07 October 2019
On 7 October 1949 the Soviet-occupied area of Germany became an independent state with the official name Deutsche Demokratische Republik/DDR (German Democratic Republic/GDR). The Western-occupied territories had become the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany) in May of the same year, and for the next four decades there would be two separate German states with very different government, societies, ideologies and allegiances.
Map of the German Democratic Republic, from Deutsche Demokratische Republik: Handbuch (Leipzig, 1979) X:800/14702
Wilhelm Pieck (left) is sworn in as President of the newly-founded GDR, 11 October 1949, from Heinz Heitzer [et al.], DDR – Werden und Wachsen: Zur Geschichte der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (Berlin, 1975) X:809/23404
The British Library and its predecessors acquired books and other material from the GDR for the whole period of its existence and continues to buy works about the East German state and its legacy. Many are of course research-level publications, the backbone of our non-British collecting, including the output of East German academies, universities, museums and other scholarly institutions, but there are also more general and in some cases ephemeral works which shed light on everyday aspects of life in the GDR.
A official handbook of the East German Parliament, Die Volkskammer der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (Berlin, 1964) S.F.1372/2.
Images from the 9th Party Conference of the SED, from Deutsche Demokratische Republik: Handbuch
Official GDR Government publications were received by the Library via international exchange agreements. While our holdings are not complete, we have the proceedings of the East German Parliament (Volkskammer) from the late 1950s to 1990 and the official record of laws and treaties for the whole period of the GDR’s existence. Full details of our own holdings, as well as those of the LSE and Bodleian libraries, can be found in the collection guide on our website We also hold a complete run on microfilm of Neues Deutschland the official newspaper of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED).
Masthead of Neues Deutschland, 7 October 1949, announcing the birth of the German Democratic republic. MFM.MF538H
We hold a small amount of material for and about the East German youth movements, including a collection of poems and art by members of the Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organisation to celebrate its 30th anniversary. In one poem a boy reflects that in 30 years time he will have a son of his own who will also be a pioneer; I wonder if he remembers that today?
Cover of So sind wir - so ist ein Pionier! Literarische und bildkünstlerische Arbeiten der Schuljugend des Bezirkes Neubrandenburg zum 30. Jahrestag der Pionierorganisation 'Ernst Thälmann' (Neubrandenburg, ) X:990/11196
Cover of a songbook for the Freie Deutsche Jugend, Leben, Singen, Kämpfen (Berlin, 1949) A.697.dd
Many publications serve as guides to or histories of the East German state. An impressive publication from 1979, simply titled Deutsche Demokratische Republik: Handbuch gives a full overview of the state’s geography, history, economy, institutions and culture. Like other state-approved histories such as Heinz Heitzer’s DDR – Werden und Wachsen, the Handbuch gives a resolutely upbeat account of the GDR. Inevitably much material has a greater or lesser degree of propagandist content and is openly critical of the West German state, such as a study of the popular magazines and pulp fiction found in a typical Munich news kiosk and described by the study’s author as ‘poison in colourful pamphlets’.
Gift in bunten Heften: ein Münchner Zeitungskiosk als Spiegel des westdeutschen Kulturverfalls (Berlin, 1960). X.529/47019
Cultural and leisure activities within the GDR are also represented: music, art and sport all feature in the collections, often in books received as donations or as part of exchange arrangements, intended to showcase the GDR’s cultural credentials.
Cover of Sports in the GDR (Dresden, 1980) L.45/1458. This was published on the occasion of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the young gymnast is shown holding the official mascot for the games
And of course we acquired original literary texts by prominent East German writers, such as Christa Wolf, Volker Braun, Heiner Müller and many others.
We also hold West German material about the GDR from the period of its existence, also often propagandist in its own way. In the early decades of the two states, West German authors deliberately avoided using the name ‘Deutsche Demokratische Republik’, instead referring to the ‘Soviet Occupation Zone’ (Sowjetische Besatzungszone/SBZ), or sometimes just as ‘the Zone’ as in a 1965 history.
SBZ von A bis Z : ein Taschen-und Nachschlagebuch über die Sowjetische Besatzungsone Deutschlands (Bonn, 1966) W8/7230. A guide to the GDR produced by the West German Federal Ministry for All-German Affairs
Henning Frank, 20 Jahre Zone: kleine Geschichte der "DDR" (Munich, 1965) F13/4579. (Note how thew designation DDR is placed in inverted commas)
The GDR lasted only 41 years; in October 1989, even as the regime celebrated the state’s 40th anniversary, mass protests were growing in the country and many citizens were taking advantage of new opportunities to flee to the west. Within a few weeks the Berlin Wall had been breached and within a year the GDR had officially ceased to exist, acceding to the Federal Republic to form a single state.
