05 July 2023
On 13 July 2023 the British Library will host the 5th Annual Graham Nattrass Lecture, co-organised with the German Studies Library Group. The theme of this year’s lecture, to be given by Dr Alexandra Lloyd of Oxford University, is the anti-Nazi resistance group Die Weisse Rose (The White Rose); 2023 marks the 80th anniversary of the arrest and execution of key members of the group.
Alexandra Lloyd, Defying Hitler: the White Rose Pamphlets (Oxford, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark. The cover photograph shows (l.-r.) Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst
Die Weisse Rose was formed in the summer of 1942 by four medical students at the University of Munich – Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst and Willi Graf. Later in 1942 Hans Scholl’s sister Sophie became part of this core group after arriving in Munich to study biology and philosophy. They were also joined by one of the University’s professors, Kurt Huber.
The members of Die Weisse Rose were all disillusioned with the Nazi regime. The four medical students had been required to spend time away from their studies serving on the Eastern Front where their experience of the horrors of war and the brutality of the Nazi forces towards Russians and Jews further influenced their desire to resist. Helped by a number of supporters in Munich and other cities, the core group produced and distributed leaflets criticising the regime, exposing the murder of Jews in the east, and exhorting readers to face the truth that Germany was losing the war. They also stencilled anti-Nazi graffiti around the centre of Munich.
One of the pamphlets issued by Die Weisse Rose. Reproduced in Günther Kirchberger, Die “Weisse Rose”: studentischer Widerstand gegen Hitler in München (Munich, ) X.809/63410
All this was done, of course, at great risk both to the core group members and their supporters. Their luck held until 18 February 1943 when Hans and Sophie Scholl took copies of the group’s sixth leaflet, an appeal specifically addressed to students, to distribute at the University of Munich. After leaving piles of leaflets near lecture rooms they found they had some left over, which Sophie threw from a balcony into the building’s atrium. She was spotted by a university caretaker who was a Gestapo informant, and the Scholls were quickly cornered and arrested. Probst was arrested two days later, having been identified as the author of an unpublished leaflet found in Hans’s possession. All three were hastily tried on 22 February and executed the same day.
Arrests of other group members followed. 14 were tried in April 1943, of whom Huber, Schmorell and Graf were sentenced to death and the others to prison. Huber and Schmorell were executed on 13 July 1943; Graf was kept in prison for a further three months, and interrogated under torture, but refused to give up the names of fellow resistance members. He was executed on 12 October 1943.
Cover of the screenplay for Michael Verhoeven’s film Die Weisse Rose (Karlsruhe, 1982) X.955/2653
Although the activities of Die Weisse Rose had little immediate impact in 1942-3, in the years after the Second World War the group came to be seen as a symbol of conscientious resistance and of a Germany that refused to follow Nazism. They are admired today both for their courage in criticising the regime and for the courage with which the core members – all but Huber still in their early 20s – met their deaths. Many streets, squares and schools in Germany are named after group members, especially Hans and Sophie Scholl. There have been biographies and academic studies written, and the group has also featured in fictional retellings and in films such as Michael Verhoeven’s Die Weisse Rose (1982) and Marc Rothemund’s Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl – the Final Days; 2005).
Haydn Kaye, The Girl who Said No to the Nazis (London, 2020) YKL.2022.a.9518
Die Weisse Rose and its members are less well known outside Germany, but have featured in the British history curriculum, and have been the focus of English-language fiction such as V.S. Alexander’s The Traitor (London, 2020; ELD.DS.493979) or Haydn Kaye’s young adult novel, The Girl who Said No to the Nazis. Alexandra Lloyd, our lecturer on the 13th, has also helped raise awareness of the group through Oxford University’s White Rose Project which “aims to bring the story of the White Rose resistance group … to English-speaking audiences through research, performance, and creative translation”. We hope that the Graham Nattrass Lecture will be a part of this work.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
The Graham Nattrass Lecture takes place on Thursday 13 July at 6pm in the Foyle Suite at the British Library, with a drinks reception from 5.30pm. Attendance is free and open to all, but if you wish to attend, please let the GSLG Chair Dorothea Miehe know by email.
28 April 2023
1 April 2023 marked 68 years since the beginning of the E[thniki] O[rganosis] K[yprion] A[goniston] (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) struggle to end British colonial rule in Cyprus with the ultimate goal of achieving Enosis (union) of Cyprus with Greece.
Britain’s concession of the Ionian Islands to the newly formed Greek state in 1864, filled the Greek Orthodox Cypriots with optimism that the great power, protector of Greece, would reconfirm its support with the concession of Cyprus, as they took over the administration of the island from the Ottomans in 1878. Greek Cypriots would soon become increasingly disillusioned by the new government, realising that initial declarations in favour of Cyprus’s right to self-determination would remain empty promises.
Various internal forces disagreed as to the form the anti-colonial struggle should take, with the nationalist right opting for military action and the communist left advocating social unrest through workers’ strikes and civil demonstrations. Despite the different voices, on the night of 31 March-1 April 1955, EOKA began its first bombing attacks on various government, police and military facilities in the island’s major cities.
The EOKA struggle was officially launched with its leader Georgios Grivas’s first proclamation that circulated widely throughout the island on 1 April. Drawing from the examples of the ancient Greeks, as well as those of the 1821 Greek Revolution and the 1940 resistance to the Axis, Grivas called upon the Cypriot people to join the fight for liberation to the final victory or death.
Georgios Grivas’s first proclamation declaring the start of the EOKA liberation struggle. J/8030.d.4
The British Library holds an important collection of leaflets and pamphlets from the years 1955-1959, used by EOKA to propagate its views among its members as well as potential new recruits among the Cypriot people. This material provides valuable insight into the organisation’s operations, regularly reporting on its successes and paying tribute to those who lost their lives for the cause. On the other hand, it documents the organisation’s stance on contemporary political and socio-economic affairs both in the internal of Cyprus, as well as on the international scene.
