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Exploring Europe at the British Library

10 posts categorized "Georgians-revealed"

27 June 2014

How Jane Austen saved August von Kotzebue

While Germans were taking Shakespeare to their hearts in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was hoping to similarly promote Schiller’s plays in England. But the German dramatist who briefly conquered the British stage of the day was a far lesser literary figure.

August von Kotzebue (1761-1819) was an immensely prolific writer, who produced over 200 plays as well as autobiographical and historical works, fiction and essays. He spent his life between his native Germany, Russia (including a brief period as a prisoner in Siberia) and Estonia. He was a somewhat controversial figure in the world of letters, and once wrote an essay with the telling title ‘Woher kommt es, daß ich so viele Feinde habe?’ (‘Why do I have so many enemies?’). His death was as melodramatic as anything in his plays: in 1819 he was fatally stabbed in his own home by a liberal student who detested Kotzebue as an embodiment of conservatism.

For a short period Kotzebue enjoyed great popularity in Britain. The English Short-Title Catalogue  lists a staggering 178 individual editions of his plays published between 1796 and 1800 in Britain and Ireland, with a further 48 in America, and there were many performances on both London and provincial stages, although these statistics are rather tempered by the fact that many are translations or adaptations of the same titles which were repeatedly reprinted and performed. Chief among these were Menschenhaß und Reue, Das Kind der Liebe, Die Versöhnung and Die Spanier in Peru, under various English titles. Translators and adaptors included Sheridan and the gothic author Matthew Lewis, as well as Maria Geisweiler whom we met in an earlier post  and who, of course, was both translator and publisher of her Kotzebue editions.

Although the Kotzebue publishing boom could not be sustained at such a level for long, his works remained popular on the British stage at least into the 1820s. Despite this public success, they were not well received by critics, and later literary historians have sometimes blamed Kotzebue’s popularity for damaging the wider reputation of German drama and keeping better-quality German works off the British stage. 

However, if Kotzebue is known at all to the British public today it is indirectly, through the work of a literary contemporary who could not have been more different: Jane Austen. We know that Austen saw a performance of at least one of Kotzebue’s plays, Die Versöhnung (as The Birthday) in Bath in 1799. Sadly, her opinion of it is not recorded, but it has been argued that the play may have had some small influence on the characters and plot of Emma.

However, it is not in Emma but in Mansfield Park that a work by Kotzebue plays a crucial role. When the young Bertrams and Crawfords decide to pass the time with some amateur dramatics, they settle on Lovers’ Vows, Elizabeth Inchbald’s adaptation of Das Kind der Liebe, for their performance. Austen’s heroine Fanny Price, unhappy at the very idea of putting on a play, is doubly horrified to learn that it is to be this tale of illegitimacy and attempted seduction. As she fears, it offers opportunities for open flirtation in the guise of acting, which for some of the cast – and indeed for Austen as author – is of course the whole idea!

Title-page of 'Lovers Vows' with a frontispiece illustration of a kneeling man addressing a seated womanLovers’ Vows from vol. 23 of The British Theatre (London, 1808) British Library 1345.a.23.

Austen never names the play’s author or translator, but the way in which she refers to the characters and action, and the significance of the roles in the play for her own characters, suggests that in the second decade of the 19th century Lovers’ Vows would have been recognisable and familiar to her audience. Her use of the play as a plot device has given it a tenuous modern afterlife, with synopses and discussions on the many Austen websites and even occasional performances. The cult of Kotzebue in Britain may have been short-lived, but on the back of the thriving cult of Jane Austen, he still has a tiny claim to literary immortality in this country.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies


Douglas Milburn, Jr., “The Popular Reaction to German Drama in England at the End of the Eighteenth Century,” Rice University Studies 55.3 (Summer 1969) 149–62. Ac.1720/2.

