29 December 2021
Paul van Ostaijen wrote his poetry collection Bezette Stad (‘Occupied City’), with art work by Jesper Oscar and René Victor, in 1921. It was published by Sienjaal, set in Antwerp and written in Berlin. The Great War is the topic, and stream of consciousness is the style. The original manuscript was recently bought by the Flemish government for €725,000, and has been made available online.
In honour of the centenary of this work, I have made a visual version of the brief information above, inspired by Ostaijen’s Dada-esque style, as well as offering a bibliography of works by and about Ostaijen from the British Library’s collections.
Paul van Ostaijen, Bezette Stad (Antwerp, 1921), Cup.503.p.5 (Online edition of the manuscript at https://consciencebibliotheek.be/nl/pagina/blader-digitaal-door-het-handschrift-%E2%80%98bezette-stad%E2%80%99-van-paul-van-ostaijen). English translation by David Colmer, Occupied City (Ripon, 2016). YK.2017.a.540
Paul van Ostaijen, De feesten van angst en pijn (Nijmegen, 2006) YF.2008.a.12964. English translation by Hidde Van Ameyden van Duym, Feasts of fear and agony, translated by Hidde Van Ameyden van Duym (New York, 1976). X.950/45770
Paul van Ostaijen, The first book of Schmoll: selected poems 1920-28, translated by Theo Hermans, James S. Holmes, and Peter Nijmeijer, ([Amsterdam], 1982) Cup.935/283
E.M. Beekman, Homeopathy of the absurd: the grotesque in Paul van Ostaijen’s creative prose. (The Hague, 1970), W19/5382
E.M. Beekman, Patriotism, Inc. and other tales ([Amherst], 1971), A71/5805
Gerrit Borgers, Paul van Ostaijen. (The Hague, 1971), X.909/24106.
Geert Buelens, Van Ostaijen tot heden. (Antwerp, 2001), YA.2002.a.37134
Frances Bulhof (ed.), Nijhoff, Van Ostaijen, “De Stijl” (The Hague, 1976), X:410/6582
Wright, Edward, Paul van Ostaijen, ([S.l., 196-?), YA.2003.b.2422
On the web:
On the fringes of Dada in Berlin (Blogpost)
Besmette Stad (A multimedia project inspired by Ostaijen’s work)
From Occupied City to Infected City (Blogpost)
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
12 August 2020
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, Marja Kingma, responsible for the Dutch collections, shares her choices.
The one item that I would consider to be my inherited item is a 16th-century herbal, which has been a constant presence over the ten years I have been a curator for Dutch Language Collections. It is without a doubt my favourite item from the Dutch Language Collections.
It is a Latin edition of Rembert Dodoens’ Cruydboeck, or herbal, Stirpium historiæ pemptades sex, sive libri XX, printed in 1583 by Christophe Plantin in Antwerp. It was THE standard book on plants for almost 200 years.
We hold two copies, but my favourite copy is at shelf mark 442.i.6.
Title page of Stirpium historiæ pemptades sex, sive libri XXX. (Antwerp, 1583). 442.i.6.
I had only just taken up my position as curator in January 2011 when I received an enquiry from a reader relating to this copy. I cannot remember what the enquiry was about, but I do remember my utter amazement and surprise when I opened the book.
It is full of manuscript notes, in the margins, in between text blocks and on inserted pages, crossed out sections, hand-coloured images of plants, cut out from some other book (another edition of his Cruydboeck, perhaps?). It had five dried plant specimens in it, now separately stored in a special case.
The title page of the second edition of 1616 states: ‘Varie ab auctore, paullo ante mortem, aucti & emendati’ (‘In several places augmented and amended by the author shortly before his death’). Dodoens himself edited the second edition shortly before his death in 1585. Could this copy be the editing copy?
It was none other than Hans Sloane, one of the founders of the BL’s collections, who acquired this copy. His catalogue number is written on the title page (to the right of the words ‘medici caesarii’ on the title page pictured above).And it was none other than Joseph Banks, another founder of our collections who acquired the second edition. (442.i.7). I display both copies at show-and-tell sessions for visitors, where I lay them side by side so you can trace the changes made by Dodoens. We also hold many more editions of Dodoens’ Cruydboeck, as well as other titles written by him.