After German reunification, books about the GDR continued to appear: scholarly studies of all aspects of East German history, politics and society; official reports on the activities of bodies such as the Ministry for State Security (STASI); literary works with the GDR as a theme; memoirs of former GDR citizens. We even have some more light-hearted items, some of which pick up on the trend for ‘Ostalgie’ (nostalgia for East Germany), such as a collection of the ‘best Trabi jokes’ mocking the famously unreliable East German cars.
Nils Brennecke, Warum hat der Trabi Räder? Die schönsten Trabi-Witze (Reinbek, 1991) YA.1994.a.9428
All the material we hold from and about the German Democratic Republic can be found in our online catalogue. With 70 years’ worth of material, we must have something for every research interest in the area.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
13 September 2019
Sometimes an opportunity to net a big fish that is irresistible comes along. Last year a title appeared in a dealer’s catalogue that was similar to a title destroyed in the bombing of the British Museum in September 1940. Being able to replace a destroyed copy does not happen often, and I was able to acquire it with the help of funds from the British Library Members.
The book in question is a work on whaling:
Nieuwe beschryving der walvisvangst en haringvisschery.: met veele byzonderheden daar toe betreklyk. (Amsterdam, 1792). RB.23.b.7844.
The book is interesting in quite a few ways. We do not know who the author of this whaling manual is. Joop Schokkenbroek, an expert on Dutch whaling history, believes the author was a whaler himself, who wrote from experience.
The names on the title page refer to the artists who made the engravings: Dirk, or Diederik de Jong, Hendrik Kobell and Matthias de Sallieth.
Of Dirk de Jong we know very little. No date or place of birth is known. All that is certain is that he worked in Rotterdam from 1779-1805. He was an illustrator and engraver, especially of maps. However, none of the maps in the book carry his name, or any name for that matter, so I cannot say whether de Jong made them.
Engraving from the book depicting Spitsbergen, not Greenland. RB.23.b.7844
Hendrik Kobell lived from 1751 to 1779 and worked in London, Paris and Rotterdam. He came from a family of artists and draughtsmen. While some of his relatives specialised in drawing cattle, Hendrik preferred ships, seascapes and sea battles.
The third artist who contributed to the book is Matthias Sallieth (1749-1791). Originally from Prague he settled in the Netherlands in 1778. He copied Dutch artists from the past, such as Willem van de Velde the famous painter who witnessed sea battles first hand and then painted them.
Many of the engravings in the book bear both names: Kobell and Sallieth, indicating a close working relationship. From the names and dates on the engravings it seems likely that Sallieth was the artist and Kobell the engraver.
Engraving by Kobell (engraver) and Sallieth (artist) of a whaling scene. RB.23.b.7844
Sallieth did a nice little sketch of the heads of the four Dutch naval commanders who were involved in the Battle of Medway, in 1667, taken from earlier works. One of them is Michiel Adriaansz de Ruyter (1607-1676), who as a young sailor in 1633 served as pilot on board whaling ship De Groene Leeuw (The Green Lion) , hunting whales near Spitsbergen. He wrote an account of this expedition, a summary of which was re-issued in a collection of six other journals on whaling voyages.
Title page of the summary of the journal by Michiel A. de Ruyter of his expedition to the Isle of Jan Mayen. In: L’ Honoré Naber, Walvischvaarten, overwinteringen en jachtbedrijven in het Hooge Noorden 1633 – 1635 (Utrecht, 1930) Ac.9017.b/8.
De Jong’s work saw two print runs in quick succession, one in 1791 and one in 1792. This copy is from the second issue. The destroyed copy was from 1791, so it is not an exact match, though close enough. The book consists of four parts: the first is about the history of whaling and the manner in which the whales, walruses and seals are caught, and it gives a description of the various species of these animals.
Engraving of a Sperm Whale. In: Nieuwe beschryving der walvisvangst en haringvisschery (Amsterdam, 1792). RB.23.b.7844
The Library holds many more whaling journals, dating as far back as the early 17th Century, describing expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic, from the late 16th Century onwards. Adventures and hardships endured by the whalers were very popular with readers back home. Our collections provide ample material for another blog.
De Jong’s book stands out for its attention to the wider context in which whaling took place. Apart from the practical aspects of whaling and herring fishing, it describes not only the seas where fishing occurred, but also the surrounding lands, the people that lived there and the flora and fauna.