11 June 2014

Charles Bairnes, accused: a German on trial in 18th-century London

On 26th February 1783 a German servant named in the records as ‘Charles Bairnes’ (Benz?) was indicted at the Old Bailey for ‘feloniously stealing […] one gold watch chain, one gold watch key, one gold mourning ring and one small silver key, the goods of Charles Western, Esq.’. Bairnes was just one of the many thousands of young Germans in every walk of life who came to London during the eighteenth century to seek their fortunes. He had evidently not been in the country long enough to learn sufficient English in order to follow the court proceedings, let alone to argue his own case. The reaction of the Court to this clear disadvantage, was perhaps a little unexpected: ‘The prisoner being a German, was asked by the Court, whether he chose to have one half of the jury composed of his own countrymen, to which he replied in the affirmative, and the jury were sworn in’. It was apparently no trouble finding six German-speaking jurors and also an interpreter, one ‘John Bessel’. The court proceedings were apparently conducted in both languages so that the accused, judge, the whole jury and witnesses could follow them easily.

Bairnes was first given a character reference by his current employer, a ‘Mr. Villiers’. Further character references were supplied by Villiers’s brother and his servant, another German named ‘Christian Water’ (Walter?), who had known Bairnes as a child in Germany. A final character reference was supplied (in German) by a ‘commissioner of the King of Prussia’s mines’ named ‘John Fisher’.

The English lack of interest in Germany and its language became a topos in German accounts during the 18th century. Among the numerous complaints by German-speaking residents and travellers, that of the writer Johann Christian Hüttner (d. 1847) is not untypical:

Among a hundred Englishmen, or even seventy Londoners, you will hardly find one that has the faintest idea about Germany. Just last August I met a surgeon in London from a well-known port city who asked me if it might be possible to sell a certain medicine on the other side of the Channel. I said I would ask a friend in Hamburg. ‘Hamburg?’, answered the surgeon, ‘I’ve often heard about that place  - tell me, what language do they speak there?’.  (Englische Miscellen. Vol. 1 Tübingen, 1800, p. 95-96. British Library P.P.3438.b. [My translation].)

The Bairnes case suggests, of course, a rather more complex situation. Not just that there was an extraordinarily large, German-speaking population in eighteenth-century London but acceptance of Germans and familiarity with the German language might have been greater than is often supposed – or is represented by contemporaries. Certainly Bairnes was treated fairly enough: not only was the trial largely conducted in his own language, as Mr. Western could supply no supporting evidence to support his accusations, Bairnes was found “not guilty”.

Graham Jefcoate


Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674 to 1913, 26 February 1783. URL:

  Illustration of a trial in progress at the Old BaileyAn Old Bailey trial in the early 19th century. From Rudolph Ackermann, The Microcosm of London (London, [1808-1810]) C.194.b.305-307. 


28 May 2014

"Tremendous in sublimity" or "Plunging into whirlpools": Coleridge's German books

In an earlier ‘Anglo-German’ post I wrote about the German Romantic author Ludwig Tieck as a mediator of English literature in Germany, and mentioned his meeting with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who sought to play a similar role for German literature in Britain. Long before he met Tieck, Coleridge had been fascinated by German literature and thought: a late-night reading of Schiller’s play Die Räuber (in translation) as a student inspired a rather overwrought sonnet to the “Bard tremendous in sublimity!”.

But Coleridge still spoke hardly any German when in September 1798 he set out for Germany with William and Dorothy Wordsworth, hoping to improve his knowledge. Unlike the Wordsworths, who ended up spending an isolated and miserable winter in Goslar, Coleridge made the most of his time, travelling, observing, making contacts and eventually enrolling as a student at Göttingen University. By the end of his ten-month stay he claimed, with a hearty dose of self-deprecation, that he could “speak [German] so fluently that it must be torture for a German to be in my company … my pronunciation is hideous.”

Back home, although many of Coleridge’s plans for published works which would bring German writers and philosophy to a wider public never came to fruition, he continued to read and engage with German literature and philosophy, as is evident from his discussions and correspondence with Tieck almost two decades later and from the notes he made in his German books. 
Nine books in glod-tooled leather bindings on a shelfA selection of Coleridge’s German books in the British Library’s collections

Just as the British Museum Library bought many books from Tieck’s library, so it acquired many from Coleridge’s collection. Unlike Tieck’s books, these were listed in the Library’s printed catalogue under Coleridge’s name (“Books containing MS notes by S.T. Coleridge”). Of 198 titles with this heading, some 83 are in German, with an additional handful of translations of German works or Latin works by German authors. The idealist philosophers Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel are best represented, but there are also works of German literature, theology and natural history.

