THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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109 posts categorized "Germany"

04 May 2018

Karl Marx’s 200th Birthday

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This year sees the 200th birthday of political philosopher Karl Marx, who was born in the German town of Trier on 5 May 1818.

Marx C.120.g.2 (1)
Karl Marx (1818-1883). Frontispiece of Le Capital (Paris, 1872-75). C.120.g.2.

In connection with the anniversary, the British Library opened a new display in its Treasures Gallery earlier this week. ‘Karl and Eleanor – Life in the Reading Room’ (free entry, until 5 August) explores the special relationship that Karl Marx and his youngest daughter, political activist Eleanor Marx, had with the Reading Room of the British Museum, one of the predecessor institutions of the British Library.

Marx Round Reading Room 11902.b.52
The Round Reading Room of the British Museum, completed in 1857, where Marx spent much of his time as a reader. From Thomas Greenwood, Free Public Libraries, their organisation, uses and management (London, 1886) 11902.b.52. 

From the first edition of the Communist Manifesto to letters written by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and others in their circle, items from the Library’s collection provide an unique insight into the life and work of one of history’s most significant and controversial thinkers.


Marx manifesto and letter
The Communist Manifesto and a letter from Marx on display in the Treasures Gallery  (©Sam Lane Photography)

Marx made London his permanent home after being forced into exile after taking part in the German revolution of 1848. He famously spent long hours in the British Museum, researching and writing his works that would go on to shape world history.

Marx Reader's ticket
Index slip recording the issue of a British Museum reader’s ticket to Karl Marx, dated 21 July 1873. MS Add. 54579, f.i 

One highlight of the exhibition, displayed for the first time, is an original edition of the French translation of Das Kapital (1872-75), which Karl Marx himself had donated to the British Museum Library. Crucially, it contains some annotations in the margins that are believed to be in Marx’s own hand. There is a chance to learn more about this book and its significance in a talk by the exhibition curators on 18 June (book tickets here).

Marx corrections 2
One of the manuscript corrections in Le Capital (C.120.g.2.), thought to be in Marx's hand

The run-up to the bicentenary has seen lots of new artistic, academic and wider public engagement with Marx’s life. Last year, a new play Young Marx was performed at London’s Bridge Theatre to great acclaim, while Oscar-nominee Raoul Peck directed a film on the topic. Members of both production teams, as well as novelist Jason Barker, are coming to the British Library on the afternoon of 5 May to discuss these recent re-imaginings of Marx. The panel discussion is followed by a rare UK screening of Peck’s The Young Karl Marx (last minute tickets are available here).

Also, on 16 May, recent biographers of Karl and Eleanor Marx, Gareth Stedman Jones and Rachel Holmes, will be speaking at the Library about these two fascinating characters, their lives in London, and their wider legacy.

Marx display 2
The ‘Karl and Eleanor Marx’ display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery (©Sam Lane Photography)

The British Library is of course not alone in marking Marx’s birthday. From a large exhibition in Marx’s native Trier, to a variety of events in the UK and a display in Nanjing in eastern China – the Marx anniversary is a truly global affair.

Diana Siclovan, exhibition curator for ‘Karl and Eleanor Marx’

Find out more about the ‘Karl and Eleanor Marx’ display in The Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery and the accompanying series of events at the British Library here.

26 April 2018

Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages

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The annual Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages will take place on Monday 4 June in the Dickens and Eliot Rooms of the British Library Knowledge Centre.

The programme is as follows:

1.30     Registration and Coffee

2.00     Stephen Rawles (Glasgow), Measuring typesetting effort in the 1530s and 40s: calculating ems in the work of Denis Janot. 

2.45     Thomas Earle (Oxford), Rui de Pina’s Crónica de D. Afonso V: manuscript and print

3.30     Tea

4.00     Geoff West (London), The Spanish and Portuguese Manuscripts of Frederick William Cosens (1819-1889)

4.45     Susan Reed (London), Fraktur vs Antiqua: a debate in the London German press in 1876.

The Seminar will end at 5.30pm.

The seminar is free and all are welcome, but please let the organisers, Susan Reed (susan.reed@bl.uk) and Barry Taylor (barry.taylor@bl.uk) know if you wish to  attend. 

Vignette 10003.w.4.
Vignette from Cornelio Desimoni, Nuovi studi sull'Atlante Luxoro (Genoa, 1869) 10003.w.4.

 

01 April 2018

Public Passions: the Oberammergau Passion Play

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The tradition of Easter Passion Plays, re-enacting the Biblical story of Jesus’s last days, crucifixion and resurrection, dates back to the Middle Ages, but the world’s most famous Passion Play, performed once every decade in the Bavarian village of Oberammergau, has its origins in the 17th century.

Oberammergau theatre
Oberammergau and its Passion-Play theatre in 1890. From John P. Jackson, Album of the Passion-Play at Ober-Ammergau ... (Munich, 1891) 1871.d.24

During a plague epidemic in 1633 the villagers swore an oath to re-enact the Passion every ten years if they were spared from further deaths. The death-toll allegedly fell to nothing and in 1634 the villagers duly staged their play for the first time. The regular performance year was later moved to the last year of each decade.

Script and Programme
Opening of the oldest surviving version of the script (1662), and a programme for the 1780 performance. Reproduced in Norbert Jaron and Bärbel Rudin, Das Oberammergauer Passionsspiel: eine Chronik in Bildern (Dortmund, 1984) YV.1987.a.740.