A leaflet reporting on operations between 1-10 October 1958. J/8030.d4
A leaflet paying tribute to Kyriakos Matsis, who fell in Dikomo on 19 November 1958. J. 8030.d4
EOKA rejecting the “abomination” plan of the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and the last colonial Governor of Cyprus Hugh Foot for a solution to the Cyprus issue. J/8030.d6
Through its leaflets EOKA often called for discretion, warning that even the most insignificant information could reach the British through their lurking agents and traitors, causing serious blows to the struggle.
A leaflet found in Kalo Chorio on 26 October 1958 recommending people to avoid chatter and gossip. J/8030.d4
A drawing of a killed fighter with the caption “A chatty person killed him! by saying that he was a member of EOKA”. J/8030.d.4
The leaflets also reveal a more extremist side to EOKA, issuing threats against dissidents and proceeding to punishments such as beating or execution of those considered as traitors.
EOKA‘s last warning against five Cypriots to discontinue their “anti-national and provocative behaviour”. J/8030.d.4
EOKA justifying the executions of Andreas Sakkas, Savvas Menoikou and Georgios Yiasoumis, who were “used as a pretext for communist P[agkypria] E[rgatiki] O[mospondia] (Pancyprian Labour Federation) to develop its anti-national activity, incited and protected by the British”. J/8030.d.4
Responsible for co-ordinating the military and political efforts was P[olitiki] E[pitropi] K[ypriakou] A[gonos] (Political Committee of the Cypriot Struggle), formed in July 1956. PEKA demanded the release of Archbishop Makarios from exile (March 1956 - April 1957) as the designated representative of the Cypriot people and the sole person authorised to negotiate the Cyprus issue.
A PEKA leaflet rejecting the Radcliffe constitutional proposals and demanding Makarios’s return to resume negotiations on the basis of self-determination. J/8030.d.2
PEKA called for passive resistance in the form of boycotting British goods, such as chocolates, alcohol, cigarettes and tobacco, soap, washing powder, fabrics, shoes and agricultural tools. Anything that could be a source of income for the British, such as the government lottery or football bets, were to be eradicated, while transactions with Greek banks, advertisements in Cypriot newspapers and exclusive use of the Greek language on signs, posters and products were strongly encouraged.
EOKA, represented here by Hercules, cuts off the multiple heads of the capitalistic British Hydra to offer prosperity to the Cypriot people, represented by Iolaus. J/8030.d.2
PEKA campaigned systematically against the attendance of British technical schools by Cypriot students, criticising the creation of technical schools in Cyprus as an attack against the institution of Greek school and a mere trick to create janissaries and servants for the British. Parents who chose to send their children to the British technical schools were characterised as ‘unworthy to be called Greeks’ and Greek Cypriots who taught there were shamed as ‘mercenaries’.
PEKA declares that “We will not sell the fate of our children to the British”. J/8030.d.2
From mid-1957, the youth of EOKA was organised in A[lkimos] N[eolaia] E[OKA] (Strong Youth of EOKA) who distributed the organisation’s leaflets, demanded Enosis through slogans on walls and student demonstrations, informed EOKA on the movements of the British forces, intercepted military equipment etc. ANE published its own monthly pamphlet Egertirion Salpisma (Reveille).
The cover of the fourth issue of ANE’s Egertirion Salpisma that circulated in March 1958. J/8030.d.2
Lydia Georgiadou, Curator, Modern Greek Collections
13 March 2023
The outbreak of revolution in Vienna in March 1848 was inevitably accompanied by a wave of revolutionary poems and songs. The lifting of press censorship made the publishing and circulation of such material easy, and some pieces enjoyed great success.
One of the first to appear in print was Ludwig August Frankl’s ‘Die Universität’, which was composed while the author was on sentry duty on the night of 14-15 March and caught the popular mood when read aloud to an audience of students the following day. Its subsequent great success was no doubt helped by the fact that many of the 8,000 copies from the first print run were handed out free. The poem was quickly reprinted in various formats both in Vienna and further afield. There was even a French translation and there were at least 19 musical settings.
Ludwig August Frankl, ‘Die Universität’ (Vienna, 1848). 1899.m.19.(205).
Frankl’s chosen topic of the role of students in the March revolution was, like press freedom itself, a popular theme for poets, but there was one older student song that also enjoyed huge popularity and was described by the Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick as “a kind of harmless student Marseillaise”.
The song in question, the ‘Fuchslied’ (‘Song of the Fox’), was originally intended to be sung at student fraternity initiation ceremonies, ‘Fuchs’ being a nickname for a student in his first semester. (A typical ceremony, complete with singing of the ‘Fuchslied’, was described by Hugo Hagendorff in an article for the magazine Der erzählende Hausfreund in 1838.) Various versions exist, but all involve the student initiate being plied with tobacco and/or alcohol until he vomits, after which he is accepted as a ‘Bursch’, a full fraternity member.
‘Das Fuchslied, oder das allgemein beliebte Studenten-Lied “Was macht der Herr Papa”’ ([Vienna, 1848.]). C.175.cc.6.(20.)
The song has no obvious political content. At a stretch, a section found in some versions about a father reading Cicero while his wife and daughter carry out various tasks for him could perhaps be read as a mild satire of bourgeois life, but since the song predates the revolution it is unlikely that there was any intended political slant to it. Some Viennese writers during the revolution added new verses and variations with a definite edge of political satire, but it was the continuing success and ubiquity of the apolitical original that gave rise to these additions.
Another odd twist is that the song’s popularity in Vienna had nothing to do with its use in the city’s own student traditions but arose from its appearance in a play by the German writer Roderich Benedix, Das bemooste Haupt (literally ‘The Mossy Head’, but the term can also refer to a ‘Perpetual Student’). The play was written in 1840 but only received its Viennese premiere in April 1848, when it swiftly achieved huge success among revolutionary students. The same work also popularised the practice of the charivari or ‘Katzenmusik’, where singing of the ‘Fuchslied’ became a regular feature.
A Viennese revolutionary charivari, from Maximilian Bach, Geschichte der Wiener Revolution im Jahre 1848 (Vienna, 1898) 9315.d.40.