Engraving of a Brent Goose and a Puffin. RB.23.b.7844
Engraving of Icelandic woman. RB.23.b.7844
The last chapter discusses the herring fishery, which includes a foldout engraving of the lifting of nets by Kobell and Sallieth. Why is herring fishing included here? I’m not sure. Herring fishing was certainly a major trade for the Netherlands; called the Big Trade.
Engraving of herring fisheries by Sallieth (artist) and Kobell (engraver). RB.23.b.7844
By the year 1800 whaling had declined, due to wars and competition. King William I tried to revive the industry with large subsidies. I wonder whether the King had read De Jong’s book. Schokkenbroek wrote a review of the facsimile edition published in 1992. In it he wonders whether the author’s intention had been to revive interest in the whaling industry once more. On the last page he refers to the glorious history of Dutch whaling “that from the oldest times onwards was held for a goldmine to this Commonwealth, will continue to flourish, and deposits its treasures in the lap of the Netherland’s inhabitants.”
It wasn’t to be. In the early 19th Century the industry collapsed once more. It was only after the Second World War that private companies decided to go out whaling again. There was a lack of foreign currency as well as margarine, so the best way for the Dutch was to get their own oil to make margarine. With help from the Dutch government the ship Willem Barents II completed eighteen expeditions to the Southern hemisphere. When this financial support was stopped whaling became unsustainable. In May 1964 the Willem Barents II returned to port with the very last oil.
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections (speciality Dutch languages)
09 August 2019
In May 1921 staff at the British Museum Library must have been rather surprised to receive a letter addressed to Sir Anthony Panizzi, the Museum’s famous 19th-century Principal Librarian, who had been dead for some 42 years. The letter was from Victor Patzovsky, a former officer in the Austrian army, who had been stationed at the Sigmundsherberg Prisoner of War camp in north-eastern Austria during the First World War, and it accompanied a parcel containing issues of newspapers produced by the Italian prisoners in the camp.
Such newspapers were produced in many internment and prisoner-of-war camps in the First and Second World Wars. They served various purposes: to communicate the latest news from the camp and the wider world, to publicise sporting and cultural societies and events organised by the prisoners, to alleviate boredom and frustration, to share experiences, memories and jokes, and to maintain a common cultural identity while in enemy captivity.
These things were particularly important in a camp like Sigmundsherberg where conditions were poor and prisoners particularly likely to succumb to the ‘barbed-wire disease’ that accompanied long, difficult and tedious incarceration. The camp had originally housed Russian prisoners, but after Italy entered the war against her former Austrian and German allies most of the Russians were moved out, and by the autumn of 1916 some 56,000 Italians were interned there. Since this was a far greater number than the camp had been built for, overcrowding was a constant problem, exacerbated by sickness, and shortages of food and fuel, creating miserable conditions for the prisoners.
In his letter Patzovsky writes of the prisoners’ ‘sad lot’ and says that he was ‘a real friend’ to them, enclosing testimonials from some of them to support this claim. He goes on to explain that he has now fallen on hard times himself, and is hoping to sell the newspapers to the Library to raise some money. He must have heard of Panizzi and, not realising that he was long dead, thought that an Italian-born librarian would have a particular interest in the newpapers and sympathy with a man who had tried to help Italians in distress. The letter was passed on to A.W. Pollard, one of Panizzi’s successors as Keeper of Printed Books, and a pencilled note on the first page, signed with Pollard’s initials, shows that the Library offered £2 for the collection. Clearly Patzovsky was content with this as the newspapers remain in the British Library today, although the testimonials were presumably returned to Patzovsky as he requested.
The run of newspapers is far from complete. As Patzovsky explains, ‘the few copies that were printed went from hand to hand among the thousands of Italians until the paper fell to pieces.’ The earliest in the collection is no. 3 of the weekly L’Eco del Prigioniero (‘The Prisoner’s Echo’), dated 21 January 1917. L’Eco del Prigioniero was reproduced from manuscript using a machine known as an opalograph and each issue has a different illustrated masthead.
The first editor was an A. Gori, but from no. 15 (6 May 1917) the role was taken over by Guido Monaldi. The content generally includes news and comment, essays poems and stories, and reports of camp activities, while a monthly supplement, L’Eco Umoristico/L’Eco Caricaturista, is devoted to jokes and cartoons.
In August 1917 L’Eco del Prigioniero became La Scintilla (‘The Spark’), but Monaldi remained as editor, the content was much the same, and there was still a humorous supplement, La Scintilla Caricaturista. Initially the same form of reproduction from manuscript was also used, but the difficulty of obtaining the chemicals needed for the process and the low quality of the available supplies made it impossible to keep up with the demand for copies and to maintain the quality of the reproduction.