Like Tieck, Coleridge liked to annotate his books, and was not afraid to take issue with what he read. Unlike Tieck, however, he seems to have preferred writing on fly-leaves or inserting separate sheets of comments rather than writing in the margins themselves. Reflecting on Herder’s Kalligone he criticises the German idealists for making their philosophy of nature “supersede the logical discipline”.

  Title-page of Herder's 'Kalligone' with Coleridge's notes on the fly-leafJohann Gottfried Herder, Kalligone (Leipzig, 1800) C.43.a.11.

In his copy of Fichte’s Die Bestimmung des Menschen he gets more personal, arguing that Fichte “plunges head over heels into the … whirlpool of pseudosophy.”

Title-page of Fichte's 'Bestimmung des Menschen' with Coleridge's notes on the fly-leaf
Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Die Bestimmung des Menschen (Berlin, 1800) C.43.a.12.

These comments show Coleridge to have been an enaged and critical reader, but there’s at least one example of more frustrated and frankly baffling marginalia. In his copy of Novalis’s writings (C.43.a.18) he notes in the bottom margin of one page: “Strangely out of place. Why in a cavern? And by a ghostly old hermit?”. This does not seem to relate to anything on the page in question: perhaps it was something that occurred to Coleridge from another context or another book he had open. Or perhaps a person from Porlock interrupted his note-taking…

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies


Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions (London, 1989) YH.1989.b.977.

12 May 2014

Maria Geisweiler, translator

On 22 October 1816 Maria Geisweiler (1763-1840) wrote to the Home Secretary, Henry Addington, Viscount Sidmouth (1757-1844), about her husband and (more particularly) about the couple’s financial plight: ‘My Lord, the cruel anxiety, and distress of mind, under which I labour, is such I cannot again refrain from making an effort to interest your Lordships [sic] feelings, for my poor deranged husband’. (British Library Add. MS. 38263, f.304.)

Geisweiler and her Swiss-born husband Constantine (originally a printseller) had in the years 1799-1801 set up what can only be described as an extraordinarily ambitious programme to promote German literature in England. This comprised a bookshop (latterly in Parliament Street) selling imported German books, a short-lived literary magazine called The German Museum, and a series of translations of contemporary German authors for which both Maria and Constantine were responsible. In 1801 they travelled to Germany to promote their programme at the Leipzig Easter Book Fair and to solicit support from Goethe, Schiller and Wieland at Weimar.

Title-page of 'The German Museum' with an engraved frontispiece portrait of C.M. WielandThe first volume of The German Museum (London, 1800) 

The Geisweilers’ literary efforts received what one might politely call ‘mixed’ reviews. The visit to Germany was also a failure and the business folded in 1801 or early 1802. About this time Constantine began to show signs of mental illness (described by one contemporary as a ‘Paroxysmus’). Although he tried other trades (dealing in wines), within a few years he was entirely unable to work. In April 1805 Maria, now over 40 years old, appears to have given birth to a son named Constantine who died very shortly after.

Clearly Maria needed great personal resources (and the help of others) to manage this situation. She had born in London into a typically bilingual Anglo-German family. Her father was a merchant called Frederick Heinzelmann, her mother an Englishwoman called Elizabeth. Maria’s background was therefore well-to-do. When she married the much younger Constantine in 1799 she was 36 years old and had already lost one, aristocratic husband (an unidentified Count von Schulenberg – Maria continued to style herself, and even her new husband, ‘de Geisweiler’).

By 1816 Maria’s situation must have been desperate. Nevertheless she tried to do her best for herself and her husband in possibly the only way she knew how, not merely by lobbying the government for financial support but also but by translating. In the same year as the letter to Addington she published the translation of an obscure German novel under the title Angelion, or the wizard of Elis. This received no better reviews than her earlier productions, the Monthly Review observing acidly: ‘We are sorry to describe this work as a singular and wearisome medley, displaying much of the sickly sentiment and strained antithesis of most German novelists’ (vol 83, 1817, p.100; 267.f.1-31). But the book was not necessarily a flop in the financial sense: no fewer than 175 persons are listed among the subscribers, including Baron Best, the head of the Hanoverian Legation in London, numerous other ‘persons of quality’, and leading English and Scottish booksellers. One suspects that the subscriptions were a discreet way of extending charity to the Geisweilers.