The play combines the action of the Passion story with sung choruses and tableaux of Old Testament scenes interpreted as prefigurations of the life of Jesus. As Oberammergau had no existing Passion play tradition, the first play-text was put together from various sources. In its first two centuries it underwent various revisions and rewrites, reaching its longest-lasting form in 1860 in a version by the local priest, Joseph Alois Daisenberger.

Oberammergau Devrient Theatre
‘Jacob receives Joseph’s bloodstained coat’. Tableau from a performance in 1850. Illustration by Friedrich Pecht from, Eduard Devrient, Das Passionsschauspiel in Oberammergau und seine Bedeutung für die neue Zeit (Leipzig, 1851). 11746.l.16.

In the mid-19th century, the Oberammergau Passion Play began to attract wider attention, as more visitors from outside began to attend the performaces and to publish accounts of their impressions. One such account of the 1850 play by the actor Eduard Devrient was particularly influential in establishing the play not just as a moving religious experience but also as an expression of the ‘German national spirit’.

Oberammergau Devrient 11746.l.16.
Cover of Devrient’s, Das Passionsschauspiel in Oberammergau ...

It was the former aspect (as well as improvements to transport and the development of international tourism) that began to draw ‘pilgrims’ from beyond Germany to the play. Even those prepared to be cynical, fearing crude performances by uneducated peasants, tended to find themselves overwhelmed by religious feeling. Gerard Molloy, writing about the performances of 1871 (the regular cycle had been disrupted by the Franco-Prussian War), quotes a number of emotional responses from British visitors, including a woman who ‘forgot all but the wonderful story of our salvation and cried all day.’ A less overwrought account is found in Jerome K. Jerome’s Diary of a Pilgrimage (Bristol, 1891; 12331.i.36.), which combines a comical description of the author’s journey to Oberammergau in 1890 with a fairly straight discussion of the play itself.

Oberammergau Blessing 1871
Jesus (played by Josef Mayr) blessing John (Johannes Zwink) and Peter (Jakob Hett) in the 1871 production. From Gerard Molloy, The Passion Play at Ober-Ammergau, in the summer of 1871 (London, 1872) RB.23.a.26273.

As the play’s international popularity grew, guidebooks and programmes began to appear, featuring not only details of the performances but also advertisements for local hotels, restaurants and shops, and advice about places to visit nearby. The play was becoming a focus for package holidays and an important part of the local economy.

Programmes
Guidebooks to Oberammergau and the Passion Play from 1880 (10240.e.3), 1900 (11791.c.55) and 1930 (11795.p.21.)

Some of the local performers also began to enjoy a degree of celebrity. Their portraits featured in many accounts, and one lavish souvenir volume of the 1890 performances even includes pictures of the principal performers’ houses. Anton Lang who played Jesus from 1900-1920 published an autobiography which ran to two editions. But despite all the publicity and the commercial aspect of the festival, the people of Oberammergau continued (and continue) to see the play first and foremost as a solemn religious undertaking.

Oberammergau portraits
Above: Portraits of the principal performers in 1890, from John P. Jackson, Album of the Passion-Play; Below: Title-page of Anton Lang, Aus meinem Leben (Munich, 1938) 10710.a.47, with a portrait of Lang in the character of Jesus

Oberammergau Land biog

In 1934 additional performances of the play took place. These marked the 300th anniversary of the original production, but were also used by Germany’s new Nazi rulers to link the play and Devrient’s conception of its ‘German national spirit’ with their own regime, as the introduction to the 1934 edition of the play-text makes clear, speaking of ‘the fortune of a new life which unites us all in our race’ and ‘the suppression of the antichristian powers in our fatherland’.

Oberammergau 1934
Title-page and frontispiece from the official 1934 play-text, Das Passions-Spiel in Oberammergau (Munich, 1934)
  11749.aa.12.

One feature of the play that particularly appealed to the Nazis was the strongly anti-semitic slant of the text. This troubling aspect was highlighted as early as 1901 in a book by Joseph Krauskopf, who had seen the play in 1900 and was shocked and angered at ‘seeing one gross misrepresentation of the Jewish people after the other’.

Oberammergau Krauskopf
Title-page and frontispiece portrait from Joseph Krauskopf, A Rabbi’s Impressions of the Oberammergau Passion Play ( Philadelphia, 1901.) 011795.aaa.4. Text available online at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/rio/index.htm

Astonishingly, however, even after 1945 the issue of antisemitism was not addressed for some decades, in spite of growing international complaints and a partial boycott of the 1970 performances in protest. Although the play had a history of being revised and rewritten, Daisenberger’s 1860 text had somehow acquired a canonical status which the organisers were obstinately unwilling to challenge, and it was used more or less unchanged until the 1980s. It was only in the following decade that Oberammergau began seriously to reconsider the play’s depiction of Jews and Judaism. Change has been gradual, but recent directors have worked with both Jewish and Catholic experts to create a script and presentation more in keeping with a modern understanding of the New Testament story, and in particular to remind audiences that Jesus himself was Jewish.

How well these challenges have been met will be apparent when the play is next performed in 2020. It is to be hoped that this remarkable , nearly 400-year-old tradition of community performance can survive in a form fitted to our times, to be appreciated by religious and secular audiences of all backgrounds alike.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Further reading:

The Oberammergau passion play : essays on the 2010 performance and the centuries-long tradition, edited by Kevin J. Wetmore (Jefferson NC, 2017) [Awaiting shelfmark]

Tomas Dashuber, Ecce Homo: die Entstehung des Oberammergauer Passionsspiels (Munich, 2000) LB.31.b.20379

James Shapiro, Oberammergau: the troubling story of the world's most famous Passion play (London, 2000) YC.2000.a.8555.