By the beginning of November Monaldi and his team had succeeded in acquiring a proper printing press, and the remaining issues are all printed, losing somewhat in visual charm and variety but gaining greatly in legibility. A new and permanent masthead image soon appeared, with the image of a goddess-like figure striking sparks.
Somewhat confusingly, the series numeration restarts at 1 from the first printed issue; the last issue which we hold is no. 15 in this numeration (7 April 1918), although La Scintilla is recorded as having run until August 1918.
Incomplete as our holdings are, we must be grateful to Patzovsky for offering them to the Library and to Pollard for being willing to buy them from him.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Rudolf Koch, Im Hinterhof des Krieges: das Kriegsgefangenenlager Sigmundsherberg (Klosterneuburg, 2002) YA.2003.a.43771
25 June 2019
A facsimile of the first edition of the Diccionario de autoridades issued by the Spanish Academy in 1726-39 has been added to the open access collection in the Manuscripts Reading Room, in memory of our friend and colleague Julian Conway, former Superintendent of the Room, who died in November last year in Valencia, where he had retired.
The Spanish Academy was the inventor of the inverted question and exclamation mark, although you won’t find them in the Dictionary.
When the Spanish Institute was relaunched in 1991 it chose as part of its logo the tilde (~) (‘wiggle’ to the vulgar). Admittedly, only Spanish has the letter ñ (pronounced enye), but first it’s no longer considered a letter in its own right and second the tilde is used in Portuguese (but not in Catalan) as well as in Spanish.
More distinctively Spanish is the inverted question mark and its cousin the inverted exclamation mark.
As the Diccionario panhispánico de dudas [World Spanish dictionary of doubts] of 2005 puts it:
The signs of interrogation and exclamation serve to represent in writing the interogative or exclamative intonation. They are double signs, and must be placed at the opening and closing of the phrase.
The opening signs (¿ ¡) are characteristic of Spanish and must not be omitted in imitation of other languages which only use the opening sign.
[Los signos de apertura (¿ ¡) son característicos del español y no deben suprimirse por imitación de otras lenguas en las que únicamente se coloca el signo de cierre.]
This gives rise to flamboyant typography such as
¿Qué hora es? ¡Qué alegría verte!
[What time is it? How good to see you!]
Vamos a ver... ¡Caramba!, ¿son ya las tres?
[Now then … Crikey! Is it three o’clock already?]
These signs first appear in the second edition of the Academy’s Spelling Rules, Ortografía de la lengua castellana, in 1754 (C.69.dd.3.), way after the Dictionary of 1726-39. Initially their use was optional, and only became prescriptive in 1884.
So, what more authentically Spanish than these signs?
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
21 May 2019
Some time ago our Translator in Residence, Rahul Bery, wrote a post for the BL English and Drama blog about translations of the works of P.G. Wodehouse. As an unexpected but welcome response to this we were contacted by Wodehouse expert Tony Ring, who asked if we would be interested in a donation of Wodehouse novels in various European languages. We were of course delighted to accept and recently the collection of 100 books, in Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Norwegian, Russian and Swedish, arrived in the Library.
Unpacking them I was fascinated by the range of different cover designs. I always associate Wodehouse with the gently humorous drawings of ‘Ionicus’ (J.C. Armitage) which adorned the British Penguin editions for many years. but readers abroad would encounter Wodehouse under many different covers, some of them quite surprising.
To start with some straightforward ones, in the 1970s and 80s, the Dutch publisher Spectrum issued a number of Wodehouse novels in its ‘Prisma’ series with covers by the well-known political cartoonist Peter van Straaten and there are nine of these in the collection. Straaten’s lively drawings clearly represent characters and situations from the books – not as common as you might think! Here are two, from Summer Lightning (De ontvoerde zeug), translated by W. Wielek-Berg, and Something Fresh (Nieuwe Bezems), translated by W.N. Vandersluys.
Van Straaten’s illustrations show the characters dressed more or less appropriately for the period when the books were set. However, this is not always the case. This 1962 cover by Georges Mazure for Dokter Sally, translated by Henriëtte van der Kop, reflects the fashions of the day rather than of its original publication date thirty years before.
Likewise, Ulrich Lichtenhardt’s cover for this 1980 German edition of Spring Fever (Frühlingsgefühle) bears all the hallmarks of the late 1970s rather than of 1948 when the book first appeared. Incidentally, all seven German translations in the collection bear the rider ‘Heiterer Roman’ (‘light-hearted novel’) on their covers – playing to a stereotype of an earnest German reader needing to be assured that laughter is allowed?