Maria Geisweiler died in 1840. Her husband survived her by nine years. Her attempts to secure his future may have been successful. At the time of the 1841 census he was living in a private ‘madhouse’ in Kensington. After his death in 1849 readers of the Morning Chronicle (19 June 1850) learnt that he may have died alone, but was not entirely without means: ‘Geisweiler, deceased. – If the next of kin of Constantine de Geisweiler, late of Kensington, deceased, will apply to Messrs. H. and O. Webb, 22 Sackville Street, they will hear something to their advantage’.

Graham Jefcoate, Nijmegen and Chiang Mai


The German Museum, or Monthly Repository of the Literature of Germany, the North and the Continent in general. 3 vols. (London, 1800-1801). 266.l.24-26.

Angelion, or, the Wizard in Elis. A romance. Taken from the German (London, 1816) 12554.bbb.17.


11 April 2014

‘Schirmer’s Children’: a German theatre troop

 On 30 September 1806 the German printer Johann Benjamin Gottlieb Vogel (d. 1832) in Poland Street, Oxford Street, printed a ‘Plan for a subscription for a choice manuscript collection of music: containing the most celebrated compositions of the first masters on the continent, arranged and partly originally composed for the piano-forte or the harp, by Mr. Wœlfl’. Behind this initiative stood one Friedrich Schirmer, who, we are informed, ‘intends, before his return to Germany, a periodical publication of a choice manuscript collection of the best modern German music’.

Cover of Schirmer’s choice manuscript collection of music with the title in an oval frame on a marbled backgroundThe first issue of Schirmer’s choice manuscript collection of music (London, 1806) British Library f.65.s.

Only two issues of the arrangements by Joseph Wölfl (1773-1812) saw the light of day, but Schirmer had already made his mark the previous year: as the Plan points out, he was ‘late proprietor and manager of the German Theatre in London’ - surely the first such initiative in the British capital.

Schirmer, who had arrived in England in 1804, had obtained a licence to present a season of ‘musical and dramatical interludes in the German language’ under the name ‘German Theatre’ to start on 22 June 1805 at the Sans Souci Theatre off Leicester Fields. The core of Schirmer’s troupe comprised members of his own family, including his wife, daughter and son. Shortly after the opening, ‘Schirmer’s Children’ (‘die Schirmerschen Kinder’) gave a command performance for the court at Windsor (Frogmore), where they performed the operetta Unschuld und Liebe, oder das geraubte Lämmchen (‘Innocence and love, or the stolen lamb’) with music apparently adapted from a score by Johann Adam Hiller (1728-1804). They were, by all accounts, a success.

The opening of a German-speaking theatre in London is the subject of a number of rather breathless reports by the London-based German journalist J. C. Hüttner. English reviews of their performances suggested that all but Schirmer’s daughter were talented singers. A review of the comic opera Die drei Freier (‘The three suitors’) remarked that Miss Schirmer has a ‘good figure, but sings ill [...] the rest all sang well & they keep time most inimitably’. Schirmer’s season continued for about a year, a not unrespectable period for a foreign-language music theatre troop with a limited repertoire.

Most of the pieces performed by Schirmer’s Children were printed for sale during the performances, though very few copies have survived. We are lucky to have a copy in the British Library of The three suitors, or like loves like. A musical farce, in one act (some of it on blue paper). This was printed by Vogel ‘and sold at the playhouse, Leicester Place, Leicester Square’ in 1805.

Bilingual German and English title page of 'Die Drei Freier = The Three Suitors'Die drei Freier ; oder, Gleich und Gleich gesellt sich gern ... = The three suitors, or, Like loves Like. ...  (London, 1805). 1343.d.10.