Roland Kaltenegger, Oberammergau und die Passionsspiele 1634-1984 (Munich, 1984) YV.1987.b.1758

05 February 2018

10,315 x 2: the days of and after the Berlin Wall

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5 February 2018 marks a curious anniversary: the date on which the Berlin Wall has been down for as long it stood. There were 10,315 days between 13 August 1961, when the first breezeblock-and-barbed-wire barriers appeared, and 9 November 1989 when crossing-points were opened and hundreds of East Berliners headed into the west of the city. Of course, the wall did not completely disappear until some months later, but after 9 November it would never again divide the city as it had for 28 years.

Bornholmer Strasse memorial plaque
Commemorative plaque at Bornholmer Strasse in Berlin, where the wall was first opened on 9 November 1989 (photograph by Susan Reed)

The British Library’s collections reflect the history of the Wall from its first appearance to its fall and its legacy, in academic studies, fiction and popular non-fiction, pictorial works, and more. We have a copy of one of the earliest collections of documentary photographs, Wolfdietrich Schurre’s Die Mauer des 13. August (Berlin, 1962; YA.1991.b.7307). This already shows the human cost of the Wall: families attempting to communicate across ever-rising barriers, and people climbing or leaping from houses on the eastern side to reach the west.

  Mauer Neues Deutschland
Headline from the official East German newspaper Neues Deutschland, 14 August 1961, (MFM.MF538H) describing the erection of the initial barriers the previous day as ‘measures for the protecion of peace and the security of the German Democratic Republic’

The Wall’s early years are also captured in the 2011 exhibition catalogue, Aus anderer Sicht, which contains official photographs taken for the East German authorities. Some are accompanied by short excerpts from the logbooks of East German border guards, ranging from the almost comical (such as a drunken westerner yelling ‘Happy Christmas’ from a viewing platform) to the grim and tragic: the deaths of would-be escapees.

Mauer aus anderer Sicht
Cover of  Annett Gröschner/Arwed Messmer (eds.) Aus anderer Sicht: die frühe Berliner Mauer = The other view : the early Berlin Wall (Ostfildern, 2011) YD.2012.b.142

The death toll at the Wall was notorious. A 1962 West German government report on the ‘violations of human rights, illegal acts and incidents’ in Berlin since the building of the wall already contains a long list of ‘homicidal crimes’ and other ‘deaths caused by the sealing-off measures’. A recent biographical handbook, The Victims at the Berlin Wall (Berlin, 2011; YC.2012.a.10023) links 136 deaths directly to the Wall – those killed or fatally wounded at or near the actual structure. But the editors point out that other deaths can also be connected more indirectly to the Wall, including many people who suffered fatal heart attacks during interrogation at checkpoints.

Mauer Greater Berlin Map
Map of Berlin showing the year-old wall and the places where related deaths had occurred since 13 August 1961, from Violations of human rights, illegal acts and incidents at the Sector border in Berlin since the building of the wall ... (Bonn, 1962) SF.583/444

To set against the terrible stories of the Wall’s dead, western writers were also keen to present a more optimistic narrative of successful escapes from East Berlin. Again, this began early: in their 1962 book The Berlin Wall, which otherwise emphasises the horrors of the situation, Deane and David Heller include stories and pictures of people who had managed to flee to the west.

Mauer tunnels
A successful and an unsuccessful attempt to escape from East Berlin by tunelling, from  Deane and David Heller, The Berlin Wall (London, 1962)

In the east, escape stories were officially spun very differently (if they were mentioned at all), as betrayals of the state. But they also circulated underground in their western guise as tales of hope, as illustrated by a Polish samizdat edition of a collection of true escape stories originally published in the UK.

Mauer Escape from Berlin samizdat Sol.202s
Anthony Kemp, Uciec z Berlina (Warsaw, 1988) Sol.202s. A samizdat edition of Escape from Berlin (London, 1987) YC.1987.b.5544

As well as dramatic true stories, there was plenty of fiction set around the Wall. German writers on both sides looked at the personal and social implications of a divided city in works such as Christa Wolf’s Der geteilte Himmel (Berlin, 1964; X.908/7267) or Peter Schneider’s Der Mauerspringer (Darmstadt, 1982; X.950/22618). In the English-speaking world, the Wall was more often a backdrop for tales of international espionage and Cold War tensions, as in the works of John le Carré and Len Deighton.

On its western side the Wall became a canvas for numerous graffiti artists, and as graffiti became more recognised as an art form, photographic books about ‘wall art’ began to appear, as well as books of art inspired by the Wall such as Maler interpretieren die Mauer (Berlin, 1985; YA.1994.b.1134) based on the collections of the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie Museum, or Peter Klasen’s Le mur de Berlin (Angers, 1988; LB.37.a.30).

Mauer Graffiti
Graffiti on the western side of the Wall, 1986. (Picture by Nancy Wong from Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0])

The fall of the Wall and the rapid political and social changes that followed led to a wave of celebratory publications, most of them richly illustrated. Perhaps the most fascinating, though far from the most lavish, in our collections is an A4 pamphlet of short pieces by pupils from a West Berlin school, describing their memories of 9-12 November 1989 and illustrated with photographs taken around Berlin later in the month. Although the individual texts and pictures are unattributed, the children’s signed forenames are reproduced on the back cover.