If the Germans want to emphasise humour, some of the Russian covers seem to imply a darker side to the tales. The Angler’s Rest and its regulars have surely never looked as louche as on the vaguely expressionistic cover of this 2011 translation by I. Gurova of Mulliner Nights (Vechera s misterom Mullinerom). This is probably my favourite cover in the whole collection.
Two other Russian Mr Mulliner collections also use expressionist artwork on the cover, to rather angst-ridden effect, but most worrying is this bleak 2002 cover for A Damsel In Distress (Deva v bede), which to my mind looks better suited to Tess of the d’Urbervilles than to the world of Wodehouse. I can only think that the designer was given nothing to go on but the title.
I find there’s also something slightly threatening about this Italian cover by Stefano Tartatrotti for Adriana Motti’s translation of Uncle Dynamite (Zio Dinamite) from 1998, but as with the Russian Mulliner Nights, the humour wins out.
Another Italian cover is very literal: a 1966 edition of Young Men in Spats (Giovanotti con la Ghette), translated by Zoe Lampronti.
To my mind one of the most attractive covers in the collection is this Swedish dust-jacket by Björn Berg for Birgitta Hammar’s translation of Full Moon (Fullmåne), one of a number of Wodehouse covers that Berg illustrated in 1984. He also includes a brief portrait sketch of Wodehouse on the back of the jacket (and one of the Empress of Blandings on the title page).
The back cover is also put to good use in Birgitta Hammar’s 1956 Swedish translation of French Leave (Fransysk visit), describing the characters and outlining the plot of the story on a ‘menu’ from the Hotel Splendide in the fictional French town where the story is set.
As for the French themselves, this 1947 translation of My Man Jeeves (Mon valet de chambre) has a vignette by J. Jacquemin which I think nicely captures Jeeves’s imperturbability.
A later series of Jeeves stories in French all use the same cover image of British actor Arthur Treacher playing the role, but change the colour of his cravat and buttonhole for each cover. I’m not sure Jeeves would really have approved of this sartorial frivolity; perhaps that’s why he looks rather troubled here.
But for sheer oddity, I think the prize goes to the Dutch for this 1974 cover for Jan Wart Kousemaker’s translation of Plum Pie (Plumpudding) which at first glance looks more like a cheap thriller than a collection of humorous stories.
Of course, we should never judge a book by its cover, and there is much more to say about this wonderful donation and the ways in which translators have tackled Wodehouse’s distinctive style. For now the books will go to be accessioned and catalogued so that they can be available for students of literary translation and reception – and for interested Wodehousians – in our reading rooms.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
23 April 2019
A recent acquisition recalls the dark times of the religious conflicts of the 17th century.
Thomás Aranha, Sermão que pregou o Muito Reverendo Padre Presentado Frey Thomas Aranha da Ordem dos Prégadores, Lente de Theologia no Real Collegio de S. Thomas de Coimbra, na festa, que celebrou ao glorioso martyr S. Iorge seu padroeiro a nobilissima naçaõ inglesa em S. Domingos de Lisboa no anno de 638 (Lisbon, ). RB.23.a.38272
This sermon was preached at Lisbon on St George’s Day in 1638 to the community of English Catholic recusant exiles, “these gentlemen who have lived among us for so many years, and every year celebrate their patron saint” (fol. 12v). As a gesture of Anglo-Portuguese solidarity, he points out that in battle the Portuguese, like the English, used to invoke St George, unlike the Spaniards who called on St James (fol. 11v).
St George was of obvious appeal to the English. Of obvious relevance too was his status as a martyr at a time when Catholics were being martyred in England. Aranha says explicitly that England had once been as industrious and courageous in its faith, as those who still profess their Catholicism today (fols 11-12). Indeed, the English recusants in Portugal have made such sacrifices in being cut off from friends and family that they too may be called martyrs (fol. 13r). (This may not be as exaggerated as it sounds: a martyr is one who bears witness to his or her faith, not necessarily unto death.)
Eight of Fr Thomás’s sermons are recorded in the Tipografia portuguesa do século XVII: Letras A e B, pp. 130-32
Like many a preacher, he was also a poet. We have his poems on the occasion of the coronation of John IV.
