01 December 2021
From Dositej Obradović with thanks: a donation of the first Serbian books
Dositej Obradović (1739-1811) was a Serbian educator and the most prominent writer of the Serbian Enlightenment. Obradović is credited for the revival of Serbian culture and he is regarded as the founder of modern Serbian literature.
Portrait of Dositej Obradović from Dela Dositeja Obradovića (Belgrade, 1911) 012265.dd.3.
Obradović was a man of wide interests and great learning. He spent most of his life travelling widely through the Balkans, Asia Minor, Western Europe and Russia earning a living as a private tutor.
Map from The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović (Los Angeles, 1953) Ac.2689.g/4.
With a great interest in books and learning, Obradović set out into the world in 1760 in search of education and knowledge. His mission was to pass on the knowledge onto others. In Smyrna (Izmir) he studied classical antiquity and learned Ancient and Modern Greek. In Vienna, Modra and Bratislava he became systematically acquainted with Latin, western European languages and the German philosophy of Enlightenment. Finally in 1782-1784 in Halle and Leipzig he fulfilled a long-standing ambition to attend university lectures.
Obradović believed that South Slav peoples living in the Habsburg and Ottoman lands would be able to progress and achieve an independent and free life only in the community of cultured and enlightened European nations. He argued that reason, science and tolerance were a precondition for the emancipation of peoples. He was true to these believes in his original works about his personal life experiences and in all of his translations and adaptations from classical and modern European literature and moral philosophy of the time.
Život i priključenija Dimitrija Obradovića (Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović. Autobiography, part 1). (Leipzig, 1783) C.59.d.25.(1.)
In the latter half of his life Obradović was entirely devoted to writing and printing books with the aim of promoting the ideas of Enlightenment among the Serbs. In 1783 in Leipzig Obradović found printers able to print Cyrillic texts and his first four works were printed there in the printing shop of Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf.
Sovjeti zdravago razuma (Common Sense Counsels). Compiled by Dositej Obradović (Leipzig, 1784) C.59.d.25.(2.)
Slovo poučitelno (Instructive Discourse). Translation from the sermons of Georg Joachim Zollikofer (Leipzig, 1784) C.59.ff.15.(3.)
These are the first three of Obradović’s books printed in Leipzig by which the modern Serbian literature was created. Obradović presented the books to the British Museum Library in 1785. These books would have the distinction of being the first modern Serbian books acquired by the British Museum Library.
Handwritten note of the donation, signed and dated by John Jackson, Obradović’s friend in London. The note is inserted in front of the title page of the first part of Obradović’s Autobiography. The note states Obradović’s abode in London. Later on Obradović moved to Rotherhithe in south-east London where he stayed until June 1785 when he left London for Hamburg.
Obradović was not only a social reformer, adopting and promoting the ideas of the Enlightenment, he was also the first reformer of the Serbian literary language. In the 18th century two languages were in parallel use among the Serbs: Russo-Slavonic and Slavonic-Serbian. Obradović opposed the general use of the Russo-Slavonic language in favour of the Serbian national language. In addition to the use of vernacular, Obradović was also an advocate of secular literature in the spirit of the Enlightenment.
A plaque on the wall of a house in Clements Lane in the City of London at the site of the house in which Obradović stayed in 1784-85.
In his the second part of his Autobiography (which is inserted in his translation of Aesop’s and other fables, pp. 311-425, C.59.ff.15.(1).) Obradović published an account of his visit to London in 1784-85. In this account he expressed a boundless sympathy for the country and the people. For this early portrayal of London and its inhabitants Obradović is characterised as the first Serbian Anglophile in Serbian literature. Obradović celebrated English literature, commerce, science and the English way of life in general, as well as the friends he acquired and the ordinary people he met in London. His impressions were translated into English as ‘The London impressions of a famous Servian’ by Čedomilj Mijatović in Servia of the Servians (London, 1915) YD.2006.a.3929.
Furthermore in Anglo-Serbian literary connections, Obradović is known as the author who introduced the works of Joseph Addison and Samuel Johnson to Serbian readers.
A 1914 statue of Dositej Obradović erected in the Studentski trg square in front of Belgrade University
Education and enlightenment of the Serbian people are Obradović’s main accomplishments. He is celebrated for the creation of a new culture in which the modern literature is written in the national language. Another important aspect of Obradović’s legacy is his commitment to the emancipation of people from spiritual backwardness through general secular education and the opening of schools for everyone. In 1808 Obradović founded a High School in Belgrade which eventually led to the establishment of the University of Belgrade in 1905.
In his lifetime Obradović didn’t succeed in having all his works printed. A total of 21 works: original editions, reprints and translations into different languages were printed before his death in 1811. The British Library holds five original editions and two posthumous editions of Obradović’s main works. This collection also includes the first edition of his complete works (Zemun, 1850. 012264.e.4) and a facsimile edition of Obradović’s preserved autograph manuscripts (Novi Sad, 1961. 11880.aa.13). Literary criticism, research and scholarship of all periods about Obradović are well represented in the collection.
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South East European Collections
Aesop's Fables. Translated and edited by Dositej Obradović (Leipzig, 1788) Digital Store C.59.ff.15.(1).
Dositej Obradović, Song about the liberation of Serbia (Vienna, 1789) Digital Store C.59.ff.15.(2.)
Dositej Obradović, Mezimac. A collection of essays on morale and practical philosophy (Budapest, 1818) Digital Store 869.h.34.
Bukvice (Vienna, 1830) the abbreviated text of Obradović’s manuscript ‘Prvenac’ the first-born of Dositej Obradović written in 1770. Digital Store 8311.eee.64.
A collection of Dositej Obradović’s 15 digitised books by from the Digital National Library of Serbia
Pavle Popović, Dositej Obradović u Engleskoj (Oxford, 1919) 010795.c.10.
Pavle Popović, ‘Serbian Anglophil, Dositheus Obradović’ The Quarterly Review, no. 461 (London, 1919) P.P.5989.ab.
The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović. Translated and edited by George Rapall Noyes (Los Angeles, 1953) Ac.2689.g/4.
Dositej Obradović, Sabrana dela. Introduction by Vojislav Đurić (Belgrade, 1961) 12521.w.35.