Mauer 89 front coverFront and back covers of Mauer 89 (Berlin, 1989) YA.1992.b.888

Mauer 89 back cover

The initial desire of Berliners after 1989 was to destroy the Wall completely. Few traces remain today, and in many places the landscape has changed so much that it is impossible to tell where the border once lay. More recently attitudes have changed and attempts have been made to preserve surviving traces and to create memorials to the Wall, its victims and the suffering it caused. Meanwhile, small fragments of the Wall (of increasingly dubious authenticity 28 years on) are still sold to tourists in Berlin, and large sections are preserved all over the world. The book Where in the World is the Berlin Wall? (Berlin, 2014; YD.2015.a.252) lists their locations.

Our fascination with the Berlin Wall has long outlasted the structure itself. Books of all kinds continue to appear about it, and every anniversary of its rise or fall creates new interest and brings new publications. Our collections will no doubt continue to grow accordingly.

 Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

To discover more about our collections relating to the Berlin Wall, see our online catalogue.

02 January 2018

Polish mathematicians and cracking the Enigma

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For centuries all cryptosystems had a linguistic orientation. However after the First World War cryptography entered the era of mechanisation and as a result cipher machines were built with the set of rotors as a primary component. They were used for encrypting and decrypting secret messages. To break their ciphers mathematical knowledge was needed.

The Enigma, the most famous example of the cipher machine, was created by the Germans at the end of the First World War. It was used for commercial and military purposes, although the two versions differ significantly. In the late 1920s Germany had the most sophisticated communications in the world. The British, French and Americans tried to tackle the Enigma cipher but failed to break it. One country, however, desperate to monitor German secret messages, achieved considerable results. This was Poland.

Sandwiched between two powerful neighbours, Soviet Union to the east and Germany to the west, Poland, a newly-created state after the First World War, was in great need of finding a way to ensure her security. The success of the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1920 was due to intelligence activities in which Polish cryptographers played a crucial role. To continue the work on cryptology seemed to be an obvious choice.

Enigma Memorial
Memorial at Bletchley Park commemorating three Polish mathematicians. (Photo by Magda Szkuta)

Polish Intelligence was successful in cracking the German military ciphers until the German cryptograms began to change in 1926. The Poles quickly realized that they were machine-enciphered and identified the machine as the Enigma. A commercial model purchased by the Polish Cipher Bureau was however different from the German military Enigma. Unable to decipher military messages and to reconstruct the machine they decided to turn to a mathematical approach. In 1932 a team of young mathematicians from the University of Poznań was set up. Among them were the main code breakers Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski. It was Rejewski who first cracked the Enigma code, in only ten weeks. His excellent mathematical education, fluent command of German, exceptional intuition and completion of a course in cryptology, together with the intelligence information he received from the French Secret Service, led to his success. The first messages were deciphered as early as Christmas 1932.

Enigma Rejewski

Cover of Z.J. Kapera, Marian Rejewski: the man who defeated Enigma. (Krakow, 2013) YD.2014.a.1832

Rejewski was now joined by Różycki and Zygalski. Their contributions included the Różycki clock and the Zygalski sheets Subsequently the Poles were able to replicate the Enigma machine and design mechanical devices which allowed them to break the Enigma code. A crucial device which made it possible to reconstruct daily codes in two hours was the cyclometer. It was substantially developed by Alan Turing in the Second World War. In 1938 the German cryptographers increased Enigma’s security and the Poles’ techniques no longer worked. There were no resources to carry out further work either. By that time the Polish cryptographers had read about 75% of intercepted German Radio communications. This was kept strictly confidential.

Enigma Zygalski

Cover of Z.J. Kapera, The triumph of Zygalski’s sheets: the Polish Enigma in the early 1940. (Kraków, 2015). YD.2016.a.4085

In July 1939, with the German invasion of Poland imminent, the Poles invited French and British code breakers for a secret meeting near Warsaw. The Polish team disclosed their Enigma results and handed their allies-to-be copies of the Enigma machine. On 1 September the war broke out. The three genius mathematicians fled Poland and later joined the French cryptographers in France. The knowledge they had provided considerably contributed to the cracking of the more complicated wartime Enigma codes used by the Germans. This happened at Bletchley Park. The breaking of Enigma had a significant impact on the course of the Second World War. It is believed that it shortened the war by two years and saved countless lives.

An original Enigma machine is currently on display in the British Library outside the Alan Turing Institute.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further reading:

David Kahn, Seizing the Enigma (London, 2010). YC.2011.a.1687

Frank Carter, The first breaking of Enigma: some of the pioneering techniques developed by the Polish Cipher Bureau (Milton Keynes, 2008). YK.2010.a.35748

 Simon Singh, The Code Book (London, 1999). YC.1999.b.8756

Enigma Machine
The Enigma Machine on display in the Library (Photo by Clare Kendall)

 

20 December 2017

‘Mild measures are of no use’: The Danish Church Order (1537), Doctor Pomeranus, and Henry VIII

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Henry VIII was very well-read in theology and, according to J.P. Carley, ‘for a brief time he seemed sympathetic to Martin Luther’ (Carley, p. xxviii) before reacting against reformist theology in the famous Assertio septem sacramentorum aduersus M. Lutherum (1521). A copy of the latter (Rome, 1521; G.1210) can be seen in the current ‘Martin Luther’ exhibition in the Treasures Gallery. In the Assertio, the King defends the seven sacraments against Luther’s charges.

In the same period, Christian II, King of Denmark-Norway, also reflected on Luther’s incendiary ideas and, in conversation with Erasmus, is supposed to have expressed quite a different view to Henry VIII and to Erasmus himself: ‘Mild measures are of no use; the remedies that give the whole body a good shaking are the best and surest’. It was King Christian III who eventually went on to establish Lutheranism as the state religion of Denmark-Norway in 1537 and the church order that made that process official is part of the BL’s collections.

