edition.

Frontispiece of Pařízek's 'Kurzgefaßte Naturgeschichte Böhmens...'

Frontispiece of Aleš Vincenc Pařízek, Kurzgefaßte Naturgeschichte Böhmens, zum Gebrauch der Jugend (Prague, 1784) 973.a.14

Pařízek explains in the preface that his aims are twofold: to provide young people with information which may be of practical use in their future careers, but also to inspire them with wonder at God’s creation and the natural history of their homeland (the word ‘patriotic’ frequently recurs).

From the outset Pařízek emphasises that this is not a work of scholarship, and that details of specific types of teeth and claws, for example, would only render it dry and tedious. It is divided into three sections on the minerals, plants and animal life of Bohemia, with an appendix on a creature found far beyond its borders – man – noting the similarities between humans and other living creatures. In keeping with his intentions, Pařízek explains the useful properties of different types of minerals, plants and timber, possibly foreseeing that his juvenile audience might adopt careers as mining engineers or physicians.

As the book was written in German, it seems likely that it was aimed at the educated middle classes, and this may explain a curious feature of the third section, in which domestic animals are given much more coverage than the wildlife of Bohemia. Presumably, Pařízek was envisaging his readers becoming estate managers or gentleman farmers; he devotes considerable amounts of space to diseases which may affect livestock, explaining that poor husbandry is generally to blame (keeping animals in dirty stables and sties, or driving cattle to pasture when the ground is frozen), rather than the activities of witches and suchlike, as ‘foolish and superstitious’ people believe. His statements are supported by practical observation, but his scientific objectivity is not always unblemished. While he devotes a lengthy paragraph to the praises of the faithful dog, ‘almost indispensable to the household’, he dismisses the cat in a mere four lines, stating that although it is ‘crafty, cunning and false’, it is useful for driving away mice, rats and toads. Clearly Pařízek was no cat-lover.

Illustration of amphibians from an 18th century German book

Frontispiece from an 18th century German book by the painter, naturalist and entomologist August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof. Historia naturalis ranarum nostratium... (Nürnberg, 1758) 458.f.12.  

Turning to wild animals, Pařízek describes many species which are still found in the region today or, like the lynx, are making a comeback. He notes that the bear is usually peaceable except when disturbed, and that the wolf, though so fierce that sometimes it does not even spare human beings, normally only shows itself in especially harsh winters. Plentiful details are provided of ‘red game’ (various species of deer) and ‘black game’ (boar), and the reserves where they are protected for hunting purposes. Birds, fish and insects are similarly described, and if we might raise an eyebrow at the lip-smacking relish with which the author evokes the ‘delicious’ or ‘extremely tasty’ nature of certain types of fish such as salmon or trout, this may be forgiven when we recall that as a devout Catholic he would have consumed these regularly on Fridays or fast-days.

His awe and reverence for God’s creatures, however, appears limited when he considers certain amphibians. Describing the toad (included in the section on quadrupeds), he dismisses it as ‘much uglier than the frog’, covered with yellow and green warts and spots all over its body. The equally luckless frog is ‘a small, naked amphibious creature, of a somewhat disgusting appearance’, although he comments that, unlike toads, ‘some of them are eaten by us’.

Yet even these less appealing beings have one attribute which might startle many theologians – a soul. Although man is ‘the masterpiece of creation, and the noblest and most splendid creature on the whole earth’, he shares an immortal soul with other living creatures, distinguished only by the fact that while the human soul is endowed with reason, those of animals are not. They do, however, have the power to feel emotions such as affection, sorrow and pain, and the underlying message to the young reader is that all sentient beings deserve humane and respectful treatment.

Just four years before Pařízek’s death, the National Museum in Prague had opened its doors, displaying magnificent collections of mineral, plant and animal specimens as well as antiquities, coins and medals. We may imagine how many visitors, and possibly contributors, had first had their love of natural history kindled by reading Pařízek’s little book.

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

10 July 2020

Coronavirus (Covid-19) ephemera material from Southeast Europe

The British Library has joined forces with the Central and Eastern European Online Library to connect to open access electronic resources and preserve ephemeral material about society and health in Southeast Europe during the pandemic in 2020.

Since 2006 the Central and Eastern European Online Library has provided access for our users to a growing collection of 2,300 humanities and social science journals from Central, East and Southeast Europe. This collection also includes more than 5,500 grey literature items and over 4,200 ebook titles.

Photograph of a group of people in a city square c. early 1900s. Features the CEEOL logo and words 'CEEOL - Broadening Horizons'

A resource ‘Covid-19 in Southeast Europe’ has been created for information and research into the activities of the public health professionals and organisations in the fight against the infection. The resource provides useful data on the provision of public health infrastructure and Covid-19 hospitals, and details of the measures employed in combating the pandemic by country and region within Southeast Europe.

This online resource documents how the appearance of yet another virus from nature, SARS Cov-2, has affected the social, cultural, private and religious life and the health of the peoples of Southeast Europe. The material gathered in one place demonstrates the relativity of any current data comparison, such the one published by Forbes, ‘100 Safest Countries in the World for COVID-19’ , based on the Deep Knowledge Group report, and highlights the importance of locally available data. Some ambiguities and contradictions in publicly available reports demonstrate the lack of world leadership in the pandemic. On the other hand at the local level the data show various attitudes and differences in opinions between experts in advisory roles. These new experiences only serve to show the gravity and uniqueness, scale and complexity of the crisis the world is facing at the moment.

