THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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5 posts from November 2020

28 November 2020

Friedrich Engels: politics and paradoxes

On New Year’s Eve 1857, a Manchester businessman wrote a long letter to a friend in London, ending with a description of an enjoyable day’s foxhunting. He boasted of having been one of the best horsemen in the field, and was excited to have been in at the kill. It might come as a surprise that the writer and recipient were the ‘fathers of communism’, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, but it points to some of the contradictions in the life of Engels, whose 200th birthday we mark today. (The letter can be found vol. 40 of the complete works of Marx and Engels, pp. 233-6)

Engels family background was almost a pattern of early 19th-century German ‘Biedermeier’ rectitude: his parents were devout pietists, and his father’s cotton mill in Barmen (now part of the city of Wuppertal) was part of Germany’s early industrial development. The young Engels soon rejected his parents’ religion, but would be associated with the family business, Ermen & Engels, for significant portions of his life.

It was while studying commerce as an apprentice in Bremen that Engels began to move in radical circles and to write about the harsh life of factory workers that he observed. Although he used a pseudonym to avoid embarrassing his family, they were concerned enough at his political views to send him to England to take up a clerical post in Ermen & Engels mill in Salford in the hope of turning him away from radical ideas. The plan backfired as Engels became more rather than less concerned with the plight of the workers and the need for them to combine against their oppressors. He closely studied the lives of the working people in and around Manchester, not merely researching statistics and studies, but visiting some of the poorest and most wretched districts of the city and meeting the people there.

Lage der arbeitenden Klasse
Title-page of the first edition of
Zur Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England  (Leipzig, 1845) 1141.d.25

The resulting book, Zur Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England (The Condition of the Working Class in England), published in 1845 after he had left England, remains one of Engels’ best-known works. Although no English translation appeared until 1886, this first German edition has a long dedication in English ‘to the working classes of Great Britain’, ending with an exhortation to them to continue progressing towards a better future. Its ending – ‘be firm, be undaunted – your success is certain and no step you will have to take … will be lost to our common cause, the cause of humanity!’ seem to foreshadow the famous final words of the Communist Manifesto, which Engels wrote with Karl Marx four years later: ‘Workers of all countries, unite!’

Green paper cover of 'Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei'
Cover of the first edition of the Communist Manifesto (London, 1849) C.194.b.289

Engels and Marx had first met briefly in 1842, but the encounter was not a success. However, during his time in Salford, Engels had published various articles in German radical papers that had interested Marx, and when they met again in Paris in 1844, they found that their thinking had become very similar, and quickly agreed to work together. It was the start of a life-long friendship and collaboration, but one where Engels, by his own willing admission, would play second fiddle to Marx, whose mind and work he considered the more important.

In practice, this meant giving up much of his own revolutionary work to provide both moral and practical support to Marx. After the failure of the revolutions of 1848-9, both men lived as exiles in Britain. While Marx studied and wrote, Engels returned to his clerical job with Ermen & Engels, gradually rising to become a partner in the firm. During the 20 years that he worked there, Engels lived a double life: a middle-class businessman who enjoyed bourgeois pursuits and was a member of prestigious social institutions, yet was dedicated to ending the grip of middle-class businessmen on trade and industry, and a champion of the working classes who was part of the system that exploited them, and who worked in a trade dependent for most of his career on cotton produced by enslaved people in the Americas. This double life took literal form in the two households he maintained, one where he could entertain ‘respectable’ colleagues and friends and one where he could live with Mary Burns, an Irish worker who was his partner from 1842 until her death in 1863 (he later lived with her sister Lizzy, and eventually married her on her deathbed in 1878).


Half-length photograph of Engels
Friedrich Engels during his time in Manchester (Picture from Wikimedia Commons)

As well as juggling these different lives, Engels was sometimes pushed almost too hard by Marx. After Mary’s death, Marx’s letter of condolence also contained an appeal for money couched in joking terms that the grieving Engels found hard to forgive. And when Marx fathered an illegitimate son with the family’s servant, Helene Demuth, it was Engels who claimed paternity of the boy and gave him his name to save Marx’s wife Jenny from discovering the truth. Nonetheless, the bond between the two men remained strong. Their almost daily letters overflow with private jokes and nicknames and scurrilous gossip alongside – sometimes part and parcel of – intense social, political and theoretical debate. Engels was also much loved by Marx’s family and considered by his daughters as a ‘second father’.