Portrait Christian III

Woodcut portrait of Christian III in Ordinatio Ecclesiastica Regnorum Daniæ… (Copenhagen, 1537), C.45.a.10(2), accompanying his introductory statement.

 Ordinatio Ecclesiastica Regnorum Daniæ et Norwegia et Ducatuum, Sleswicensis, Holtsatiæ etcet. (C.45.a.10(2)) was written by Johannes Bugenhagen, the Pomeranian reformer who was greatly responsible for bringing the Protestant Reformation to Northern Germany and Scandinavia, writing many a church order along the way. This church order appeared first in this Latin version and later in Danish (1539). The present copy was presented to Henry VIII with a manuscript note by “Doctor Pommeranus”, a name referring to Bugenhagen’s birth place. The note reads, ‘Inclyto regi Anglie etc. Hērico Octavo. doctor pommeranus.’

Ordinatio TitleTitle page of Ordinatio Ecclesiastica Regnorum Daniæ … with manuscript note by Bugenhagen

This volume brings together the 1537 church order with the 1538 Instructio Visitationis Saxonicȩ, ad Ecclesiarum Pastores, de doctrina Christiana, also translated by Bugenhagen with an identical presentation note to Henry VIII.

Instructio
 Title page Instructio Visitationis Saxonicȩ… (Roskilde, 1538) C.45.a.10(1), with the manuscript note cut off at the bottom

So it can be said that Henry VIII had a ‘continued personal engagement with [the work of] Luther’ (Carley, xxx) and, of course, with the conviction that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was invalid, Henry VIII was increasingly open to anti-Roman Catholic ideas. Carley suggests that ‘the copy of Johannes Bugenhagen’s Pia et uere catholica et consentiens ueteri ecclesiae ordinatio given to Henry was probably used in turn by [Thomas] Cranmer’ (Carley, li). The Pia et euere catholica is embedded as a continuation of the above church order (from f. lxvii verso).

Pia et uere catholica

Title page of Johannes Bugenhagen, Pia et uere catholica et consentiens ueteri ecclesiae ordination, C.45.a.10(2)

From the Assertio on display in the Treasures Gallery, to the Ordinatio Ecclesiastica Regnorum Daniæ …, we see represented in the early writing and the library of Henry VIII the whole transition from Catholicism to Protestantism, away from Rome to be more at home in the North (via Denmark perhaps!).

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further Reading

R. Nisbet Bain, Scandinavia: a political history of Denmark, Norway and Sweden from 1513 to 1900 (Cambridge, 1905/2013) YC.2016.a.2161

J. P. Carley, The Libraries of King Henry VIII (London, 2000), 2719.k.2879

Kirkeordinansen 1537/39 [Introduction and notes from Martin Schwarz Lausten] (Odense, 1989), YA.1991.a.96

12 December 2017

Christmas with the Luthers

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There is an enduring story that Martin Luther invented the Christmas tree. The usual version is something along the following lines: Luther was walking home close to Christmas and, inspired by the starry sky, brought a small fir tree into the house and decorated it with candles to remind his children of the stars shining over Bethlehem when Christ was born.

Luther's Christmas Tree
A 19th-century American Lutheran tract, T. Stork, Luther’s Christmas Tree (Philadelphia, 1855) 4887.aa.61

In fact it’s pretty certain that Luther had nothing to do with Christmas trees. There’s no mention of such a thing in his letters or Table Talk, or in biographical accounts by his contemporaries. The popular association seems to go back to an engraving of 1843 by Carl August Schwerdgeburth (below) showing the Luther family gathered round a tree. As described in an earlier post, 19th-century pictures of Luther’s family life often reflected their own times as much as his, and a tree was a definite fixture of a German Christmas by the 1840s – although not in the 16th century.

Luther Schwerdgeburth

Schwerdgeburth’s picture was widely reproduced and much imitated, and no doubt the growing visual association of Luther with an anachronistic Christmas tree led to the story that he invented the tradition.

Luther at Christmas 4885.f.14.
Another anachronistic Christmas Tree, picture by Gustav König from Heinrich Gelzer, Martin Luther, der deutsche Reformator (Hamburg, 1847-51) 4885.f.13. 

However, Luther did have a hand in another German Christmas tradition: the giving of gifts on Christmas Eve. Although there is some evidence that he and his family continued the established custom of giving small presents on the feast of St Nicholas (6 December), Luther wanted to make the nativity and the infant Jesus the focus of Christmas celebrations. Thus he encouraged making Christmas Eve the principal day for gift-giving and identified the Christkind (Christ-Child) as the gift bearer. Father Christmas (Der Weihnachtsmann) has taken over the role in some German households today, but in others the Christkind still brings the children their presents. (And German children still get gifts from St Nicholas on 6 December as well.)

Vom Hhimmel hoch 2
‘Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her’, from  Gesangbuch, darinn begriffen sind, die aller fürnemisten und besten Psalmen, Geistliche Lieder und Chorgeseng ... [A facsimile of the ‘Grosses Strassburger Gesangbuch’ of 1541] (Stuttgart, 1953). 3438.p.1.

It is said that Luther wrote his Christmas hymn, ‘Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her’ (‘From heaven above to earth I come’) for a family Christmas Eve celebration in 1535. The song reflects the angel’s message to the shepherds from the nativity story, and according to at least one 19th-century account, it was first performed to the family by a singer dressed as an angel. In the accompanying picture (below) Luther looks oddly fierce and the children rather frightened; I assume this is unintentional, as the text praises Luther as family man, poet and musician. Interestingly, there’s no tree in sight here.