Last September BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time recorded an episode at the British Library. I asked the panel whether they could identify the dried plant specimens. It turns out they are all medicinal plants. I like to think they were inserted by Hans Sloane, which would make them 300 years old.
The link between Dodoens, a Fleming of Frisian descent who taught at the newly established university in Leiden, the city I was born in, with Sloane and Plantin makes this copy very special to me. The copy is digitised and will be available online via our website in due course.
The book I would like to pass on is a wonderful artist’s book, entitled Spijker-schrift, by the avant-garde artist Willy Scholte. This is also a unique book, for it is handmade and one of only six copies. Willy was self-educated as an artist and her handmade publications were usually issued in small editions
Front cover of Spijker-schrift (Amsterdam, 1985) HS.74/2416.
Scholte was one of very few women artists in Amsterdam working with Stempelplaats, an avant-garde printing house/artists’ studio in Amsterdam led by Ulises Carrion and Aart van Barneveld, from its beginning in 1976.
The book plays with the concept of nails. Spijker-schrift is the Dutch term for cuneiform, and there are two clay tablets with cuneiform texts, one a quote from the Assyrian period. The clay is of course modern. It is attached to cardboard ‘pages’, two of which have nails in them. The pages are wrapped in a cardboard cover, which is covered on the inside in words and texts relating to nails, produced using a stamping technique. You can watch a video about it on the @BL_European Twitter feed.
Spijker-schrift is a marvellous work and I am so happy I have been able to acquire it, thanks to a London based dealer who specializes in mail art, concrete art and similar avant-garde art forms from all over Europe. It is a valuable addition to our small but nice collection of works by concrete and mail artists from the 1970s and 1980s.
It is an art form I knew nothing about before I became curator, but I am getting to know it better and love it. I hope to write more about it in future.
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
N.B. Items mentioned in this blog were acquired and previously owned by figures who are associated with wealth obtained from enslaved people or through colonial violence.
22 August 2018
Newsletters can be wonderful things. In March of this year ‘Focus On Belgium’ had an item about father and son Isaac and Jacob Le Maire. Jacob was one of the first Europeans to reach Cape Horn and to find an alternative shipping route to Asia, circumventing the monopoly held by the Dutch East Company, or VOC in Dutch.
This ties well in with our exhibition on James Cook: the Voyages, now in its last week (must end 28 August). As you enter the exhibition you’ll see a very large map hanging off the wall. This forms part of the Klencke Atlas and It shows part of the coastline of Australia and surrounding archipelagoes, such as Papua New Guinea, named ‘Terra dos Papos a Iacobo Le Maire , dicta Nova Guinea.’ Who was this Iacob Le Maire and how had he ended up so close to Australia?
Portrait of Jacob Le Maire form De Ontdekkingsreis van Jacob le Maire en Willem Cornelisz. Schouten in de jaren 1615-1617. Werken uitgegeven door de Linschoten-Vereeniging. dl. 48, 49. (The Hague, 1945). Ac.6095.
Jacob Le Maire had been sent on an expedition by his father Isaac, who was convinced there had to be a different route around South America into the South Pacific and on to South East Asia. He set up a trading company entitled ‘The Australian Compagnie’, and secured funding from wealthy merchants in Hoorn. From the same place he contracted Willem Corneliszoon Schouten to be captain on the expedition.
Jacob Le Maire and Willem Schouten did find the passage, which Jacob named ‘Cape Horn’ after the city of Hoorn. Mission accomplished? In a way yes, but Jacob then went off script and followed his own plan to find the almost mythical Southern continent Terra Incognita Australis. He passed in between Australia and Papua New Guinea, which is why the strait still carries his name.
Jacob LeMaire’s route from Cape Horn to the north coast of Australia, with inserted maps of Cape Horn and New Guinea, from Joris van Spilbergen, Speculum Orientalis Occidentalisque Indiae Navigationum (Leiden, 1619) 1486.gg.27.