In 1869 Engels was at last able to give up his day job, move to London to be near Marx, and return seriously to writing. After Marx’s death, he worked with Marx’s daughter Eleanor to complete the second volume of Das Kapital – as well as understanding his thought better than almost anyone else, Engels was one of the few people who could easily read Marx’s handwriting. 

Hand-written inscription in a copy of 'Kapital'
Inscription in volume 2 of the Russian translation of Das Kapital presented to the British Museum Library by Engels and Eleanor Marx (St Petersburg, 1885). C.185.b.12.

Although Engels was by this time something of a grand old man of revolutionary socialism, he remained and still remains somewhat in Marx’s shadow. He has no massive monument like Marx’s famous grave in Highgate Cemetery (Engels’ ashes were scattered in the sea near Beachey Head), and the commemorations of his bicentenary have been modest in comparison with those for Marx in 2018, and not just because of the Covid pandemic. Perhaps the anniversary will nonetheless offer an opportunity to look again at his work and legacy.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

26 November 2020

Celebrating the centenary of Sovremennye zapiski

This year marks the centenary of Sovremennye zapiski (‘Contemporary Notes’), the most successful Russian-language thick journal published by émigrés during the interwar period.

Appearing in Paris in November 1920, the first issue of Sovremennye zapiski was published by a group of five Russian émigrés in Paris. This ‘thick’ journal was an important literary and socio-political publication for the roughly 50,000 Russian immigrants in Paris during the interwar period. It would continue to appear irregularly until April 1940.

Cover of the first issue of Sovremennye zapiski

The first issue of Sovremennye zapiski, November 1920, P.P.4853.ak.

The post-October 1917 Russian emigration was composed of a diverse, fractured and confused population, drawn from every level of pre-revolutionary Russian society. There was a sense of outrage and helplessness among the émigré population as they attempted to establish new lives in indifferent foreign countries, receiving delayed and unverifiable news of events in Russia filtered through a chaotic telegraph system and the foreign press. From its first issue, Sovremennye zapiski both addressed the condition of exile for many Russian writers and offered analyses of events within the RSFSR.

Sovremennye zapiski provided Russian émigré writers with an important publishing forum, offering a livelihood as well as the prestige of contributing to a continuation of the illustrious Russian thick journal tradition. A ‘thick’ journal could publish work that writers would find difficult to place elsewhere, as émigré newspapers offered too little space and book contracts were hard to come by. While Sovremennye zapiski is known for publishing the early prose of Vladimir Nabokov, the journal would also publish the prose of other well-known Russian writers such as Nobel prize-winner, Ivan Bunin, the popular prose of Teffi (pseudonym of Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya), and the complex work of celebrated Silver Age poet, Marina Tsvetaeva. Sovremennye zapiski also offered their émigré audience the work of the new Russian writers who were developing their own voices beyond their homeland, such as Gaito Gazdanov. Divided into the traditional categories of Russian thick journals, Sovremennye zapiski offered an illustrious belles-lettres section, informed and thoughtful political and social commentary, literary criticism and poetry, as well as reviews of cultural trends and recent Russian-language works.

The shadow of revolution and the flight of émigrés from civil war looms large over this first issue of Sovremennye zapiski, five years on from the Bolshevik coup of October 1917. This first issue of the journal included the first instalment of Count Aleksei Tolstoy’s trilogy, The Road to Calvary, in which he traces the fate of the Russian intelligentsia on the eve of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Another notable contribution is In the Homeland by one of the journal’s editors, Mark Vishniak, a feature that would become a regular column commenting on Russian affairs and offering émigrés information and insight into their homeland.

The programmatic statement with which the first issue of Sovremennye zapiski opens, states that the new journal is uniquely placed to preserve a Russian culture for which there is no longer a place within Russia; ‘Sovremennye zapiski is devoted, first and foremost, to Russian culture. Our journal has been published at a particularly difficult moment for Russian culture.’ This editorial statement proclaims that only Sovremennye zapiski itself, can be considered the legitimate heir to this tradition, as it will publish the best work produced by Russian émigré writers, regardless of their political affiliation:

Sovremennye zapiski is dedicated, above all, to the interests of Russian culture. Our journal is fated to appear in particularly difficult conditions for Russian society; there is no place for free and independent speech in Russia itself, but here, abroad, such great cultural strength is concentrated, violently torn from its nation, and from true service to it. (‘Ot Redaktsii’, Sovremennye zapiski, 1920, Vol. 1, p3)

The networks of periodicals published by émigré communities around the world attest to the continued vitality of a society of émigrés abroad, despite their difficult circumstances, committed to serving the nation even beyond its national borders. These journals and newspapers also provide evidence of the formation and development of an émigré community in a foreign cultural sphere through political and literary activities.