Luther at Christmas 4887.g.3
‘Christmas Eve 1535 at Luther’s house’. Picture by Eduard Kaempffer from Franz Fauth, Dr. Martin Luthers Leben, dem deutschen Volke erzählt (Leipzig, 1897) 4887.g.3.

Unlike many German hymns and carols, ‘Vom Himmel hoch…’ has never really caught on in Britain, but Luther may have contributed to a German carol that is still popular here. The macaronic ‘In dulci jubilo’ dates back to the 14th century, but an additional verse about God’s grace to sinners was added in the 16th century and is often ascribed to Luther.

Christmas with the Luthers probably wasn’t quite as 19th-century artists and biographers liked to imagine it, but was clearly a happy time: one of Luther’s students once described him as being ‘very jocund’ on Christmas Eve. We hope that you all will be too, and throughout the season.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

04 December 2017

Martin Luther, family man

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In 1525 the Protestant reformer Martin Luther married a former nun, Katharina von Bora. The couple had six children, four of whom survived into adulthood. Their household was a hospitable one: they also took in the orphaned children of relatives,  and regularly offered a home to Luther’s friends, colleagues and students.

It became increasingly common, especially in the 19th century, to depict the Luthers and their family as an ideal of clerical marriage and the Christian home. Illustrations to popular biographies show Luther in the bosom of his family, often at the same time reflecting contemporary mores, as in the examples below. In the first, the furnishings of the house and the dress and attitudes of the figures owe as much to early 19th century ‘Biedermeier’ period as to the reality of the 15th century, while in the second, from an 1905 publication, a positively Dickensian Luther beams over his brood.

Luther paterfamilias 1372.k.5
Luther and his family. Above, from Christian Franz Gottlieb Stang, Martin Luther. Sein Leben und Wirken (Stuttgart, 1839) 1372.k.5; Below from M. Wartburger, Martin Luther: Lebensgeschichte des Reformators (Berlin, 1905) 4887.f.17.

Luther and family 4887.f.17

However idealised – or occasionally saccharine – such pictures might be, they do reflect a certain reality. Luther took much pleasure from family life and his letters show that he was an observant, affectionate and proud father. There are touching descriptions of his grief over the deaths of his daughters Elisabeth (in infancy) and Magdalena (aged 13). He was, of course, a man of his times, who believed in the necessity of firm discipline and corporal punishment in child-rearing, but he recognised that the kind of exaggerated beatings he had received as a child for small transgressions, both at home and at school, were counter-productive, and that punishment should be tempered with rewards.

A often-quoted example of Luther’s paternal affection is a letter that he wrote to his eldest son Hans (‘Hänschen’) in 1530 from Coburg. Hans had recently started lessons at home and Luther was pleased to hear that he was working hard. He goes on to describe:

… a pretty and cheerful garden, where there are many children. They wear little golden coats, and gather beautiful apples and pears, cherries and plums under the trees; they sing and run about and are happy. They have lovely ponies, with golden bridles and silver saddles. I asked the owner of the garden whose the children were. And he said, “They are the children who love to pray and to learn and are good.” Then I said, “My dear sir, I also have a son, called Hänschen Luther: could he come into the garden too …?” The man said, “If he loves to pray and to learn and is good, then he too may come into the garden, and Lippus and Jost ; and if they all come together, they can play on fifes, drums and lutes, and all kinds of instruments, and dance, and shoot with little crossbows.” He then showed me a beautiful lawn in the garden, prepared for dancing, where a great many golden fifes and drums and silver crossbows were hanging.

(You can read the original here. ‘Lippus and Jost’ were the sons of Luther’s fellow-reformers Philipp Melanchthon and Justus Jonas.)

The letter’s vision of a ‘children’s paradise’ shows that Luther had a good idea of what might appeal to a little boy, and that he wanted to encourage Hans with kindness rather threats. However, Hans was only four years old, and I can’t help thinking that he would have been too young to understand this delightful vision as a metaphor for the heavenly rewards of learning and piety and that Luther’s good intentions may have backfired. Did the little boy sit down to his lessons every day hoping for the actual reward of a visit to the enchanted garden described in the letter, only to be disappointed by the realities of early modern education and disillusioned by his father’s apparent deception?

Luther goes to school 4885.f.14
The realities of early modern education? This 19th-century picture by Gustav König imagines Martin Luther being taken to school for the first tine by his own father. The teacher holds a switch and a boy who has just been beaten sobs behind the chair. From Heinrich Gelzer and Gustav König, Dr Martin Luther der deutsche Reformator (Hamburg, 1847-51) 4885.f.13.

As Hans grew older he tended to show a lack of application in his studies and lapses in his behaviour that concerned and sometimes angered his father. I wouldn’t for a moment argue that this was all the result of childhood trauma caused by a lack of ponies and golden fifes but perhaps a little bit of iron had entered into his soul when he realised that these things were not literally going to come his way. (In fairness to Luther, however, I should point out that he did bring Hans the very real gift of sweetmeats back from Coburg, which may have made a greater impression than the letter.)

Hans made good in the end; he settled to his studies and went on to become a lawyer – appropriately enough the career that his paternal grandfather and namesake had originally intended for Luther himself. He never had a son of his own, so we don’t know how if he would have used his father’s method of encouraging a little boy to study, pray and be good.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Our free display, Martin Luther: 500 Years of Reformation, continues in the British Library Treasures Gallery until 4 February 2018.

23 November 2017

Exhibiting Martin Luther – then and now

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Our current Treasures Gallery display focuses on Martin Luther to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. But this is not the first time that our holdings have been showcased for a Luther-related anniversary.