From then on things went downhill for Jacob.
Having arrived in Batavia, they were promptly arrested by the governor, the notorious Jan Pieterszoon Coen for breaking the VOC’s monopoly. They were sent back to the Netherlands. Tragically, Jacob died eight days into the voyage. He received a seaman’s burial.
The VOC had confiscated Lemaire’s ship and all documents on board, including Jacob’s journals. They came back to Hoorn with Schouten but were not given to Isaac Lemaire. This gave Willem Schouten the chance to publish his own account of the voyage, using his own journals. These had also been confiscated, but with the help of Willem Jansz Blaeu, who had connections within the VOC he published the first account of the voyage. Isaac Le Maire tried to stop publication by suing Blaeu. He won the case, but Blaeu appealed on the basis that if he did not publish the journal someone else would. He finally got permission to publish Jacob’s Journal, which appeared in 1618. Willem Schouten takes the credit for the discovery; Jacob Le Maire barely gets a mention.
Title page of Iovrnal ofte beschryvinghe van de wonderlicke reyse ghedaen door Willem Cornelisz Schouten van Hoorn, inde Jaren 1615, 1616 en 1617. (Amsterdam, 1618), reproduced in: De Ontdekkingsreis van Jacob le Maire en Willem Cornelisz. Schouten.
How right Blaeu had been in his protest against the publication ban is shown in the record of the flurry of publications that appeared between 1618 and 1622.
In particular the Leiden printer Nicolaes Van Geelkercken was very active. He issued several translations in 1618, in French, German, and Latin of Oost ende West-Indische Spiegel, which included the journal of Joris (George) Spilbergen’s voyage around the world in 1614-17 and Jacob Le Maire and Willem Schouten’s explorations as described above. There is a connection here, because LeMaire and Schouten had travelled back to Hoorn on Spilberghen’s ship.
It wasn’t until 1622 that Jacob’s papers were released and a more accurate and balanced account could be published. This has since been reprinted many times, including in 2000 by the Australian National Maritime Museum in a facsimile edition ‘to celebrate the harmonious relationship that exists between the Netherlands and Australia.’
In 1906 the Hakluyt Society published an edition of the various journals of Le Maire and Schouten, as well as Spilbergen, including a bibliography of the various editions over time, running to 17 pages. Interestingly it also includes a list of ‘Works Quoted in this Volume or Bearing on its Subject, with the British Museum Press-marks’. Now that should make life a lot easier for anyone wanting to research the Le Maires further, at least up to 1906. What it won’t include is the lovely find I made in the course of my research for this post, Octave J.A.G. Le Maire’s L’Origine anversoise des célèbres navigateurs Isaac et Jacques le Maire (Antwerp, 1950; 0761.g.41).
In this slender publication, Octave Le Maire, apparently a descendant of the Le Maires, makes a passionate case for Antwerp and not Amsterdam as the origin of the Le Maire family. It has a dedication in it, which roughly translates as: ‘In honour of the Library of the British Museum, where a precious discovery about the I and J Le Maire was made, during the war 1914-1918.’
The discoveries one can make in The British Library without having to go out to sea!
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.
Dirk Jan Barreveld ‘Tegen de Heeren van de VOC : Isaac le Maire en de ontdekking van Kaap Hoorn, (The Hague, 2002) YA.2003.a.31803.
Henk Schoorl, Isaäc Le Maire. Koopman en bedijker. (Haarlem, 1969) X.800/4479.
02 August 2018
When it comes to iconic buildings, the Atomium in Brussels surely takes top spot.
Towering over Brussels, it is the city’s most popular tourist attraction and never more so than this year, when it celebrates its 60th anniversary. Back in 1958 not many thought it would make it past its first year, let alone to 60.
It had been built as focus point for the Expo 58, the first World Exhibition after the Second World War. Designer-engineer André Waterkeyn and architects André and Jean Polak wanted to send a positive message about nuclear power, one in which nuclear power would be used for the benefit of all mankind. To that end they created three exhibition spaces inside the Atomium, as well as a restaurant in the top sphere for the public to visit. Which they did in their droves. The Atomium attracted over 40,000 visitors per year at one point.