Photographs of the five editors of Sovremennye zapiski

Caricatures of the journal's editors

Photographs of the five editors of Sovremennye zapiski (above) and caricatures of these editors by Navi (below), in Sovremennye zapiski (1920-1940): Iz arkhiva redaktsii, volume 1, ZF.9.a.9100, British Library.

The significance of Sovremennye zapiski is evident in the memoirs of its contributors. In The Italics are Mine, the writer Nina Berberova, a keen observer of émigré life, notes that Sovremennye zapiski was ‘a literary monument’ in which ‘in the course of almost a quarter of a century significant things, the old and the new, could appear’. The popularity of the journal gave rise to a mythology surrounding its editors, each of whom had held important political posts in the Constituent Assembly following the Revolution of March 1917. The legends surrounding the editors of Sovremennye zapiski contributed to the authority of the journal, making it the most prestigious interwar émigré journal in which to be included. All 70 issues of this important periodical are held by the British Library, including the collected correspondence between its editors and contributors.

Hannah Connell, Collaborative Doctoral Student, King’s College London and the British Library

References/further reading

Charlotte Alston, ‘British Journalism and the Campaign for Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1918-1920’, Revolutionary Russia, Vol 20, No 1, June 2007, pp35-49.

Aleksei Tolstoy, ‘Khozdenie po mukam’, Sovremennye zapiski, No.1, November 1920, pp1-33

Nina Berberova, The Italics are Mine, translated by Philippe Radley (London, 1991), m01/33290.

17 November 2020

Feminism in Early Modern Venice: Lucrezia Marinella

In the light of the current exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, I want to show a new acquisition, an Italian poem printed in Venice in 1618.

This religious, heroic and allegorical poem has an extraordinary feminist subtext and its title is Amore innamorato, et impazzato poema di Lucretia Marinella; con gli argomenti, & allegorie a ciascun canto. Alla serenissima [...] Caterina Medici, Gonzaga, duchessa di Mantova [...] – “Poem on enamoured and mad love by Lucretia Marinella, with topics and allegories before each canto. Dedicated to Catherine de’ Medici Gonzaga, Duchess of Mantua”.

References to the author’s intentions are already clear in the choice of the dedicatee, a female patron, Caterina Gonzaga, whom she actively encourage to read the poem.

Title-page of Amore innamorato, et impazzato

Title-page of Amore innamorato, et impazzato (Venice, 1618) awaiting shelfmark

The poem tells the story of Cupid’s conversion to Christianity. The literary form is inspired by Ariosto, Boiardo, Tasso and the epic poems of the Counter-Reformation. The author’s aim is indeed to promote the values of the Church, through the allegory of Cupid’s religious journey and conversion. The poem at a first glance follows the religious constraints of its time, but its main female character, Ersilia, is an independent woman fully in charge of her destiny. She will reject Cupid’s love and the passive role of the ethereal donna angelicata provided by the Italian literary canon of Dante and Petrarch.

Ersilia is stronger than Cupid, and her resistance to his advances asserts her religious values, but is also imbued with feminism. Religion had to be used to validate work and ideas and to get published.

The author, The author, Lucrezia Marinella (1571-1653), was the daughter of the writer and physician Giovanni Marinelli, and is usually known by the feminine form of her father's surname. Her father encouraged her to study poetry, music and philosophy. She became the most versatile, prolific, and learned woman writer of her generation. She was close to the Accademia Veneziana, but led a reclusive life of private study. She married a physician and had two children.

Engraving of Lucrezia Marinella

Lucrezia Marinella by Giacomo Piccini, 1652

Lucrezia Marinella’s fame as one of the very first feminist writers ever is mostly due to the treatise Le Nobilità et Eccellenze delle Donne, et i Diffetti, e Mancamenti de gli huomini.. (Venice, 1600; 1080.k.7.(2.)) ‘The nobility and excellence of women’, recognised as a landmark in the history of women’s contribution to the querelle des femmes

Engraving of Moderata Fonte

Moderata Fonte, anonymous 16th-century engraving

Marinella’s work will sit alongside that of another Venetian author of the same period: Modesta Pozzo or Moderata Fonte (1555-1592). Although little known to modern criticism before around 1980, Fonte is recognised as one of the most accessible and appealing of 16th-century Italian women writers. Her best-known work is the posthumously-published dialogue Il merito delle donne ‘The Worth of Women’ (Venice, 1600; 721.f.17.), which is one of the most original contributions to early modern debate on sex roles, as well as one of the earliest to have been authored by a woman. Other women writers who preceded and inspired Marinella are Gaspara Stampa and Vittoria Colonna.