Graham Jefcoate, Nijmegen/Chiang Mai


J. C. Hüttner, London und Paris, (Weimar, 1798- ) vol. 16, 1805, pp. 3-12. P.P.4689.

Michael Kassler, The music trade in Georgian England.  (Aldershot, 2011), pp 460, 485.   YC.2011.a.10792

Frederick Burwick, Playing to the crowd: London popular theatre, 1780-1830. (Basingstoke, 2011), p. 21.  YC.2012.a.21614

26 March 2014

Theodora Grahn, language teacher

Among the many extraordinary Germans living in London in the Georgian period, few can have been more extraordinary than Theodora Grahn (1744-1802). Grahn, the only child of an architect, was born in Leipzig and, following her parents’ early demise, was brought up by an aunt in Berlin. She is said to have developed language skills at an early age. During the Seven Years War she started a business as an exchange broker, a rather precocious step one might think, as she was only 19 when the war ended in 1763. If not her age, then maybe her gender proved a disadvantage in this profession: it was around this time she began to dress as a man and adopted an aristocratic, masculine pseudonym, “Baron de Verdion”.

After exposure as an impostor, she moved to London around 1770, where, having demoted herself from “Baron” to “Dr. John” de Verdion, she worked as a language teacher and translator and also  dealt in antiquarian books and coins and medals. The British Library holds a trade card printed for Grahn as a language teacher and translator: “Mr. de Verdion, at Mr. Hare’s, No. 17. Greville Street, Hatton Garden, teaches German, French, and English, in the most expeditious manner, and upon the most reasonable terms. He also translates into either [sic] of these languages”. 

Verdion trade card
Theodora Grahn’s trade card using the name “Mr. de Verdion”. C.191.c.16.[vol.1(1)] (31).

 Although she is said to have had persons of quality among her pupils, her reputation was somewhat disreputable. Never leaving her house except dressed as a man, she became known for her prodigious consumption of food and drink in coffee-houses and taverns. Her true gender seems to have been known if not openly acknowledged. With her “grotesque” appearance and her famous umbrella she became a well-known London eccentric and a subject for satire.

Caricature of Theodora Grahn in men's clothing carrying a walking-stick and umbrella
Portrait of Theodora Grahn, from the account of her life in Kirby’s wonderful and scientific museum: or, magazine of remarkable characters, vol. 2, London 1804 (pp. 47-53). G.13550

Grahn died of cancer in 1802, having made a will as “John de Verdion otherwise Theodoria [sic] de Verdion, Master of Languages of Upper Charles Street Hatton Garden” and was buried in the cemetery of St Andrew’s, Holborn, under her assumed masculine identity. After her death, a number of accounts of her life appeared in books featuring bizarre individuals and occurrences.

More recently, Grahn has come to the attention of those working in the field of gender studies, who have sometimes assumed she was a transsexual as well as a transvestite. I’m not so sure, however, that we can draw firm conclusions about her gender identity or sexual orientation from the information we have. Her assumption of a masculine identity and dress could simply be seen as an effective strategy for a determined young woman in a world that provided so few opportunities for talented and independent women. We shall never know what she really was behind the masculine mask.

Graham Jefcoate, Nijmegen/Chiang Mai

17 March 2014

Parishes, Printing and Pietism – the Pietist Mission and German Publishing in London

Some Germans came to London as a workforce skilled in required, specialist trades; others came to try their luck and find work, often with hopes to make their fortune in the British capital, which bustled with life, diversity, and activity during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Germans would settle to live and put down roots in London near to where they worked and also to where their compatriots had already settled. In the east end of London in the late 17th and 18th centuries the sugar trade flourished, and many of the Germans settling there were confectionery bakers, with a skill which was in high demand. Generally, they were well-off, respectable tradesmen. Some of the parishioners at St George’s Lutheran Church were sugar factory owners, working in a trade where men earned good wages. 

Such wealth and status are reflected in the parish life of St George’s. With its school attached, St George’s Church in the East End of London is a good-sized building, its interior very reminiscent of protestant churches from the same period in north-eastern Germany. The parish was funded by parishioners who would have to buy or rent their seats and pews in the church. In contrast to the customary, spartan design of Lutheran churches, the comfortable family box pews of the factory owners and well-to-do families clearly reflected their wealth.

St George’s parish archives, which are held at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives reveal much about parish life and parishioners’ backgrounds. The archives are often a first port of call for genealogists researching German ancestry.

That places of worship could be built, parishes could be founded was only possible thanks to the Toleration Act  passed under William III in 1689.