In 1883, George Bullen, Keeper of the Department of Printed Books in the then British Museum Library, organised an exhibition to mark the 400th anniversary of Luther’s birth. In his introduction to the short accompanying catalogue (‘price twopence’), he notes that the anniversary celebrations in Germany had ‘attracted … much notice and sympathy in this country’ and says that a suggestion for an exhibition ‘formed of the numerous books, pamphlets and broadsides contained in the Museum’ had been ‘cordially adopted’ by senior staff there.

BML 1883
Title-page of the 1883 exhibition catalogue (London, 1883) 4999.bbb.17

Looking at the catalogue, it’s gratifying to know that, 134 years later, the team behind our display made selected many of the same items to exhibit as Bullen and his colleagues did. Of course it’s also inevitable since some items were such obvious choices: the 95 theses, the Indulgence that triggered them, the Papal Bull condemning Luther, the ‘September Testament’, and Luther’s first complete German Bible. A surprising omission in 1883 was Luther’s response to criticisms of his Bible translation, the Sendbrief von Dolmetschen – perhaps the more so since Bullen did show Hieronymus Emser’s attack on Luther’s translation (pictured below).

Emser Auss was Grund
Hieronymus Emser, Auss was grund unnd ursach Luthers dolmatschung uber das nawe testament dem gemeinē man billich vorbotten worden sey (Leipzig, [1523]; 1012.c.15).

Two other choices we shared were an edition of Henry VIII’s Assertio septem sacramentorum and a book-binding stamped with portraits of Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, but those currently on display are definitely not the same as the ones shown in 1883: we have a Rome edition of the Assertio while Bullen chose a London one, and the binding we are displaying comes from the collection of Henry Davis which was bequeathed to the British Library in 1977.

Bullen had more space than our modest four cases: his exhibition was mounted in the Grenville Library, to the right of the Museum’s entrance hall (now a gift shop), where he was able to show a wider range of items. In some cases these helped add context to other exhibits. For example there were copies of other writings against indulgences alongside the 95 theses, including German-language pamphlets which took Luther’s arguments to a wider audience. Likewise the Assertio septem sacramentorum was accompanied by the pamphlet De Captivitate Babylonica Ecclesiae which inspired Henry’s response, and by Luther’s own reply to the Assertio.

On Aplass c.37.e.49
On Aplas von Rom kan man wol selig werden
([Augsburg, 1520?]) 3906.b.55. A German pamphlet against indulgences, with a portrait of Luther on the title-page. 

The 1883 exhibiton also had space for more Bibles, including some of some of the first sections of Luther’s Old Testament to be printed, and the splendid Bible of 1541 with manuscript inscriptions by Luther, Philipp Melanchthon and other reformers.

Luther inscription 679.i.15
Inscription in Luther’s hand, with the opening of Psalm 23 and four lines of commentary. From the first volume of Biblia, das ist, die gantze Heilige Schrift (Wittenberg, 1541) 679.i.15

Other exhibits from 1883 touch on areas we couldn’t accommodate, including pamphlets by Luther on theological topics, works of scriptural exegesis, and copies of his services for baptism and the mass. Bullen also found room for some manuscript letters, including one from Luther to Thomas Cromwell (MS Harley 6989, f.56) which had in fact been on my initial longlist but missed the final cut.

Auslegung Deutsch 3905.bbb.22.

Examples of items shown in 1883 but not in 2017. Above: Martin Luther, Auslegung Deutsch des Vatter Unser ... (Leipzig, 1519) 3905.bbb.22, an exegiesis of the Lord’s prayer for German-speaking lay people. Below: Martin Luther, Vom Eelichen Leben (Wittenberg, 1522) 3905.dd.76, Luther’s treatise on marriage.

Vom Eelichen Leben 3905.dd.76

One theme which we chose to feature and Bullen did not was pro-and anti-Lutheran visual propaganda, such as the Passional Christi und Antichristi ([Wittenberg, 1521]; C.53.c.3.) which compares the perceived corruption of the papcy with the life of Jesus, or Thomas Murner’s attack on Luther, Von dem grossen Lutherischen Narren. Perhaps these were seen as too frivolous or too crude for contemporary tastes. A number of pictures from the Department of Prints and Drawings were shown, but these were nearly all straightforward portraits rather than propaganda prints or caricatures.

Murner Narren
Too crude for Victorian visitors? An image of Luther being stuffed into a privy, from Thomas Murner, Von dem grossen Lutherischen Narren (Strassburg, 1522) 11517.c.33. Shown in 2017 but not in 1883

I suspect that our final exhibit of a Playmobil Luther figure and a Luther rubber duck (below) would certainly have raised eyebrows in 1883, but the display then also included commemorative souvenirs, albeit in the less frivolous form of items from the Department of Coins and Medals. And placed on a table in the gallery was ‘a statuette of Luther modelled in terra-cotta by Mr Charles Martin, after Lucas Cranach’s portrait, lent for exhibition by Mr Martin.’ No doubt a more realistic and sober representation than our souvenirs, but that in itself shows how attitudes to the culture of commemoration have changed since Bullen’s day.

Duck and little luther

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

The Treasures Gallery display continues until 4 February 2018. 

31 October 2017

500 Years of Reformation

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On 31 October 1517 the Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed a document to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg containing 95 theses for academic debate. The topic was the sale of indulgences – certificates granting believers time free from purgatory – in order to fund the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Luther was angry that the money of ordinary Christians was being taken to help a wealthy church establishment pay for a lavish building project, and he condemned the idea that divine forgiveness could be bought and sold rather than coming from the believer’s true spiritual repentance.