Amore innamorato, et impazzato has been purchased with the generous help of the British Library Collection Trust.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

References/Further Reading:

P. Malpezzi Price, Lucrezia Marinella and the "querelle des femmes" in seventeenth-century Italy ( Madison, c2008.) YC.2009.a.11706

S. Kolsky, ‘The literary career of Lucrezia Marinella (1571-1653)’, in: F.W. Kent & Ch. Zika, eds. Rituals, images, and words: varieties of cultural expression in late medieval and early modern Europe (Turnhout, 2005) pp. 325-342. YC.2006.a.12963

A. Cagnolati, A portrait of a Renaissance feminist : Lucrezia Marinella's life and works ( Rome, 2013.) YD.2013.a.3057

Stephen Kolsky, ‘Moderata Fonte, Lucrezia Marinella, Giuseppe Passi: an early seventeenth-century feminist controversy’, The Modern Language Review, Vol. 96, No. 4 (Oct., 2001), pp. 973-989. P.P.4970.ca.

Paola Malpezzi Price, ‘A Woman's Discourse in the Italian Renaissance: Moderata Fonte’s “Il merito delle donne”’ Annali d’Italianistica, Vol. 7 (1989), pp. 165-181. 1014.600000

Prudence Allen and Filippo Salvatore, ‘Lucrezia Marinelli and Woman’s Identity in Late Italian Renaissance’ Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance et Réforme, New Series / Nouvelle Série, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Fall / Automne 1992), pp. 5-39. 7356.865100

12 November 2020

PhD Placement Opportunity - Interrogating German Collections

Applications are now open for an exciting new PhD placement working with the German collections at the British Library. Under the title Interrogating German Collections, current PhD students are invited to spend three months (or part-time equivalent) challenging the conventional history of knowledge of German-speaking regions, and to explore under-represented perspectives. Co-supervised with Expanding German Studies, a group seeking to expand and diversify the German Studies curriculum across the UK, the placement offers an opportunity to understand how German culture has constructed categories of racial difference, and how the voices of racialised others (including Jewish, Eastern European, Black, East Asian, Turkish and Middle Eastern people) have been represented within the discipline. The British Library’s German Printed Collections are of worldwide importance and will serve as a comprehensive source.

Covers of four German books
A selection of books by German authors who feature on the Expanding German Studies interactive bibliography

While the student will be expected to propose a specific focus, the placement will involve researching the collections, writing blog posts on items and on methodologies around collecting and curation, improving catalogue records, presenting to different departments on the results. The student will also have the opportunity to work with Expanding German Studies on teaching resources, and on preparing translations of neglected works for German Studies undergraduates, among other potential outputs.

This placement project offers an opportunity for a PhD student to put their research and critical thinking skills into practice at a major cultural institution through a topic that will be crucial to every aspect of the Library and to the cultural sector more widely in the coming years.

Further information on eligibility, conditions and how to apply is available on the British Library website. The deadline for applications is 18 December 2020.

For informal enquiries, please contact Pardaad.Chamsaz@bl.uk, Susan.Reed@bl.uk, Nicola.Thomas@bristol.ac.uk

05 November 2020

Frederick Cosens, a forgotten Hispanist

Frederick William Cosens (1819-89) began his working life aged 17 when he joined the sherry firm of Pinto Pérez in London as an invoice clerk. It was the start of a highly successful business career. In 1848, he set up his own sherry export-import company, based in London and with bodegas in Jerez and Puerto de Santa María. Then, in 1862, he entered the port wine business in partnership with the London-based firm Da Silva. In 1877, Silva & Cosens merged with the prestigious Dow & Co. Cosens’ income allowed him to build up substantial collections of fine art, printed books and manuscripts. At his death, these were auctioned at five sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s catalogue of Cosens’ printed books highlighted ‘Spanish and Portuguese literature, and numerous publications relating to Cervantes, Calderón, Lope de Vega… standard works by English and foreign writers…’. He also owned books on Spanish painting, Peninsular history, travel accounts and an extensive collection of Spanish chapbooks. Arguably, drama held the greatest attraction for him, notably Shakespeare and the Spanish theatre of the Golden Age. Dickens, Cervantes and Galdós were among his favourite novelists. He also contributed articles and reviews to the Athenaeum and Notes and Queries on a range of Spanish topics, plus not a few on Shakespeare.