Whilst German parish life was beginning to thrive in the east end of London, in Germany the Franckesche Stiftungen in Halle, and their missionary activity worldwide, were enjoying their heydays. August Hermann Francke founded the Franckesche Stiftungen in 1698 as a school for orphans and the poor. Rapidly the institution grew and expanded into a city within a city, with schools for all age groups, workshops where the orphans first trained as apprentices and then continued in employment, gardens, kitchens, a library, a pharmacy – and a publishing house. It was a whole independently-functioning microcosm, often referred to as ‘the New Jerusalem’. In the print shop, Francke and his pupils were able to have their Pietist, devotional literature published, which they then promoted as part of their missionary activities across the world.

  Ground-plan and external view of the Waisenhaus in HalleDrawing and ground-plan of the Waisenhaus in Halle, from August Hermann Francke, Segens-volle Fussstapfen des noch lebenden und waltenden liebreichen und getreuen Gottes ... (Halle, 1709) RB.23.a.16349 (copy from the Library of St George's Church).

One of the first buildings added to the original orphanage was the ‘English House’, where visiting students from Britain lodged.  Francke’s pupils also travelled to England – and then across the globe, promoting Christian knowledge as missionaries.  Gustav Anton Wachsel, the first pastor of St George’s Lutheran Church, had a background steeped in August Hermann Francke and German Pietism. His library, the foundation of St George’s Church Library, reflects that. Many titles are German Pietist works, published by the Waisenhaus in Halle, notably: August Hermann Franckens Oeffentliche Reden über die Passions-Historie, wie dieselbe vom Evangelisten Johanne im 18. und 19. Cap. beschrieben ist, gehalten von Esto mihi bis Ostern 1716 in dem Wäysenhause zu Glaucha an Halle. (Halle, [1733]; RB.23.a.16404).

Perhaps the most renowned pupil of Francke who came to Britain in the 18th century was Friedrich Michael Ziegenhagen (1694-1776), court preacher to King George I. Whilst as a court preacher he was based at the Royal Chapel at St James’s, it is likely that he would occasionally have preached at St George’s too. His titles are certainly present in the St George’s collection, including the commentary on the Lord’s Prayer shown below.

Title page of Ziegenhagen's 'Kurtze Erklärung des Gebets des Herrn'Friedrich Michael Ziegenhagen, Kurtze Erklärung des Gebets des Herrn, oder des Vater Unsers, nebst einigen Anmerckungen über dasselbe. (London, 1750.) RB.23.a.16338(1). (copy from the Library of St George's Church)

This work was printed by Johann Christoph Haberkorn and Johann Nicodemus Gussen, who ran the first German printing press in London. The printing and publishing trade was one which Germans adopted and helped to flourish in 18th-century London. Publishing religious and devotional texts provided good, solid work for the printing shops, and the publications were an important medium to promote Christian knowledge, all in the tradition of August Hermann Francke and the Stiftungen in Halle.

Dorothea Miehe, Curator German Studies

03 March 2014

Charles Meyer, Bookbinder to Queen Charlotte and the Princesses

Charles Meyer, (also known as Johan Charles Frederick Meyer), was one of a select and influential group of German binders who emigrated to England towards the end of the 18th century. English book collectors (sometimes called ‘bibliomaniacs’ by contemporaries) were prosperous and could afford to have their large book collections bound or rebound with no expense spared. The royal court set them an example, for monarchs were expected to keep libraries, whether they were ‘bookish’ or not. Fortunately, George III was interested in bookbinding for its own sake, and established a workshop in Buckingham House, so there was a flourishing market for good practitioners.

The German binders, who were better educated than their English counterparts, soon cornered the ‘West End’ or luxury side of the market located near the London houses of the book-buying aristocracy. One of those favoured was Andreas Linde, ‘Book seller and binder’ to Queen Caroline and her son Frederick, Prince of Wales, and after the latter’s death to Prince George (later George III). His workshop was in Catherine Street, off the Strand. Another prominent German craftsman was Charles Meyer, who arrived in England in 1797, and set up shop around the corner in St Martin’s Lane. He was later to become ‘Bookseller and binder to the Queen [Charlotte] and Princesses.’