The German magazine Nachrichten aus der Chemie of May 2008, looks at the Atomium from a technical point of view. It would certainly interest chemists to know that the Atomium in fact does not represent an iron atom, but one unit cell of pure iron, as kept under room temperature and under atmospheric pressure, 165 billion times enlarged. The design of the structure deviates from the actual chemical structure of this unit cell of pure iron. The proportions of the spheres and connecting tubes are different as is its position in space. This has everything to do with the practicalities of available space, accessibility (the need for staircases and lifts inside the connecting tubes) and the way in which the building had to be fixed to the ground.
Due to its popularity with the public the Atomium was not demolished, as had been the plan. Unfortunately, the aluminium coating was not meant to last for ever and over time it started to deteriorate. The Atomium literally and figuratively lost its shine and there was again talk of demolishing it. When more damage was discovered in 2003, the Atomium was closed. However, the people of Brussels did not want to lose their beloved Atomium, so renovation started in 2004. The aluminium was replaced by stainless steel; new elevators were fitted and other adjustments were made to make it fit for the 21st Century. In 2006 it re-opened, once more standing in all its shining glory, hopefully for at least another 60 years.
The British Library has a variety of material about the Expo 58. Apart from Nachrichten aus der Chemie, from which I took the technical information for this post, there is the novel Expo 58, by Jonathan Coe, from which I pinched the title of this blog.
Cover of Jonathan Coe’s Expo 58 (London, 2014) H.2015/.7833
Coe’s novel is a story about love and betrayal, with some espionage thrown in. It is set in the Expo grounds and wider Brussels, as well as Britain. When the protagonist Tom arrives at the Expo his guide drives him around the various pavilions. See if you can track his route on this plan of the Expo 58, held in our Maps collection.
Tom’s main task is to look after the pub ‘Britannia’, which was part of the British pavilion, simply because his mother is Belgian and his father ran a pub for 20 years. This is not entirely fiction – there really was a pub called ‘Britannia’ set within the rural, green and pleasant UK pavilion. The panoramic plan of Expo 58 doesn’t show where it was located, but what is clear is the green setting.
I also looked at the British Newspaper Archive, available in our reading rooms. The Birmingham Daily Post of Friday 18 April 1958 writes glowingly about the flying start the British made, being the only country that finished its displays on time for the official opening!
Poster for the Expo 58 in Brussels, from Serulus and Gimeno-Matinez, Panorama
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.
21 May 2018
The arrival of the month of May can only mean one thing: European Literature Night!
EUNIC and the European Writers’ Tour, with additional support from the Czech Centre and Flanders House, organised this year’s event on May 10th. As always the British Library hosted the event whereby authors from continental Europe showcased their work translated into English. They read passages from their books in English and their own language. The readings were followed by a panel discussion with a Q&A session. Afterwards the audience was invited to buy the guest authors’ books and have them signed.
So far, so traditional. However, this year saw some radical changes. There were three authors instead of six or eight, which did the authors more justice. It made the panel discussion possible, which wasn’t there in previous years. A smaller group of authors also made the event more intimate, and this was emphasised by the new location: not the big auditorium in the Knowledge Centre, but a cosy tent in front of it, on the Piazza.
Panel discussion at European Literature Night, Thursday 10 May 2018 at the British Library. From left to right: Peter Terrin, Sylva Fischerová, Meike Ziervogel, Scott Pack. Taken from EUNIC Twitter feed.
We had a new host: Scott Pack, who replaced the host for many years Rosie Goldsmith. She was still there, but rather enjoying the event, with a nice glass of wine. The theme of the evening was ‘Identity’. The choice of authors obviously reflected this. All three authors share a ‘multifaceted’ identity. Poet/philosopher Sylva Fischerova was born in what used to be Czechoslovakia and is now the Czech Republic. Nothing fundamental changed, life went on. People tell each other the story of the old woman who was born in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, grew up in Germany, lived in the Soviet Union and died in Ukraine, never moving away from her home town. Borders don’t determine one’s identity.
Maybe language plays a more important part in ‘identity’ than geographical borders.