Perhaps the secret of the song’s revolutionary success was that it was easy to learn, remember and adapt, and that its background lent it an aura of mischief – ideal for young men keen to cock a snook at traditional authority. Hanslick recalled hearing an escalating musical battle between students singing the ‘Fuchslied’ and a civil servant who tried to drown them out with the imperial anthem, ‘Gott erhalte unsern Kaiser’ (‘God Preserve our Emperor’). Joseph Helfert, in a survey of the literature of the Viennese revolution, describes how the ‘Fuchslied’ came to be perceived as the antithesis to the anthem, the latter supposedly representing “regression, slavery and narrow-mindedness” and the former “progress, freedom and high-mindedness”.
The song’s simple and catchy tune (similar to the English ‘A-hunting we will go’) also took on a life of its own. It was incorporated by Johann Strauss the Elder into a ‘March of the Student Legion’, first performed in April 1848, and Franz von Suppé composed a series of ‘Humorous Variations’ on it in the same year. Today it is probably best known for its appearance in Brahms’s ‘Academic Festival Overture’, written over three decades after the song’s brief but intense revolutionary career.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Eduard Hanslick, Aus meinem Leben (Berlin, 1894) 12249.ccc.7.
Roderich Benedix, Das bemooste Haupt, oder, Der Lange Israel (Wesel, 1840)
Joseph Alexander Helfert, Der Wiener Parnass im Jahre 1848 (Vienna, 1882) 11528.k.10.
Wolfgang Häusler, ‘Marseillaise, Katzenmusik und Fuchslied als Mittel sozialen und politischen Protests in der Wiener Revolution 1848’ in Barbara Boisits (ed.) Musik und Revolution: die Produktion von Identität und Raum durch Musik in Zentraleuropa 1848-49 ( Vienna, 2013) YF.2014.a.20622
A collection of digitised poems, songs, broadsides and periodicals from the 1848 Revolution can be found on the website of the Austrian National Library
23 September 2022
‘As if some long-since inhabited country had been fished up out of the bottom of the sea’: Travel Literature on Iceland
As the National and University Library of Iceland commemorate the 250th anniversary of Joseph Banks’s expedition to Iceland with an exhibition, we are publishing a series of blogs on all things Icelandic in the British Library collections.
For those who want to know more about Joseph Banks’s expedition to Iceland, check out our guest blog from 2017 by the foremost expert, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Iceland, Anna Agnarsdóttir, who also curated the current exhibition.
In the second blog of this series, we look at writing from the past 250 years of British travel to Iceland.
Ever since Joseph Banks paved the way and established friendly relations between Britain and Iceland in 1772, a steady stream of travellers have been inspired to venture to Europe’s far North-West. Natural scientists, geologists, saga enthusiasts, explorers and anyone with enough money and ‘spirit of adventure’ saw the appeal of the always seemingly mysterious country, producing along the way a raft of accounts, published journals, translations, maps and drawings.
John Cleveley Jr., Cathedral at Skálholt, Add MS 15511, f. 29r
For those interested in getting to grips with the full range of writings over the last two-and-a-half centuries, look no further than Haraldur Sigurðsson’s bibliography Writings of Foreigners Relating to the Nature and People of Iceland. If something a little less bibliographic is required, you could do worse than consult the list of references at the end of ‘Sheaves of Sagaland’, chapter 6 of W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice’s Letters from Iceland, an alternative take on the travel account formed of irreverent poems, anecdotal advice, letters and other short pieces. The chapter in question compiles quotations from those that went before them, which might give more of an insight into the attitudes of the average Victorian traveller, than of Icelandic life itself. Deliberately out of context, and compiled supposedly for the benefit of John Betjeman, they speak to every aspect of Icelandic life:
‘Concerning their food
“It cannot afford any great pleasure to examine the manner in which the Icelanders prepare their food.” (Von Troil)
Concerning their habits
“If I attempted to describe their nauseous habits, I might fill volumes.” (Pfeiffer)
Concerning their dress
“The dress of a woman is not calculated to show the person to advantage” (Mackenzie)’
George Stuart Mackenzie, Great Jet of Steam, on the Sulphur Mountains, from Travels in the Island of Iceland, during the summer of the year 1810 (Edinburgh: 1811) 983.e.23
More recently, H. Arnold Barton’s Northern Arcadia gives a fantastic overview of the first wave of travel from Banks to the missionary Ebenezer Henderson’s trip in 1814-15. And, for a more visual introduction to the topic, the University of Nottingham’s online exhibition, ‘Ice, Fire and Northern Myths’, takes us through the richly illustrated material contained in their comprehensive Icelandic special collections. And, with the current exhibition in Iceland, it’s safe to say interest in the history of travel writing on the region has not waned.
Ebenezer Henderson, The Geysers, as seen on July 30th 1814, from Iceland; or the journal of a residence in that Island during the years 1814 and 1815 (Edinburgh, 1818) 979.i.3
The British Library is uniquely placed to navigate the copious literature that emerged from such journeys. Not only can we find the vast majority of accounts published before 1882 digitised courtesy of Google Books, but the Library also holds the four volumes of original drawings from the Banks expedition to the Hebrides, Orkney and Iceland by the artists John Cleveley Jr., James Miller and his brother John Frederick Miller (all drawings available online: vol.1, vol. 2, vol. 3, vol. 4), as well as William Morris’s travel diaries from his two trips in 1871 and 1873 (digitised here).
John Barrow Jr., Basaltic cave at Stappen, from A Visit to Iceland, by way of Tronyem, in the “Flower of Yarrow” Yacht, in the Summer of 1834 (London, 1835) 791.e.3
Why Iceland loomed ever larger in the imagination of travellers has to do with a blend of scientific interest in the Age of Exploration in the ‘land of ice and fire’ and the search for cultural and racial self-understanding, which saw Englishness increasingly linked to an Anglo-Saxon heritage, its purest vestige supposedly residing in Iceland (Kassis). That association with ‘Viking’ culture grew through the Victorian era with the interest in sagas, which could be flexibly interpreted for any cause, from the imperial to the social democratic. That Icelanders were in some way exemplary did not preclude visitors from understanding that singularity as ‘primitive simplicity’, as Uno von Troil’s reflections have it. Given that some 19th-century journeys went via the Sápmi as well, like John Barrow Jr’s A Visit to Iceland by Way of Tronyem, accounts often give the unpleasant impression that travelling North equalled a trip back in time and ‘backwards’ in the ‘civilisation’ process.