Trade ticket with Meyer's name and business addressCharles Meyer’s trade ticket

The British Library’s Additional Manuscript 81080 consists of a letter written by Meyer in 1805 which gives an unusual insight into his character and business. Meyer tried to build up his business by donating two blank books to an unnamed newly formed institution as an example of his work, with the request that he be employed: “Should the Society not be already engaged with a Comisionair of Books both of foreign and English Litteratures or a Binder, I then would solicit the favour of Your Honored Sir, to propose me.” The tone is quite pressing but polite and humble. Meyer refers to his “thankfull Heart” and “gratitude for the ceind encouragement I have received from so many distinguished Persons since I have been in this Country.”

First page of Meyer's letter, beginning 'Honoured Sir!'An excerpt from Meyer's letter, British Library Add MS 81080

Meyer’s book-collecting patrons were certainly distinguished. They included Thomas Grenville, Alexander Douglas, 10th Duke of Hamilton, Charles Townley and Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater, but it was his connection to the royal family which marked the height of his success.

Bindings historian Charles Ramsden described Meyer’s cover on Princess Elizabeth’s book of prints Cupid Turned Volunteer (London, 1804; BL 83.k.15), as “a lovely specimen... with blue morocco spine and surround, blue silk sides, paper appliques and yellow silk doublures”. His tooling has been described as “heavy, compact and with a deep relief” which is keeping with the German tradition, but in this work, it is his strong sense of design which is paramount. The book was added to the library of George III, and perhaps it was this example of his craftsmanship which won him his royal warrant. 

Bookbinding with gold tooling on a blue background and and a central vignette off veiled female figurew
Meyer's binding for Cupid turned Volunteer 

Meyer appears to have integrated well in his new environment. By the time of his death in 1809 he was living with his common-law wife Elizabeth East in the newly-developed Michael’s Grove in Brompton. His fellow binder and friend, William Clifton (who witnessed his will), lived in the next street, Yeoman’s Row.

P. J. M. Marks, Curator of Bookbindings


Charles Ramsden London Bookbinders, 1780-1840 (London, 1956) 667.u.43

British Book Trade Index

21 February 2014

Handel – Händel – Hendel: Anglo-German composer

Today we celebrate the 329th birthday of George Frideric Handel, or Georg Friederich Händel, a composer whose life epitomises the virtues of Anglo-German relations at the time of the Hanoverian succession. Born in Halle on 23 February 1685, Handel spent the last 36 years of his life in London, at 25 Brook Street. Though his social circles in London were mainly English-speaking, and most of his music sets English or Italian words, Handel remained German in his core. He would write private notes to himself in German on his manuscripts and, perhaps through frustration at his English acquaintances demonstrating their ignorance of the umlaut and mispronouncing him ‘Mr Handel’, he often signed his name ‘Hendel’.

Portrait of Handel in a decorative border
Handel, from the Walsh and Randall edition of Alexander’s Feast (BL RM.7. f.5)

The tercentenary of George I’s arrival from Hanover to the British throne affords a good opportunity to reconsider Handel’s connections with the royal family, in which his shared nationality certainly played an important part. In fact, Handel enjoyed the patronage of three British monarchs during his lifetime: Queen Anne, George I, and George II. Employed by George I when he was still the Elector of Hanover, Handel had the advantage of knowing the new king before his coronation in 1714. While he was employed as court composer to the Elector of Hanover, he spent much of his time in London, and wrote a birthday ode for Queen Anne.

When George I arrived in London, he did not speak English and maintained a German-speaking court, which gave Handel a distinct advantage over many of his fellow musicians in London. Although he was not appointed Master of the King’s Musick, Handel was favoured by George I and his family, while the appointed Master was left to compose music for smaller, less significant occasions. As a foreigner, Handel was not entitled to hold a court position, and he was appointed ‘Composer to the Chapel Royal’ with a pension rather than a salary, composing only for significant events. He also tutored the royal princesses, for which he was paid the princely sum of £200 per annum. Handel went on to compose the coronation anthems for George II, including most famously ‘Zadok the Priest’ which has been performed at every British coronation since, as well as the Music for the Royal Fireworks and the Water Music.