Sylva objected to having her poetry translated into English. When her good friend Stuart Friebert offered to translate her poetry she dismissed it out of hand as being ‘impossible’, but eventually he persuaded her to give it a go. He then not only translated her poetry, but also commented on the poems themselves, sometimes resulting in changes to them. Sylva now thinks the translation is even better than the original Czech version. I can’t judge, because I don’t speak Czech, but I enjoyed Sylva’s readings from The Swing in the Middle of Chaos (YC.2011.a.678)
Three books by Sylva Fischerová: Bizom, aneb, Služba a mise. (Brno, 2016). YF.2017a24377; The Tremor of Race Horses, transl. by Jarmila & Ian Milner. (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1990). YC.1990.a.10283; The Swing in the middle of Chaos, transl by Stuart Friebert. (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2010). YC.2011.a.678
Next up was Peter Terrin. He read from his 2015 novel Monte Carlo. The story throws up many questions about ‘identity’, such as where the protagonist belongs: in his English village, where he earns a living, repairing cars or on the Formula 1 circuits, as one of the top mechanics?
Peter Terrin sees himself as a ‘European’, rather than as a Belgian, or Fleming. ‘Identity’ is big in Belgium and language plays a major part in this, Terrin doesn’t ‘do’ borders. He speaks Flemish, English, probably French too and writes in Dutch (Flemish is very seldom used in writing). He lives in Belgium and publishes in the Netherlands.
‘This is really good,’ Peter thought, reading David Doherty’s translation of Monte Carlo. It felt almost like a new work. In a certain sense translations are new works. Translators never merely translate word by word; there is a big creative effort involved in translating any text. Still, the question remains what made him think like that. Maybe a foreign language creates the distance required to see one’s own work in a different light.
German novelist and publisher Meike Ziervogel certainly seems to think so. She moved from Germany to the UK thirty years ago and writes solely in English. She calls herself a ‘translingual’ writer. She noticed that when writing in German she was hiding her emotions behind complicated words and constructions. At the time her ‘beginner’s’ level of English forced her to write in simpler, more direct language, which did bring out her true emotions. After thirty years English has become a native language to her and I could not help wondering if she ever feels like writing in German, doing the reverse of what she did thirty years ago, to force herself to identify her true emotions.
Ziervogel is now on her fourth novel, The Photographer, about her own grandfather living through the Second World War.
I look forward to reading the various books that were discussed this evening, including Ziervogel’s Magda, her debut, about the wife of Joseph Goebbels. I hope I’ll finish them all before next year’s European Literature Night!
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
20 February 2017
Translation plays a major role in Belgian culture, both domestically, by enabling Flemish speaking readers to access work produced in French and vice versa – and internationally, by disseminating work to wider audiences.
In its second year BeLgoLab 2017 is devoted to translations of different kinds. It combines formal papers and discussions with practical workshops, where published English translations are compared with the originals (guidance materials in the form of collections items will be supplied).
The event is aimed at researchers and postgraduates in Comparative Literature and Translation Studies, as well as those in French and Dutch studies, and anyone who is interested in the topic! Attendance is free and open to all, but registration is required as detailed below.
‘Vers5’, by Paul van Ostaijen, taken from Verzameld Werk. Poëzie Vol 1. ([Antwerp, 1952]) British Library X.900/1631. A French translation can be seen on the website of the journal nY
The programme is as follows:
Monday 6 March 2017: British Library, Knowledge Centre, Eliot Room
Bookings for this session via email@example.com
14.00-14.10 Welcome Adrian Armstrong (Queen Mary University of London), Marja Kingma (British Library)
14.10-15.25 Workshop on translation: Amélie Nothomb, ‘Fear and Trembling’ (‘Stupeur et tremblements’) Adrian Armstrong
15.45-17.00 Workshop on translation: Paul van Ostaijen, ‘Occupied City’ (‘Bezette Stad’) Jane Fenoulhet (University College London)
17.00-18.00 Reception, kindly supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Belgium in London
Tuesday 7 March 2017: Institute of Modern Languages Research (Senate House G35)
Bookings for this session via http://www.sas.ac.uk/events/event/7189
09.00-09.15 Welcome Adrian Armstrong, Marja Kingma
09.15-09.45 Translator’s choices in the literary field: Alex Brotherton’s translation of Gerard Walschap’s ‘Marriage/Ordeal’ (‘Trouwen’, ‘Celibaat’) Irving Wolters (University College London)
09.45-10.15 From Mobutu to Molenbeek: Cultural Translation in Contemporary Belgian Ethnic-Minority Writing in French Sarah Arens (University of Edinburgh)
10.45-11.45 Round table: Translation and Belgium Adrian Armstrong, Marja Kingma.