Poesias compostas na Universidade de Coimbra na occasiaõ da felicissima, & milagrosa acclamaçaõ, & coroaçåo d'el Rei nosso Senhor Dom Ioaõ o quarto de Portugal, que se não ofereceraõ no Certamen Poetico, que na dita Vniveridade ouve nem andão no livro dos seus aplausos. (Lisbon, 1645). 1560/808.(1.)
King John won back Portuguese independence from the ‘Philippine Domination’ by Philips II-IV of Spain from 1580 to 1640. Aranha is not named in the book, but Innocêncio Francisco da Silva in his dictionary of Portuguese biography gives him authorship.
His book of 1645 is a belated supplement to the poetic celebrations dedicated by the University of Coimbra to the new king:
Thus like many a Baroque author Fr Thomás wrote for the moment.
An indication of this little book’s rarity is that A. F. Allison and D. M. Rogers didn’t include it in their classic bibliography, The contemporary printed literature of the English Counter-Reformation between 1558 and 1640 : an annotated catalogue, Vol. 1, Works in languages other than English; with the collaboration of W. Lottes (Aldershot, 1989). RAR 230.242
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
Tipografia portuguesa do século XVII: Letras A e B (Lisbon, 1999), RAR 094.209469 LI.
Innocêncio Francisco da Silva, Diccionario bibliographico portuguez, VII (Lisbon, 1872). HLR 011.269
02 April 2019
It’s English Tourism Week and what better to guide prospective visitors to these shores than an anonymous compilation of English customs published nearly 200 years ago in Stockholm. John Bull eller Engleska folket i sin stora Besynnerlighet was recently acquired by the British Library and appears to be a translation from multiple contemporary sources of anecdotes and summaries of Englishness. It contains all manner of veritable traditions, half-truths and fake news that you might expect.
In no seeming order, the book takes us from Charles I to the Lord Mayor’s Day via brief glimpses at the Fairlop Fair, ‘Riding the Stang’, football and funeral ceremonies, and anecdotes that illuminate British attitudes under titles such as ‘The Compassionate Traveller’, ‘Paternal Tenderness’, or ‘Exceptional Orderliness’, all in just over 50 pages.
One possible source for the work is Popular Pastimes, being a selection of picturesque representations of the customs & amusements of Great Britain, in ancient and modern times (London, 1816; 785.h.8), which includes drawings by F. P. Stephanoff and historical descriptions by Edward Wedlake Brayley. A second source could be the less structured but equally enjoyable John Bull ou Londresiana, attributed to a ‘C.D’
Engraving from John Bull ou Londresiana, Recueil d’originalités et de singularités anglaises, avec les anecdotes, bons mots, plaisanteries, sarcasmes, et railleries particulières à ce peuple (Paris, [1820?]) 12314.df.4.
Both the French and Swedish John Bull refer to the peculiarity of their subject and understandably so given the stories they recount. In ‘En besynnerlig Ursäkt’ (‘A peculiar excuse’) we read a dark tale about a day-labourer who twice tried to drown himself but was twice saved by a peasant. He waits for his moment and on the third occasion hangs himself off a barn door. When the owner of the farm questions the peasant, who had in fact seen the whole thing, the peasant says that, since the labourer had been thoroughly soaked in the first two plunges, he thought he was hanging himself out to dry.
The book shares a chapter with Popular Pastimes on what the English publication calls the practice of ‘Selling a Wife’ and the Swedish more modestly refers to as ‘Åktenskaps-handel’ (‘Marriage trade’). Both condemn the activity, which is said to prevail among the ‘lower classes’ (John Bull) or ‘the illiterate and vulgar’ (Popular Pastimes). Our English historian finds space however to celebrate the songs that have been derived from the practice: ‘this practice, immoral and shameful as it is, has given rise to various pleasant Jeu d’esprits […]’. The examples they give differ, possibly exposing the fact that John Bull was paraphrased from various sources.
Other chapters shared between the two books include ‘Milk Maids’ Garland‘ (‘Mjölkflickans Krans‘), ‘Riding the Stang’ (‘Rida på Stången‘) and ‘St. Valentine’s Day’, which our Swedish observers tell us ‘is quite extraordinary in England. The youth yearn for it [längtar otåligt efter det] every year.’ ‘Rida på Stången’ is more or less a direct translation from its source in Popular Pastimes, which describes a practice of vigilante justice, referred to otherwise as ‘charivari’ or ‘skimmington’. The accused is forced onto a long pole, or stang, and carried through the streets to expose his dishonour. The criminal associated with this treatment was traditionally ‘a man who had debauched his neighbour’s wife’, but not exclusively so, as ‘the virago who had beaten her husband was also subjected to riding the Stang’ (Popular Pastimes, p. 17). The method was also used in Westmoreland and Cumberland, we read, to deter anyone from conducting any business at all on New Year’s Day. While, Popular Pastimes does not delve deeper, John Bull interrogates this Cumbrian variation:
Man hwart taga dessa böter wägen? Jo, man super upp dem, man fyller sig, wältrar sig i sanden, öfwerlastad af Öl, Rumm, Win och Brännwin. — Det är ett nöjsamt tidsfordrif for Engelska folkshopen. (p. 38)
Where do the fines go? Yes, they guzzle it up, they have their fill, roll about in the mud, full of beer, rum, wine and brandy. It is a pleasurable pastime for the English crowds.