As far as Southeast Europe is concerned, one conclusion that can be drawn is that so far major casualties and the collapse of the healthcare systems have been avoided, and all countries have managed to preserve the functioning of the vital systems of state and society.

A poster in Serbian showing how to protect yourself from Covid-19

“How to protect yourself from a new coronavirus infection” A poster published regularly in the Belgrade daily Politika.

We are grateful to the Serbian public health institute for giving us permission to reuse their open access material, and to the Central and Eastern European Online Library for harvesting and arranging this material for our users.

A poster showing the symptoms of Covid-19

The symptoms of a new coronavirus. Let us be responsible to ourselves and others.

A poster aimed at showing how to protect children against Covid-19

The new coronavirus - recommendations for children. How to protect yourself against infection

A poster showing 3 ways to protect against Covid-19

“One - two - three. You too protect yourself".

A poster showing how to use a mask correctly

How to use a mask properly.

Certificate of a building disinfection in Belgrade

Disinfection of the City of Belgrade’s Stari grad borough. Certificate of a building disinfection.

A leaflet from the Sarajevo Institute for Health and Food Safety

A leaflet from the Sarajevo Institute for Health and Food Safety put in a shop window reads: “Everything will be fine. Follow the prescribed measures and be careful. The coronavirus will pass.”

Other open access content related to research into Covid-19, including scholarly journals, can be located via our Find Electronic Resources pages.

The colleagues and partners in the Central and Eastern European Online Library and the British Library believe that access to e-resources is important, necessary and useful. However, ‘e-only’ – especially in connection with social distancing – cannot and should not replace the real human relations, interactions and encounters, which hopefully will return to our everyday life in the near future.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections 

Bea Klotz and Iulian Tanea, Central and Eastern European Online Library

07 July 2020

Inheritance Books: Janet Ashton, West European Languages Cataloguing Team Manager

This post is part of our 'Inheritance Books' series, where colleagues choose an 'inherited' item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to 'pass on' to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they're important to us. This week, Janet Ashton, West European Cataloguing Team Manager, explains her two choices. 

My job as team manager to the West European cataloguers focuses on the languages I’ve studied the longest and spoken most often, but my personal interests extend much further across the collections. In common, I suspect, with my colleagues, I had a real struggle to come up with just two items for this blog, and the “inherited” one proved especially difficult.

Cover of Two under the Indian Sun

Cover of Jon and Rumer Godden, Two under the Indian Sun (London, 1966) X.809/2495 

I could have chosen any one of a number of children’s books that inspired a love of reading or a curiosity about certain themes. I could have picked an obscure primary source I have used in my own research, and of which the Library holds the only copy. In the end, however, I opted for a commercially published, Legal Deposit item that made a mark on me very early in life, although it’s not a children’s book: Two under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden.

This book is the sister novelists’ memoir of their childhood in India during the First World War. Growing up as an expatriate child in Sudan in the 1970s and 80s, I recognised many elements of their experience, from the annoyance of prickly heat behind the knees, through the whir of electric fans, to the surreptitious pleasure of a cold bottle of a fizzy soft drink, stolen from parents’ supplies while they took their rest in the heat of the afternoon and the wakeful children sneaked around engaging in forbidden pleasures. The sights and smells of the market, the curious nostalgia for a UK that could never live up to expectation when one returned, and the colonial grandeur of the “Club” whose library furnished so much of the available reading material – all were familiar to me. It was Khartoum’s Sudan Club (actually the British Club) which provided me with the first copy I knew of this book, along with much more mildly old-fashioned reading matter – and of course the BL has one too. From a world in which new and needed books were quite hard to come by, I moved eventually to a job that allowed me easy access to the whole of the world’s knowledge. What remained was an enduring pleasure in travel literature and rich description of hot places and times past.

Cover of A life for the Tsar featuring a painting of the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II

Cover of Janet Ashton and Greg King, A life for the Tsar (East Richmond Heights, 2016) YD.2016.b.891.

The item I’m pleased to pass on is one that draws hugely on the BL’s resources, and for that reason I make no apology for mentioning my own book, co-written with my friend Greg King: A life for the Tsar. This is a US publication, not eligible for legal deposit, so I donated a copy – another one of the most usual routes by which items arrive at the BL. It’s the story of the disastrous coronation of Russia’s last Emperor, at which several thousand peasants were killed or seriously injured while queuing for coronation mugs, permanently damaging the image of both Tsar and regime. The tragic event seemed an inversion of Glinka’s classic coronation opera, in which a peasant willingly dies to save his future Tsar, leading to a reign of glory, and for that reason and others we chose re-use Glinka’s title. We based the book on innumerable British Library resources, from the official coronation albums (works of extraordinary detail and sumptuousness that were presented to all official guests) through well-known studies of the reign and contemporary newspaper accounts to obscure self-published memoirs written by those who attended. And then of course we supplemented these with manuscript and other material from other archives too. Our publisher supplied some remarkable photographs to complement our own personal collections, and worked them into a format that sought to echo that of the original album, with page decorations and inset images. The resulting book has all of our favourite things: it’s very pretty as an object, and it is full of accounts of wonderful architecture and costume, cultural history (especially of travel and of the press), real farce and in-fighting among the great and good, with a deeply serious dose of high politics as well. We are proud to have a copy in the Library for perpetuity and hope that readers enjoy it as much as they find it useful.