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
23 December 2016
This year I showed some items from our Low Countries collections with a Christmas theme at the annual Christmas party for the Patrons of the British Library. I had selected three items, all of them worthy of a blog post, but I decided to pick just one: L’Adoration des Soldats, or ‘The Adoration of the Soldiers’. This year is the hundredth anniversary of its publication. It was not published in the Netherlands, or Flanders, but in London, the residence of its author Émile Cammaerts and place of refuge of its illustrator, Dutch cartoonist Louis Raemaekers.
The Adoration is a nice example of some of the more subtle Allied propaganda during World War I. Cammaerts’ wife, British actress Helen Tita Braun, better known under her stage name of Tita Brands, translated the French text into English. The English text is printed on the left hand pages, the French text on the right hand pages. Margaret B. Calkin wrote the script.
Title-page of Emile Cammaerts, L’Adoration des soldats = The adoration of the soldiers (London, ). K.T.C.26.b.29.
It was the perfect book for the occasion, because it looks like an illuminated medieval manuscript, so practically guaranteed a warm reception with the public. The text is printed on high quality, thick paper, in black and red ink, in a medieval looking font. The initials are decorated, as are the spaces on lines where the text does not run to the end. It is bound in cream cloth, resembling vellum, with gilt decorations. Just as one would expect of a publisher like The Fine Arts Society.
In the Foreword it says: “The Adoration of the Soldiers is a short mystery play which was suggested to Mons. Cammaerts during a visit which he paid to the Belgian Trenches in Christmas Week.” In what year this visit took place is not mentioned. The story is set in the trenches during Christmas. The main characters are four soldiers: The Believer, The Grumbler, The Jovial One and The Sceptic. They see a rocket being fired which fails to fall down on them, but remains hanging in the air, like a bright burning star. Soon after an old man leading a donkey carrying a young woman appears, as if from nowhere. How they managed to get through enemy lines and how they know the password is a mystery.
After some deliberations the soldiers allow the couple to take shelter in their dug-out. All apart from The Believer go to sleep. Soon an angel appears to the soldiers, bringing the happy tidings of Christ’s birth, as on every Christmas. This year He chose to be reborn amongst “…his martyrs and defenders”, of which the angel says: “Let this be to you a token of victory!”.
The story ends with the soldiers adoring the Christ-Child in their dug-out, joined by people from the local village. All sing a local Christmas song.
I have not been able to find evidence of ‘The Adoration’ ever being performed, either in churches or in the trenches. If anyone knows of any such performance, please get in touch.
Thank you and Merry Christmas!
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections (Low Countries)
27 November 2016
Et le lent défilé des trains funèbres
Commence, avec leurs bruits de gonds
Et l’entrechoquement brutal de leurs wagons,
Disparaissait – tels des cercueils – vers les ténèbres.
These lines from Emile Verhaeren’s poem ‘Plus loin que les gares, le soir’, with their evocation of a ‘slow parade of gloomy trains’ vanishing ‘like coffins’ into the distance, may be read as uncannily prophetic. Not only does it evoke the atmosphere of the stations throughout Europe where troop-trains would pull out to carry soldiers to the front, but also the one where, on 27 November 1916, the poet met his own end. Returning from Rouen to his home in Paris after speaking to a gathering of Belgian exiles and refugees, he tried to board the train too quickly, missed his footing, and fell beneath its wheels, dying shortly afterwards on the platform.