Frederick Cosens’ bookplate featuring a lion.

Frederick Cosens’ bookplate. The plate appears in many of Cosens' books acquired by the BL.

Cosens was also active as a translator. He produced English versions of two 17th-century Spanish plays on the legend of Romeo and Juliet: Lope de Vega’s Castelvines y Monteses and Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla’s Los bandos de Verona. These were privately published in 1869 and 1874 respectively. His treatment of the two plays was very different. Cosens translated the whole of Lope’s play into English verse, while of Los bandos he put into verse only ‘such portions … as bear some reference to Shakespeare’s tragedy’. He regarded Lope’s play as superior to Rojas Zorrilla’s and provided only necessary linking passages in prose in the latter.

English translations of the two Spanish plays were among Cosens’ manuscripts auctioned at Sotheby’s in July 1890. The manuscript of Castelvines is held by the library of the University of Pennsylvania, while that of Los bandos is in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. The latter is written in an even copperplate hand and is evidently the fair copy of a close literal translation in prose. The published version, however, is very different, both in the summary passages in prose, and also in the selected passages of verse. The style of the latter is highly poetic.

Title page of the Sotheby sale catalogue of Cosens’ manuscripts

Title page of the Sotheby sale catalogue of Cosens’ manuscripts (1890) SC.Sotheby

Cosens’ library also contained copies of translations into English prose of other Spanish literary works. These included poems by Lope de Vega, Spanish ballads, Gonzalo de Berceo’s life of Santo Domingo de Silos and the medieval Spanish epic, the Poema de Mio Cid. The evidence of the literal prose translation of Los bandos suggests that it was the first step in a process that ended with the published text. Except for a version of a tale from Juan Manuel’s Conde Lucanor, Cosens published no other translations, although he evidently did intend to publish a version of the Poema de Mio Cid, but stopped when John Ormsby’s was published in 1879. His interest in the medieval narrative works has rarely been commented upon and the location of the translation of Berceo’s Vida de Santo Domingo is – as far as I know – unknown. There also remains the question whether Cosens himself was responsible for the prose translations or whether he employed someone to produce them as the basis of potential literary versions.

Cosens’ interest in Spanish literature and art began most probably in Spain in the course of his business career. His collection of Spanish books had begun by 1854 when he sent a list of some 500 books to the Orientalist and scholar, Pascual de Gayangos, who later would catalogue the Spanish-language manuscripts of the British Museum Library. Gayangos commented that Cosens subsequently acquired many more excellent books. Some of these could be those that he purchased at important auction sales, e.g. those of Lord Stuart de Rothesay (1855) and Richard Ford (1861). Gayangos’s role in Cosens’ development should not be underestimated. He continued to advise and assist him in the acquisition of Spanish books, as he did with notable Hispanic scholars including Stirling-Maxwell, Ticknor and William H. Prescott. It was Gayangos who, together with his son-in-law, J.F. Riaño, selected and had transcribed for Cosens documents from the archive of the Conde de Gondomar, Spanish Ambassador to London (1613-18, 1619-22), held at the Archivo General de Simancas.

When Cosens’ library was sold at Sotheby’s in 1890, Gayangos purchased a number of the Spanish manuscripts and considerably more of the printed books. These were acquired for the Spanish national library following Gayangos’ own death in 1897. The British Museum purchased 37 printed books in Spanish, the majority published in the 19th century. Henry Spencer Ashbee purchased 15 items related to Cervantes, all of which came to the British Museum Library with his bequest of 1900. Just one Spanish manuscript – an account of the reign of Felipe V - was purchased, although the transcriptions of Gondomar’s papers were acquired for the Public Record Office.

Geoff West, formerly Lead Curator Hispanic Collections

Further reading:

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

Barry Taylor & Geoffrey West, ‘The Cervantes Collection of Henry Spencer Ashbee in the British Library’, in Studies in Spanish Literature in Honor of Daniel Eisenberg, ed. Tom Lathrop (Newark, DE, 2009), pp. 337-61. YD.2009.a.4481

Geoff West, ‘The Acquisition of Spanish Chapbooks by the British Museum Library in the Nineteenth Century: Owners, Dealers and Donors’, in El libro español en Londres..., ed. Nicolás Bas Martín y Barry Taylor (Valencia, 2016), pp. 61-80. YF.2017.a.19281