I wonder how different today’s portrait of John Bull and the peculiar English would be…
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Studies
27 February 2019
A month after our current exhibition Cats on the Page opened, its lead curator passed me a donation of a number of issues of De Poezenkrant, or ‘The Cats’ Newspaper’, that came with a letter from its editor, P. Schreuders, who donated the issues as a ‘Thank You’ for the exhibition. These are currently being catalogued and shelfmarked and will be available on our CATalogue ‘Explore’ soon.
This blog is a ‘Thank You’ in return for Schreuders’ generous donation.
P. Schreuders started De Poezenkrant as a sort of newsletter about his family and the family cat R. van Plezier. (The ‘R’. stands for ‘Red’ as in ‘ginger’.)
Schreuders would send the newsletter to a select group of friends, but soon the mailing list expanded to a few hundred subscribers. Now it has fans all over the world. It sure looks like it has nine lives!
In 2015 Het Grote Boek van de Poezenkrant (‘The Big Book of The Cats’ Newspaper.’ ) was published to celebrate the 41st year of the newspaper/magazine. Why 41 years and not 40 is all explained in the book. It has the complete issues 1 -49BIS”A” (1974–2004) and is dedicated to R. van Plezier.
The Cat’s Newspaper is a strange little beast. Is it a magazine, or a newspaper? Is it about cats, or literature? How often does it appear and what will the next issue look like?
Mr. P. Schreuders likes to play a game of cat and mouse with his readers. De Poezenkrant is published irregularly and in ever-changing formats – just as a cat would behave. The cover of issue 62 is a case in point. It says ‘2017 à 2018’.
De Poezenkrant has a whiff of Facebook about it. Readers from all over the world (global reach) submit their news, photos and stories (posts) for publication in the newspaper. Well known authors write literary articles for the newspaper, which results in a hugely varied content, in Dutch, English and sometimes other languages. This stimulates endless browsing. Add to that the fact that cats are, of course, one of the most popular themes on social media and you have a social media platform.
Several Dutch authors have contributed to De Poezenkrant over time. One of the most prolific contributors, almost from the beginning, was Willem Frederik Hermans who was a big fan of cats. Schreuders read an interview with Hermans in the newspaper NRC of 20 March 1971, in which Hermans only talked about cats, so Schreuders sent Hermans the next issue of De Poezenkrant. This was the beginning of a long collaboration between the two.
On Christmas Day 1975 Hermans sent Schreuders a copy of the famous engraving by J.J. Grandville of the characters in the fable ‘Le Chat, la Belette et le petit Lapin’, by Jean de la Fontaine, from an 1838 edition of the Fables.
Hermans included a short note, in which he states that in his opinion the image deserved a place in De Poezenkrant. He points out the clogs on the feet of the rabbit, whom he compares to a Dutch author he doesn’t like very much. He also expresses his disappointment that the carved mouse heads on the chair of the cat Raminagrobis aren’t lion heads. The note was printed in De Poezenkrant nr 24 of July 1978.
A few years later De Poezenkrant Nr 33 featured a full article on the cat Raminagrobis from La Fontaine’s fable, entitled ‘Op zoek naar Raminagrobis’ (‘In search of Raminagrobis’), in which Hermans’ copy of the Grandville engraving was included. The article discusses various editions of the fable, and their illustrations of the unreliable ‘judge’ Raminagrobis. Gustav Doré and Benjamin Rabier are mentioned, but the verdict is clear: ‘By far the most beautiful illustrations are those in the edition by Fournier Ainé (Paris, 1838) and are by Grandville’; this is indeed the edition on display in the Library’s exhibition.
Neither the exhibition, nor De Poezenkrant would be complete without the Cheshire Cat. The cover of issue 30, Autumn 1982 is in the style of 18th-century book title pages, but with modern concepts. The Cheshire Cat sits in the centre of the page, almost like a printer’s device. It is taken from the engraving by Sir John Tenniel made for the ‘dream play for children in two acts’ (London, 1886) adapted by H. Savile Clarke from Lewis Carroll’s Alice books.