Luther portrait
Lucas Cranach the elder, Portrait of Martin Luther as a monk. Detail from the frontispiece of Luther's pamphlet De Captivitate Babylonica Ecclesiæ (Strassburg, 1520) 697.h.21, 

This has come to be seen as the start of the Protestant Reformation that fractured the religious unity of Western Europe and changed the way many Christians viewed and practised their faith. Although many historians today doubt that Luther actually did nail his theses to the church door on this or any other date, let alone in the dramatic public gesture often depicted in later images, 31 October has been celebrated for centuries as the birthday of the Reformation and in this fifth centenary year commemorations have been held all over the world.

Luther theses
An idealised 19th-century image by Gustav König of Luther posting the 95 theses, from  Dr Martin Luther der deutsche Reformator (Hamburg, 1847-51) 4885.f.13. 

The British Library is playing its modest part with a display in our Treasures Gallery looking at Luther and his impact, which opened by happy coincidence on 31 October and runs until 4 February 2018. Exhibits include an original printing of the 95 theses (C.18.d.12.) and a copy of the indulgence that triggered Luther to write them (C.18.b.18.).

95 Theses Latin
The 95 Theses, ‘Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum’. Copy printed in Nuremberg in 1517. C.18.d.12.

The huge debate and controversy stirred by the Reformation is illustrated by some of the polemical pamphlets of the time both for and against Luther. One of the most famous is Passional Christi und Antichristi, with woodcuts by Lucas Cranach the elder. The book compares the life of Christ and the perceived corruption of the Papacy, showing for example Christ’s explulsion of moneylenders from the temple contrasted with the Pope raking in money from the sale of indulgences. But Luther’s opponents could attack him with equal force. In keeping with the scatalogical humour of the age, Thomas Murner’s attack on Luther, Von dem grossen Lutherischen Narren (Strassburg, 1522; 11517.c.33) includes a caricature of Luther being pushed into a privy.

Christ und Antichrist
Christ and the moneylenders compared with the Pope and indulgence-sellers. Woodcuts by Cranach the elder from Passional Christi und Antichristi ([Wittenberg, 1521])  C.53.c.3.

In Germany, Luther is as celebrated for his contribution to the language through his Bible translation as for his influence on religious life. We show copies of his first translations of the New Testament and of the whole Bible, the latter in a copy with beautifully hand-coloured woodcuts.

1534 Bible tp and coat of arms
Hand-coloured title-page from the first complete edition of Luther’s Bible translation (Wittenberg, 1534) 1.b.9.

When his translations came under attack, Luther defended them in an open letter, the Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen, where he famously stated the need to listen to the everyday speech of ordinary people – ‘the man in the marketplace, the mother in the house, the children in the street’ – to create a vernacular Bible that would truly speak to them. His translation influenced William Tyndale who wanted to create an English Bible that ‘the boy that driveth the plough’ could read and understand. However, the copy of Tyndale’s New Testament which we are displaying to represent that influence belonged to someone much at the other end of the social scale: Queen Anne Boleyn.

Tyndale titlepage
Illuminated title-page from Anne Boleyn’s copy of  The newe Testament, dylygently corrected and compared with the Greke by Willyam Tindale... (Antwerp, 1534) C.23.a.21.

This Bible is not the only English connection on display. We also show a copy of Henry VIII’s 1521 attack on Luther, Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Rome, 1521; G.1210). This earned him the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ from Pope Leo X – a title he kept for himself as head of the English Church when he broke away from Rome over a decade later. We also show a later and happier example of Luther in England: a history of St George’s German Lutheran Church in the East End of London, established for the many German immigrants who came to London in the 18th and 19th centuries. The copy on display belonged to the Church’s own library which the British Library acquired in 1997.

Kirchen-Geschichte
Title-page of Johann Gottlieb Burckhardt, Kirchen-Geschichte der deutschen Gemeinden in London (Tübingen, 1798) RB.23.a.16354. This copy, from the church’s library was  originally presented to the Pastor of St George’s Lutheran church in Whitechapel by the church organist.

The language of Luther’s Bible and the spread of Lutheran churches around the world are only a part of his legacy. Luther’s belief in the importance of music in Christian worship helped to create traditions of congregational hymn-singing and of church music which have influenced church music of many denominations and enriched the canon of Western classical music, in particular through the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Luther’s most famous hymn ‘Ein Feste Burg’ is shown in an early edition along with the manuscript of one of Bach’s cantatas written for the Lutheran church of St Thomas in Leipzig.

Zweig MS 1 f3r
Manuscript page from Bach’s Cantata for the 19th Sunday after Trinity, ‘Wo soll ich fliehen hin?’ (1724). Zweig MS 1

To mark ‘Reformation 500’ many souvenirs of all kinds have been marketed, and we show two examples, including the Luther figure created by the toy company Playmobil, which became its best-selling figure ever. But Luther memorabilia is nothing new: in the decades immediately after his death in 1546 Luther’s image began to appear on coins, medals, ceramics and bookbindings. Our contemporary souvenirs, like this year’s Luther commemorations, are part of a long tradition.

Luther Davis 628
16th-century decorative bookbinding with a portrait of Luther, on a copy of Ius civile manuscriptorum librorum (Antwerp, 1567) Davis 628

The British Library will also be holding a Study Day on Monday 27 November looking at the 16th-Century Reformation outside Germany. Details and booking information can be found here. On the same day the British Museum and Library Singers will be performing a free lunchtime concert of music from and inspired by the Reformation in the Library’s entrance hall.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies


Luther Zweig MS 200 detail
Luther’s signature from Zweig MS 200, a collection of handwritten dedications by Luther and other reformers.