W. G. Collingwood, Descent of Arnardals-Skarth, from W. G. Collingwood and Jón Stefánsson, A Pilgrimage to the Saga-Steads of Iceland (Ulverston, 1899) 10281.i.11
In Banks’s wake and lifetime, several journeys were made, often with Banks facilitating, all with a published output, which is more than can be said for the Banks expedition itself. The Swede von Troil’s Letters on Iceland was the only text that came from that, which did however set the standard for future writing, itself including a bibliography of 120 texts on Iceland to date. John Thomas Stanley’s expedition is captured in the diaries kept by the wealthy Englishman and his companions, James Wright, Isaac Benners and John Baine, eventually published only 50 years ago. Following Stanley, came William Jackson Hooker, the first director of Kew Gardens, whose Journal of a tour in Iceland in the Summer of 1809 contains some of the illustrations from the Banks voyage engraved for the first time.
W. G. Collingwood, Gill at Gilsbakki
Encouraged by Banks to go and collect specimens, Hooker’s specimens and notes were destroyed on his way back, leaving him to rely on memory and samples collected by the Stanley party for his 600-page journal. The mineralogist George Mackenzie followed in the company of Richard Bright and Henry Holland, whose diaries have also been published. The last of this first wave of travellers was Ebenezer Henderson, who spent by far the longest on the island, there as a representative of the British and Foreign Bible Service. Barton calls his account ‘the fullest and most sympathetic’ of the early texts, no doubt in part due to his great knowledge of Scandinavia and his proficiency in multiple languages.
Ethel Brilliana, First view of Iceland, from A Girl’s Ride in Iceland (London, 1894) 10281.c.6.
John Barrow Jr, later known for his heroic efforts in coordinating the search expeditions in vain for John Franklin’s 1845 expedition to the Northwest Passage, was the next traveller to Iceland, noting that ‘twenty years have expired since a fresh word has been uttered respecting Iceland’. And while several journeys were made by others through the 1840s and early 1850s, including notably by Ida Laura Pfeiffer, it was not until 1856 and the introduction of scheduled steamship sailings to and from Iceland that travel became regular and affordable, and with that came a flurry of travel journals. Frederick Dufferin’s Letters from High Latitudes was hugely popular, inaugurating a new register for travel writing, less forensic and more comic, perhaps the ease of travel reducing the pressure to note every encounter in meticulous detail.
Samuel Edmund Waller, Hlidarende, from Six Weeks in the Saddle: A Painter’s Journal in Iceland (London, 1874) 10281.bb.42
So, for Dufferin, the Faxaflói bay, where Reykjavík lies, is magnificent while also ‘mouldy green, as if some long-since inhabited country had been fished up out of the bottom of the sea.’ For Frederick Metcalfe four years later, ‘the prospect was […] by no means cheering’: ‘as if to mock the foreigner for his infatuation, his way is beset, not only by dangerous rivers, appalling lava streams, hidden pits of fire, and chasms of ice, but his imagination is tortured by chimeras dire, phantom gorillas, or by whatever name he may please to call the shapes in stone and slag, that grin and frown on his solitary journey.’ Anthony Trollope’s also very popular account is perhaps so light on meaningful engagement with local culture that it becomes ‘mainly a reproduction of Englishness in the peripheral world rather than a study of Icelandic physiognomy’ (Kassis).
Sabine Baring-Gould, Öxnadals-Heithi, from Iceland: Its Scenes and Sagas (London, 1863) W48/4817
Iceland’s epic beauty was ripe for drawing and painting, and most travellers in this period seem to be accomplished artists, so these books were also a platform for their pictures. The Banks expedition’s artistic output is important for its documentary and almost genre quality but later visitors perhaps allowed themselves to heighten the drama of landscapes, often inflected by a knowledge of the sagas that unfolded there. Sabine Baring-Gould’s Iceland: its Scenes and Sagas is notable for its fine watercolours. Henderson’s geysers and jets shoot out like shafts of light to the heavens.
Ethel Brillliana, Cod-Fish drying
W. G. Collingwood and Jón Stefánsson published an epic picture book with coloured plates depicting the scenes of the sagas, while Ethel Brilliana Tweedie’s emotive sketches, often ‘from pony’s back’, give over something of the ephemerality of the traveller’s experience. What the use of illustration has in common, beyond their obvious appeal to the reader, is its necessity in helping to describe the indescribable, encapsulated in Simon Armitage’s final poem, ‘Listen Here’, in his and Glyn Maxwell’s homage to Auden and MacNeice, Moon Country:
It will not be had,
or fixed. Made of finer stuff,
to find it is to let it come to mind, then bluff,
or lie, or think, or wish.
Now hear this.
George Stuart Mackenzie, New geysers
Another way of thinking about the inability to put Iceland into words, or, in Baring-Gould’s phrase, the ‘fail[ure] in rendering the wild beauty of colouring’, is that Iceland exceeds expectations and exceeds the journal format. This is common to many accounts all the way up to Damon Albarn’s latest solo album, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows, which began life as an ‘orchestral interpretation of the view outside of his [Reykjavik] living room window’ before ending up abstracted, ‘a stream-of-consciousness meditation on earth’s natural forces’. And, similarly, even while William Morris’s journals are precise, anecdotal day-to-day accounts, for Lavinia Greenlaw, ‘it is a document of a journey that becomes a description of all journeys’. Greenlaw is able to use passages from the celebrated journal as jumping off points for her own poetic reflections on travel, strangeness, the nature of experience.