Go and have a look; curiosity won’t kill the cat!
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.
18 January 2019
A recent acquisition lays down the law on who could wear what in the streets of Portugal.
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.
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
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
23 November 2018
There have been schemes stretching back to Antiquity for making it easier to retain information in our heads. Many memory practitioners recommended word-image association: conjure up an architectural edifice in your mind and place a nugget of knowledge in each niche.
This memory book, however, is entirely verbal.
Martin del Río, Ars biblica, sive herma memorialis sacra, in qua metricè S. Paginæ libri, capita, eorumque medulla memoriae facillimè commendantur ... (Ecija, 1778) RB.23.a 38345
This pocket-sized book, recently acquired, enables the reader (presumably a preacher like the author) to memorise the chapters of the Latin Vulgate Bible using one word (or its abbreviation) to summarise each chapter.
For example, the Epistle to the Ephesians (p. 110).
Ch 1 is summarised by “Christum ad dexteram in coelestibus constituens”, which is part of verse 20 “quam operatus est in Christo, suscitans illum a mortuis, et constituens ad dexteram suam in cælestibus” [Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places].
This is boiled down to “Constituens”.
Ch 2 is summarised by “Estis sanctorum cives”, which is part of verse 19” Ergo jam non estis hospites, et advenæ: sed estis cives sanctorum, et domestici Dei” [Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God].
This is boiled down to “Cives”.
Ch 3 is summarised by “genua mea patrem flecto” which is part of verse 14 “Hujus rei gratia flecto genua mea ad Patrem Domini nostri Jesu Christi” [For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ]
This is boiled down to “Flecto”.
Ch 4 is summarised by “dona hominibus Dedit” which is part of verse 8 “Propter quod dicit: Ascendens in altum, captivam duxit captivitatem: dedit dona hominibus” [Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men]
This is boiled down to “Dedit”.
Ch 5 is summarised by “ecclesiae Christus est caput” which is part of verse 23 “quoniam vir caput est mulieris, sicut Christus caput est Ecclesiæ” [For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body]
This is boiled down to “Est caput”.
Ch 6 is summarised by “tenebrarum rectores harum” which is part of verse 12 “quoniam non est nobis colluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem, sed adversus principes, et potestates, adversus mundi rectores tenebrarum harum, contra spiritualia nequitiæ, in cælestibus” [For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places]
This is boiled down to “Harum”.
Put them together and they make an “easily” (he says “most easily”, facillime) memorised hexameter line: “constituens cives flecto dedit est caput harum”.
At least that’s the theory.
Fr Martín gives a chronological survey of earlier publications: Bonaventura in 1270, Petrus Rosenbeimensis [von Rosenheim] in 1450, Matthias Martinius, and “In our century” Leander a S Martino in 1628, et al.
“Alas! No-one cites the first inventor, Alexander de Villadei (of our Order OFM)”, author ca 1240 of some leonine verses, beginning “Sex, prohibet, peccant, Abel, Enoch, et arca fit, intrant.” According to Fr Martín, he was copied word for word by Leander a S Martino, who suppressed Alexander’s name and passed the work off as his own. Our old General Catalogue of Printed Books identifies this rotter: “LEANDER, de Sancto Martino [i.e. John Jones]”.
“Alas how many today wish to becloud the names of their predecessors! I freely admit my debt to others: Render under Caesar, etc.”
He has cleaned up the text of Alexander, bringing it into line with the Tridentine Vulgate of Pope Clement VIII (1592).
This is the second edition, the first having been printed in Mexico in 1675.
This sort of memory verse survives almost into our own day: the more elderly among you might remember the Kings and Queens of England in doggerel:
Willy, Willy, Harry, Ste,
Harry, Dick, John, Harry three,
One, two, three Neds, Richard two,
Henries four, five, six – then who?
Edwards four, five, Dick the bad,
Harries twain and Ned the lad,
Mary, Bessie, James the vain,
Charlie, Charlie, James again …
Fr Martín’s book takes us back to a time when the Bible was a vital concern, and when education was synonymous with a knowledge of Latin.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
Frances A. Yates, The art of memory (London, 1966) X.529/6232.
Mary J. Carruthers, The book of memory (Cambridge, 1990) YC.1990.b.7100
Juan Velázquez de Acevedo, Fénix de Minerva, o arte de memoria, ed. Fernando Rodríguez de la Flor (Valencia, 2002) YF.2016.a.22418
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