  Original manuscript of Handel's 'Zadok the Priest'
The opening bars of  Handel's manuscript of ‘Zadok the Priest’ (RM.20.h.5)

Handel’s connections with the Hanoverian succession form the subject of a new exhibition at the Foundling Museum, which runs until 18 May 2014. As well as several loans from the British Library’s collections, the display draws heavily on the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, held at the museum, as well as significant loans from Lambeth Palace, Westminster Abbey, the National Portrait Gallery and the Bate Collection.

After Handel’s death in 1759, his amanuensis and manager John Christopher Smith inherited all his music manuscripts, which were later presented to George III. They formed part of the Royal Music Library, which was presented to the British Museum Library by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1957. They now form one of the greatest treasures of the British Library’s music collections, and plans are now well underway for all of the Library’s holdings of Handel’s autograph manuscripts to be made freely available through our Digitised Manuscripts website.

Nicolas Bell, Curator, Music Collections, with Katharine Hogg, Librarian of the Gerald Coke Handel Collection at The Foundling Museum

05 February 2014

A King's grammar fit for a Prince? Immigration concerns and an early Georgian marketing ploy

When George I came to the British throne, some of his new subjects worried that many other Hanoverians would follow in his wake to live at the British taxpayer’s expense. Greedy courtiers seeking money and influence seem to have been more feared than poorer migrants, although the mishandled crisis of the ‘Poor Palatine’ refugees in 1709 had raised concerns about mass immigration of unskilled workers.

The German translator and language teacher Johann König/John King was not a Hanoverian (or Palatine) newcomer; little is known of his life, but writing in 1715 he claimed to have lived and worked in Britain for some 30 years. He recognised even before 1714 that Germans were increasingly visiting and settling in Britain and in 1706 he published the first edition of his Englischer Wegweiser, a grammar, phrase-book and guide for Germans wishing to learn English. In its preface he describes Germans as “not the least considerable” of the “vast concourse of Foreigners that resort to this Flourishing Kingdom”.

Parallel English and German title pages of König's grammar bookKönig's original grammar: Ein volkommener Englischer Wegweiser fur Hoch-Teutsche … = A Compleat English Guide for High-Germans … (London, 1706). Shelfmark 1490.l.11.

König presumably saw this influx as a positive thing, not least for his business as teacher and translator. So it’s not surprising that he also saw the potential of the Hanoverian succession to bring more Germans to Britain as a good business opportunity. In 1715 he published a longer and more detailed version of the Wegweiser, this time under the title A Royal Compleat Grammar = Eine Königliche vollkommene Grammatica, obviously hoping to appeal to new Hanoverian immigrants by flaunting a royal connection. He seems to have aimed the work at those seeking professional, court or government careers: it includes such features as a long list of court officers (including obscure posts like the Clerk of the Poultry, or Schreiber übers Geflügel) and sample letters to be addressed to royal or noble patrons, neither present in the original Wegweiser.

Title-page of 'A Royal Compleat grammar' with a frontispiece portrait of George the firstKönig, Johann, A royal compleat grammar, English and High-German, das ist, Eine königliche vollkommene Grammatica in englisch- und hochteutscher Sprach … (London, 1715) 236.d.15.

Apparently lacking official royal patronage himself, König seeks to justify the title of his new book with a fulsome dedication to George I in which he describes, “my Endeavours of Enabling Your Majesty’s Subjects, mutually to converse with, and communicate their thoughts to, one another”. He also expresses the hope that his book “may be of Use to His Highness the Duke of Cornwall.” This could be taken as a rather insulting assessment of the future George II’s proficiency in English, but at least König was tactful enough not to mention that the grammar could also have been of use to the new king himself; spoken English was never George I’s strong point.

The Royal Compleat Grammar was never reissued in the same form, but its more detailed approach to grammar was reflected in the eight editions of the Englischer Wegweiser, much augmented by other hands, which were published between 1740 and 1795. Unlike the 1706 Wegweiser and the Royal Compleat Grammar, both published in London, all but one of these later editions bore a Leipzig imprint.

Whether because the expected flood of jobseeking Hanoverians never came, or whether because there was a better market for such a textbook in Germany later in the century than in newly Hanoverian Britain, it seems that König’s royal marketing ploy did not translate into a bestseller in George I’s new kingdom.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

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