W. G. Collingwood, Melstad and Reykir
William Morris’s Iceland journals have a strong claim to be the best of the genre and ‘amongst the best prose Morris ever wrote’ (McCarthy). Written for his confidante, Georgiana Burne-Jones, he worked up his manuscript into a fair copy but the journals weren’t published in his lifetime at his request. Amongst Morris’s travel companions was Eiríkr Magnússon, a theologian and linguist who got to know Morris in London, before becoming a close friend and collaborator on saga translations and on the edited volume of the journals. Morris was without doubt the most important Icelandophile of his day, translating numerous sagas, further introducing audiences to their themes through his own poetry, and creating epic works, such as Sigurd the Volsung, so steeped in saga influence, they would go onto inspire the next century’s fantasy genre.
John Cleveley Jr., Eruption of a geyser at Geysir, Add MS 15511, f. 43r
Arriving at the already much-visited Geysir, Morris, the purist and knowledgeable Iceland scholar, ‘bewailed it for the possible Englishman whom I thought we should find there’. Clearly not in the best mood, he continues:
the evening is wretched and rainy now; a south wind is drifting the stinking steam of the southward-lying hot springs full in our faces: the turf is the only bit of camping-ground we have had yet, all bestrewn with feathers and wings of birds, polished mutton-bones, and above all pieces of paper: […] understand I was quite ready to break my neck in my quality of pilgrim to the holy places of Iceland: to be drowned in Markfleet, or squelched in climbing up Drangey seemed to come quite in the day’s work; but to wake up boiled while one was acting the part of accomplice to Mangnall’s Questions was too disgusting.
Allergies to tourists aside, Morris was enamoured by the place and the people, who never fail to be depicted as exceptionally hospitable, which is also the case in the accounts across the centuries. As the last entry in his 1871 journal says, Iceland ‘is a marvellous, beautiful and solemn place, and where I had been in fact very happy’.
The references below include the most notable (mainly) English-language travel books and manuscripts on Iceland in the Library’s collections with a link to a digital copy where available.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
‘Drawings illustrative of Sir Joseph Banks's voyage to the Hebrides, Orkneys, and Iceland in 1772’, Add MS 15509-12
Uno von Troil, Letters on Iceland (London, 1780) 152.c.44
William Jackson Hooker, Journal of a tour in Iceland in the summer of 1809 (Yarmouth, 1811) 791.e.2, digital copy
William Morris, ‘Diaries (in the form of octavo ruled note-books and all written in pencil) kept by Morris on his two visits to Iceland in the summers of 1871 and 1873’, Add MS 45319 A-C, digital copy
George Stuart Mackenzie, Travels in the Island of Iceland, during the summer of the year 1810 (Edinburgh: 1811) 983.e.23, digital copy
Ebenezer Henderson, Iceland; or the journal of a residence in that Island during the years 1814 and 1815 (Edinburgh, 1818) 979.i.3, digital copy
John Barrow Junior, A Visit to Iceland, by way of Tronyem, in the “Flower of Yarrow” Yacht, in the Summer of 1834 (London, 1835) 791.e.3, digital copy
Ida Laura Pfeiffer, Journey to Iceland: and travels to Sweden and Norway … From the German by C. F. Cooper (London, 1852) 10280.d.32, digital copy
Frederick Dufferin, Letters from High Latitudes; being some account of a voyage in the schooner yacht “Foam” ... to Iceland, Jan Mayen, & Spitzbergen, in 1856 (London, 1857) 10281.c.28, digital copy
Frederick Metcalfe, The Oxonian in Iceland: or, notes of travel in that island in the summer of 1860, with glances at Icelandic Folk-lore and Sagas (London, 1861) 10281.b.22, digital copy
Sabine Baring-Gould, Iceland: Its Scenes and Sagas (London, 1863) W48/4817, digital copy
Samuel Edmund Waller, Six Weeks in the Saddle: A Painter’s Journal in Iceland (London, 1874) 10281.bb.42
William Lord Watts, Snioland: or, Iceland, its jökulls and fjälls (London, 1875) 10281.aaa.22
Richard Francis Burton, Ultima Thule; or, a Summer in Iceland (London, 1875) 2364.f.1.
Anthony Trollope, How the “Mastiffs” went to Iceland (London, 1878) C.124.g.1
Elizabeth Oswald, By Fell and Fjord; or, scenes and studies in Iceland (Edinburgh, 1882) 10281.bbb.4, digital copy
John Coles, Summer Travelling in Iceland; being the narrative of two journeys across the island (London, 1882) 10280.g.4., digital copy
William George Lock, Guide to Iceland, a handbook for travellers and sportsmen (Charlton, 1882) 10280.bb.22., digital copy
Ethel Brilliana, A Girl’s Ride in Iceland (London, 1894) 10281.c.6., digital copy
W. G. Collingwood and Jón Stefánsson, A Pilgrimage to the Saga-Steads of Iceland (Ulverston, 1899) 10281.i.11
Mrs Disney Leith, Iceland (Peeps at Many Lands) (London, 1908) W10/1133
W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, Letters from Iceland (London, 1937) W4/2845
William Morris, Icelandic Journals (Fontwell, 1969) 72/5914
The journals of the Stanley Expedition to the Faroe Islands and Iceland in 1789 (Tórshavn, 1970) 84/02018 – 84/02019
Henry Holland, The Iceland Journal of Henry Holland, 1810 (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society. Second series; no.168) (London, 1987) Ac. 6172/188
Haraldur Sigurðsson, Ísland í skrifum erlendra manna um þjóðlíf og náttúru landsins : ritaskrá = Writings of foreigners relating to the nature and people of Iceland: a bibliography (Reykjavik, 1991) YA.1995.b.8642
Fiona McCarthy, William Morris: A Life for our Time (London, 1994) YC.1995.b.276
Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell, Moon country: further reports from Iceland (London, 1996) YK.1996.a.22671
H. Arnold Barton, Northern Arcadia: Foreign Travelers in Scandinavia, 1765-1815 (Carbondale, 1998) 99/20599
Andrew Wawn, The Vikings and the Victorians: inventing the old north in nineteenth-century Britain (Cambridge: 2000) YC.2000.a.6087
Dimitros Kassis, Icelandic Utopia in Victorian Travel Literature (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2016) ELD.DS.93013
Lavinia Greenlaw, Questions of travel: William Morris in Iceland (London, 2016) ELD.DS.203595
Martin Stott, Iceland Journals Introduction (2020), on William Morris Archive website
19 July 2022
As part of the events programme accompanying our current exhibition, ‘Breaking the News’, curators from the European, Americas and Oceania Collections department took part in an online 'Meet the Curators' event to introduce some stories about news media in the countries they cover. This blog post is based on one of the talks given at that event.