He was born on 21 May 1855 in Sint Amands, a riverside village on the Scheldt, at a time when the great canal system which had sustained trade throughout Flanders was already in decline, leaving his native country to become more and more of a backwater. Yet despite his decision to write in French and to move to Paris in 1898, the rhythms of the Flemish language and his love for a landscape dotted with disused windmills and the people who lived among them coloured his poetry throughout his life.
After graduating in 1874 from the Collège Sainte Barbe in Ghent and studying law at the University of Louvain (1875-81), Verhaeren allied himself with the poets and artists who gathered round Max Waller, poet and founder of the journal La Jeune Belgique (P.P.4479.b.). Two years later Les XX, a group of twenty Belgian artists and designers, was formed, and drew Verhaeren into a circle of new friends and a career as an art critic. His essays for L’Art moderne (P.P.1803.laf.), also founded in 1881, established his reputation and brought him in contact with Auguste Rodin, Odilon Redon and other contemporary artists, many of whom supplied illustrations for his work. At the same time, as Symbolism gained ground in Belgium, his admiration for the great Flemish, Dutch and Spanish painters of the Golden Age was undiminished.
Nor was he merely a local figure; as his first volume of poetry, Les Flamandes was followed by many others and also by plays, he gained a readership which extended across Europe, especially when such distinguished literary figures as Edmund Gosse and Arthur Symons began to translate and promote his work in Britain. In Russia the poet Valery Bryusov, a distinguished translator of Homer and Virgil, performed a similar service for Verhaeren. The British Library also possesses an exquisite volume of poems by Verhaeren with paintings by the Japanese artist Kwasson, as well as an almanac (1895; K.T.C.8.a.9) in which Theo van Rysselberghe’s illustrations accompanied Verhaeren’s verses.
Above: Poem by Verhaeren with Kwasson’s illutration, from Images japonaises (Tokyo, 1906) 15234.a.5. Below: Cover of Almanach. Cahier de vers d'Emile Verhaeren. Ornementé par Théo van Rysselberghe.(Brussels, 1895) KTC.8.a.9
Above all, however, it was Stefan Zweig who brought Verhaeren’s work before a wider audience as he championed it in the German-speaking world. Not only did Zweig spend many holidays with Verhaeren and his wife, the artist Marthe Massin, who was the subject of some of the poet’s finest love lyrics, but he translated his works, wrote a biography which soon became the standard text on Verhaeren, and collected a number of manuscripts, two of which which feature in the British Library’s Stefan Zweig Collection.
In the summer of 1914 Zweig, Rainer Maria Rilke and the publisher Anton Kippenberg of the Insel Verlag were already discussing a German version of Verhaeren’s collected works when the outbreak of war put an end to the project and also to the friendship. Increasingly aghast at the devastation of Belgium during the German invasion, including the destruction of Louvain, where he had studied, and ancient libraries and art treasures, Verhaeren devoted himself to publishing polemics and denouncing German brutality. However, he was beginning to revise this uncompromising position in the interests of international cultural unity when he met his death.
Described by André Gide as ‘our only epic poet’, Verhaeren was in many ways a man of contradictions. Though always maintaining his Belgian roots, he travelled widely, and in London in particular he found the image of the ‘tentacular city’ of the industrial era, described in Les Villes tentaculaires (1895), sucking humanity and the landscape alike into a world of degradation. Yet he realised that the old world of the sleepy Flemish countryside had had its day, and strove to find positive aspects in the modern world. Infused with the spirit of nature which he loved so well, his late poem Novembre est clair et froid may serve as a postscript to his life:
Tout est tranquille enfin, et la règle est suivie.
Des mes longs désespoirs, il ne me reste rien.
Où donc le vieux tourment, où le regret ancient?
Un soleil apaisé se couche sur ma vie.
(All is peace at last, and the rule is kept.
Of my lengthy despairs nothing remains.
Where then the old torment, where the old regret?
Upon my life a calm sun sets.)
(Translation by Will Stone, from Emile Verhaeren, Poems (Todmorden, 2014; YC.2014.a.14474).
Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities & Social Sciences), Research Engagement.