‘Breaking the News’ also means reporting events of historical importance. Battles often are. The Battle of Trafalgar was one of the most famous battles in British naval history, worth reporting internationally. On the 21st of October 1805 the victory of the British fleet, led by Admiral Lord Nelson, contained Napoleon’s ambitions to invade Britain. Lord Nelson was mortally wounded during the battle and the official despatch was written by his second, Admiral Collingwood.
How was this event reported in European news? How long it did it take for the ground-breaking news of the victory to circulate, in an age of slow-travelling information?
Cover of Relazione della battaglia navale seguita ne’ giorni 22 e 23 del passato Ottobre 1805 nanti Cadice, tra le squadre combinate Gallo-Ispana e l’Inglese (Genoa and Turin, 1805). Awaiting shelfmark
We have recently acquired a very rare Italian account of the battle, a bifolium published in Italy, by the Frugoni printing-house in Genoa and by Carlo Bocca in Turin, in 1805. It is titled Relazione della battaglia navale seguita ne’ giorni 22 e 23 del passato Ottobre 1805 nanti Cadice, tra le squadre combinate Gallo-Ispana e l’Inglese [...]. Not many other copies of this account are recorded in Italy, and this is the only one in the UK.
Last page of the Relazione with a list of the English ships and the imprint details
The account opens with a description of the composition of the Royal Navy fleet against the combined fleets of the French and Spanish navies, followed by a report of the circumstances in which Lord Nelson lost his life. The description is in accordance with Admiral Collingwood’s despatch from the battle, published in the London Gazette on the 6th of November 1805. This proves that the author of this document read Collingwood’s despatch. Perhaps the news arrived by postal ship from Spain to Genoa and from there it was carried by horse to Turin, where it was translated to Italian and then printed. The only thing we know for sure is that this account was published in the same year 1805, so sometimes between November and December.
The age of the Napoleonic wars was the moment communication started to become global; transmitting information and news from various corners of the empires become essential for the European powers.
I would like to draw your attention on my favourite element of this document, which you can see in the image above. This is an illustration showing, by means of typographic elements, the order of battle of the two sides, and their two successive changes of formation, for a total of three positions. I find this a rather clever use of typography, which visualizes Nelson’s strategy better than prints, or his manuscript memorandum that is held in our collections [https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/admiral-nelsons-trafalgar-memorandum].
Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections
Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections
11 July 2022
As part of the events programme accompanying our current exhibition 'Breaking the News' curators from the European, Americas and Oceania Collections department took part in an online 'Meet the Curators' event to introduce some stories about news media in the countries they cover. This blog post is based on one of the talks given at that event.
Living in 1980s Poland meant being surrounded by a graphic persuasiveness of visual communist propaganda. However, in this forest of policy-inspired art and slogans a perceptive passer-by could notice discrepancies: a leaflet handed over discreetly, posters popping up mysteriously during the night, often offering the familiar red discomfort of the favourite communist colour, but conveying a rebellious message. If you were curious and brave enough to risk your own comfort, and sometimes life, you could have access to a clandestine news network which functioned as an alternative to the official one-sided narrative of the communist government. A lot of these samizdat productions were prepared by members of Solidarity.
This organisation started as a trade union in the then Polish People’s Republic and evolved into a broad anti-authoritarian social movement that helped to build the foundations for overthrowing communist rule in Eastern Europe by means of civil resistance. One of the goals for Solidarity’s members was raising the nation’s civil awareness by fighting censorship and providing access to independent media.
A poster advertising the University of Poznań Solidarity journal Serwis Informacyjny Komisji Zakładowej NSZZ «Solidarność» przy UAM w Poznaniu. Sol. 764
This advertisement for the Solidarity journal edited by the students of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan is the perfect example of such civil resistance. The image of a man sitting on a clearly useless TV set reading the Solidarity magazine was self-explanatory to Polish citizens of the era. At the time television had only two channels and the state-owned broadcaster was a mouthpiece for the communist government. All news was meticulously censored before release and had to be approved by the General Office for Control of Publications and Spectacles. The agency’s main role was to suppress the freedom of news and free speech.
The relentless efforts of censors resulted in a backlash. Grassroots movements started spreading information coming to Poland from abroad and disseminating true stories of what was going on in and outside of the country. Samizdat books and the so-called ‘second circulation’ of illegally printed press flourished. Spreading pro-democracy news was dangerous and could result in imprisonment and torture – just like in today’s Belarus. Nonetheless, the oppressive situation only fuelled samizdat’s spread. Pamphlets such as this instruction manual made mockery of the government’s efforts to stop the circulation of independent news.
Przemiennik częstotliwości: z RWE na co dzień ('An RF radio frequency converter: for your daily dose of Radio Free Europe'; Warsaw, 1984), Sol. 215x
The manual teaches how to build your own radio frequency converter to listen to Radio Free Europe, as the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries were jamming Western radio broadcasts. In a foreword to the manual the author criticizes the West for not doing enough to support pro-democracy movements and a lack of technological investment that could counter Soviet efforts to block news. However, it is the author’s opinion on wider Western policy that makes contemporary readers take pause: ‘the supremacy of economy over politics in the West means that the West will purchase Soviet gas and construct pipelines as this lies in their interest. By doing so they are playing into Soviet hands – one frosty winter the Soviet Union will be able to turn off the tap and cut off heating in the entire West Germany.’ For those who broke the law to break the news recent headlines are no news at all.
Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
For more information about the Solidarity collection, read our blog posts giving a general overview and focusing on satire in the collection. You can also read about some sensational news stories from interwar Poland here.
02 June 2022
This week Britain is marking the platinum jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Elizabeth is now – at least according to Wikipedia – the third longest-reigning monarch in recorded history. Her reign is surpassed in length only by those of Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama X) of Thailand, whom she will soon overtake, and Louis XIV of France, who still has a two-year lead, having inherited his throne at the tender age of four.
Portraits of Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary at his coronation and in 1898, from Unser Kaiser. Festschrift für die vaterländische Jugend zum fünfzigjährigen Regierungs-Jubiläum seiner Kaiserlichen und Königlichen Apostolischen Majestät Franz Josef I. Herausgegeben vom Lehrerhaus-Verein in Wien (Vienna, 1898) 1560/2545.
At number six on Wikipedia’s list is Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary, whose reign lasted from 1848 until 1916, beginning in the aftermath of revolution and ending during a war which would eventually put an end to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its monarchy. Although he never made it to a platinum jubilee, the 50th and 60th anniversaries of his reign were marked with great celebration and, of course, many publications.
Cover of Leo Smolle, Fünf Jahrzehnte auf Habsburgs Throne 1848-1898. Festschrift aus Anlass des fünfzigjährigen Regierungsjubiläums Seiner Majestät des Kaisers Franz Josef I (Vienna, 1898) 10703.bbb.63.
Of course there were the usual commemorative books, often lavishly illustrated and bound, looking back at the emperor’s reign and the changes it had seen within the Empire. However, their celebratory tone also carried an edge of sorrow. No writer could overlook the death of Franz Joseph’s only son Rudolf in 1889 (although they skated over the sordid details of Rudolf’s suicide). Although it happened too late to be covered in most of the 1898 commemorative volumes, the murder of Franz Joseph’s consort Elisabeth in September 1898 understandably led to a cutting back of the jubilee celebrations that year, and by 1908 this blow too was described as one of the many heavy burdens borne by the emperor.
Cover of Carl Weide, 60 Jahre auf Habsburgs Kaiserthrone: ein Gedenkbuch zum Jubiläum der sechzigjährigen Regierung des Kaisers Franz Josef I (Vienna, 1908) 10706.m.29.
But alongside the more familiar types of commemorative publications there were all manner of local and subject-specific ones which used the jubilee as an occasion to review the previous 50 or 60 years through the prism of their own interests. In 1898 a group of industrialists produced a six-volume work celebrating Austria’s major industries and the Ministry of Agriculture looked back at 50 years of agriculture and forestry. The Austrian Geographical Society also devoted a volume to the progress of its discipline under Franz Joseph’s reign, and as part of a larger commemorative volume, the director of the Imperial Mint set the pulses of numismatists racing with a review of 50 years of coinage reforms.
On a local level, the people of Czernowitz (now Chernivtsi in south-western Ukraine) linked Franz Joseph’s celebration of 60 years on the throne with the 500th anniversary of the first official record of the city in 1408. In 1898, the canny people of Budweis (now České Budějovice in the Czech Republic) recycled memories of an imperial visit three years previously as a jubilee publication.
Cover of Reinhold Huyer, Regentenbesuch in Budweis. Zum 50-jährigen Regierungsjubiläum Sr. Maj. des Kaisers Franz Josef I. Als Erinnerung an die Kaisertage von 1. bis 4. September 1895 (České Budějovice, 1898) 09315.e.17.
These locations are a reminder of the sheer scope of the empire that Franz Josef ruled over, but his jubilees were not marked by celebrations in all his territories. Both the golden and diamond jubilees coincided with periods of constitutional crisis and diplomatic tension, in Bohemia and the Balkans respectively, and attempts to present the commemorations as a symbol of imperial unity no doubt rang hollow to many there. Hungary officially ignored the jubilees of 1898 and 1908, considering Franz Joseph only to have been their legitimate ruler since he was crowned King of Hungary in 1867; there were however some Hungarian commemorative publications for the 25th anniversary of that coronation in 1892.
Nonetheless, as the selection of publications described above shows, the jubilees were seen by many as a cause – or at least an excuse – for celebration. Like Queen Elizabeth today, Franz Joseph had been a constant presence in the lives of most of his subjects due to the length of his reign, and the efforts of industrialists, geographers, local councils and others to link their own spheres of interest to that reign offer insights into the ways in which people identify with the symbolism of monarchy.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Title-page of Joseph Schnitzer, Franz Joseph I. und seine Zeit. Cultur-historischer Rückblick auf die Francisco-Josephinische Epoche (Vienna, 1898) 1899.f.9. (Image from a copy in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)
Die Gross-Industrie Oesterreichs. Festgabe zum glorreichen fünfzigjährigen Regierungs-Jubiläum seiner Majestät des Kaisers Franz Josef I., dargebracht von den Industriellen Oesterreichs, 1898. (Vienna, 1898) 1809.b.15.
Friedrich Umlauft, Die Pflege der Erdkunde in Oesterreich, 1848-1898. Festschrift der K.K. Geographischen Gesellschaft aus Anlass des fünfzigjährigen Regierung-Jubiläums Sr. Majestät des Kaisers Franz Joseph I. (Vienna, 1898) Ac.6068/3.
Geschichte der österreichischen Land- und Forstwirtschaft und ihrer Industrien 1848-1898. Festschrift zur Feier der ... fünfzigjährigen Wiederkehr der Thronbesteigung ... Franz Joseph I. (Vienna, 1899-1901) 1572/357.
Josef Müller, ‘Die Münz-Reformen in Osterreich während der fünfzigjährigen Regierung des Kaisers Franz Josef I.’, in Anton Mayer (ed.) Festschrift zum fünfzigjährigen Regierungs-Jubiläum, 1848-1898, seiner Kaiserl. und Königl. Apostolischen Majestät Franz Josef I. (Vienna, 1898) 1855.dd.2.