04 July 2016
2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia, a book which gave a new word to the English language. But it was not until 35 years after that first publication that an English-language edition of the book actually appeared, also the first edition to be published in England. The early printing and publishing (and linguistic) history of Utopia is very much a continental one.
More started writing Utopia in 1515 while in Antwerp as part of a diplomatic mission to Flanders to negotiate commercial treaties. When the negotiations stalled, he used his time there to renew his acquaintance with the Dutch humanist Erasmus and make contact with other scholars in his circle, including Pieter Gillis, who appears as a character in Utopia and to whom the book is dedicated. The work grew in part from their discussions, and More wrote it not in English but in Latin, the international language of scholarship. After finishing the manuscript back in London, he sent it to Erasmus, asking him to find a printer. Erasmus sent it to Dirk Martens, then working in Louvain, who printed the first edition.
A small flurry of editions followed the first one, all in Latin, and all from continental printers: Gilles de Gourmont (Paris, 1517; C.65.e.1.), Johannes Froben (Basel, March 1518; G.2398.(1.), and November 1518; C.67.d.8.; both in editions with More’s Epigrams), and Paolo Giunta (Florence, 1519; in an edition of Lucian’s works).
Johannes Froben’s March 1518 printing of Utopia, with woodcuts by Ambrosius Holbein (G.2398.(1.)). The image here shows More and Pieter Gillis (‘Petrus Aegidius’) with the fictional Raphael Hythlodaeus who describes the Island of Utopia
The first vernacular edition of Utopia was in German, printed again in Basel, by Johann Bebel, in 1524. After this the work apparently went out of fashion for over two decades, with no new editions in any language appearing until an Italian translation was printed in Venice in 1548. In the same year the first Latin edition since 1519 appeared in Louvain (522.b.22).
Above: The first German edition of Utopia (Basel, 1524). 714.b.38.
Below: The first Italian edition (Venice, 1548) 714.b.16.(1.)
Interest in More’s work was clearly growing again: in 1550 a French translation appeared from the press of Charles L’Anglier in Paris, and in 1551 Utopia at last appeared its author’s native land and language, in an English translation by Ralph Robinson published by Abraham Vele. These translations and other early editions of Utopia can all be seen in the current display ‘Visions of Utopia’ in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery.
The early printing history of Utopia reminds us that an international book trade is nothing new (and of course that English printing goes back to William Caxton’s first partnerships in Flanders: the first book printed in the English language came out of Bruges). It is also a reminder that international networks of scholars and writers were as alive and fruitful in the 16th century as they are today.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies
11 May 2016
Our latest Q&A post with a writer featured in tonight’s European Literature Festival Writers’ Showcase event introduces Belgian Flemish novelist, poet and dramatist Peter Verhelst, whose story The Man I Became is published by Peirene Press
How did you become a writer?
I’m not sure I became a writer. I’m sure I didn’t become a painter. I wanted to become Jan Van Eyck, but wasn’t able to paint very well. I've written every day since I was 15. That's my way of looking/breathing.
You’re coming to London for European Literature Night. Is there a British author you particularly admire?
I love (to hate) James Joyce. No one can irritate me the way he does and at the same time: witty!
I love Julian Barnes. His elegant way of thinking and finding words for all human emotions.
I love Samuel Beckett VERY MUCH.
I would love to love Tom McCarthy: I only read fragments of his books. Didn’t have the time yet to read full texts. But I'm sure I will love his books.
Other than reading literature in translation, how else can we break down barriers between people of different nationalities and cultures?
Talk to each other. Visit each other. Eat with each other.
Is there a book you wish you’d written? If so what is it?
Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll): it’s a book about the pleasure of writing. The pleasure of ‘making things up’.
(But I don't like the songs.)
What advice would you give to anyone just starting out?
Don’t try to be loved. Don’t believe compliments. Never mind the haters. Do exactly what you think you have to do (and don’t hesitate to contradict your own opinions).
What are you reading now?
Books about art. Preparing for my new novel.
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
It’s a novel about grief, trauma. Is it possible to talk about ‘what you can't talk about’? (Of course it is)
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