Raimund Friedrich Kaindl, Geschichte von Czernowitz von den altesten Zeiten bis zur Gegenwart. Festschrift zum sechzigjährigen Regierungsjubiläum Sr. Majestät Kaiser Franz Joseph I. und zur Erinnerung an die erste urkundliche Erwähnung von Czernowitz vor 500 Jahren (Chernivtsi, 1908) 10205.h.5.
04 February 2022
A Dutch Poet on ‘Tortured Majesties’: Reactions to the Executions of Mary Stuart and Charles Stuart.
Our current exhibition ‘Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens’, gives a thrilling and moving insight into the relationship between two women who were relatives as well as queens, through letters, books, paintings and objects. Many of the letters on display reveal their feelings towards each other and the political shenanigans around them and, it must be said, by them. There are letters written in code, with the key alongside and in one instance a screen that shows you how to decipher these codes. Fascinating stuff.
The exhibition ends with a moving display of the last letter Mary wrote, in French, in which she laments her fate. She would die on the scaffold the following day: 8 February 1587.
Ten months later, in the city of Cologne, a baby boy was born who would become the greatest Dutch playwright and poet of the Dutch Golden Age: Joost van den Vondel. (The Vondelpark in Amsterdam is named after him).
Portrait of Joost van den Vondel by Philip de Koninck, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Public Domain
Joost was born into a family of Mennonites, or Anabaptists. At one point the city expelled all those belonging to these religious movements, including the Vondels. They eventually settled in Amsterdam where Vondel lived and worked for the rest of his long life. He converted to Catholicism and became a staunch defender of that faith. He satirised Protestantism, and was especially harsh on his old faith, Anabaptism, as we shall see.
Vondel was a prolific playwright and poet, who didn’t mince his words when it came to commenting on political events in the Dutch Republic and abroad, although he did not always do so openly.
Take for instance an anonymous play, published in Cologne in 1646, entitled: Maria Stuart: of Gemartelde Majesteit (‘Mary Stuart: or Tortured Majesty’). It is suspected that the imprint is false and that the work was actually published in Amsterdam, but we can’t be sure. However, the disguise is pretty transparent. The style and the tone of the text make it pretty clear who the author is. Vondel may well have thought it prudent not to put his name on it, considering events in England at the time. The Dutch government was not exactly against the Parliamentarian cause in the English Civil War, but they did not support it wholeheartedly either. Why would Vondel write a play about Mary Stuart who died after 19 years of imprisonment by the English, if not to make a point about her grandson Charles I who had just been defeated in the First English Civil War? That to me sounds like too much of a coincidence.
Title page of Maria Stuart, of Gemartelde Majesteit. (Cologne, 1646), 11755.e.60.(13.)
Other editions were published in 1661, one of which we also hold (1478.aa.13.(7.))
The subtitle ‘tortured majesty’ gives you a clue whose side the author is on. In summary, Vondel praises Mary to high heaven and excoriates Elizabeth for her treachery and cruelty. He sees the conflict between Elizabeth and Mary as a religious issue, rather than a political one, so as a catholic he is firmly on Mary’s side. To hammer the point home he adds a number of poems to the play. In the first poem he lets Mary herself speak about her plight. (I must say I prefer her real own words, mentioned above). Vondel then introduces ‘an eyewitness’, none other than the historian of Elizabeth’s reign, William Camden, a protestant (!). If Vondel tried to use a protestant historian to present an ‘unbiased’ viewpoint he failed, because Camden, writing in the reign of Mary’s son James I, appears to lament Mary’s fate just as strongly as the catholic Vondel does in his play. Maybe he tried to make it look as if everyone, catholic and protestant were appalled by the execution of Mary.
Vondel concludes with a ‘Complaint about the Rebels in Great Britain’. In this last poem he tears into the Puritans, blaming them alone for causing the Civil War, and for beheading the Earl of Strafford.
The play was more or less boycotted by theatres at the time, because of its catholic stance, but it was revived in a performance by Theatre group Kwast in 2015. This group specialises in Dutch 17th-Century plays which they rehearse in one day and perform in the evening; text in hand.
In the year 1649 another ‘anonymous’ work appeared about the execution of Charles I, with the same subtitle as ‘Maria Stuart’ and initials instead of an author: I.v.V. ‘Bloedsmet’ (‘Bloodsmear’) for author. Well, who could that possibly be, I wonder?
Title page of Karel Stvarts, of gemartelde Maiesteyt: in Whithal den 10 van Sprokkel, des Jaers 1649 (S.l. , 1649). 11556.dd.27.
The title translates as: ‘Charles Stuart, Tortured Majesty, in Whitehall the 10th of February, in the year 1649’. (‘Sprokkel’ means ‘gathering of firewood’, which was the commonly-used name for February.) It uses the old Gregorian calendar which converts in the Julian calendar to the 30th of January. The imprint reads: ‘Printed in the Murder-Year of the King of England, 1649’.
In the poem Vondel introduces Henrietta Maria, Charles’ wife. She dreams that straight after the execution Charles’ head springs back onto his shoulders and he rises up again, like a phoenix, to slay his enemies (the Parliamentary General Thomas Fairfax is mentioned). And then she wakes up to reality.
In the second poem Vondel is all despair. Charles’ ghost cones to him in a dream and asks how it was possible that London dared to ‘prune his thistle’. Was Strafford’s death not enough to quell the bloodlust of the King’s enemies? But then he composes himself and says that the blow of the axe sounded like thunder and rocked France, Denmark, Spain and Holland, who will all surely come to the rescue. They will stock London Bridge full of heads and thus the land will be cleared from the ‘pestilence’. Then the Son (i.e. Charles II) will return for his bloody revenge.
The work concludes with a scathing attack on the regicides. Vondel lashes out at the Puritans: He asks indignantly: ‘Is this the pure religion? Is this ‘independence’? No!, this is a Rubicon!’ Again he attacks the Anabaptists by comparing the regicide Major General Thomas Harrison to Jan van Leyden, one of the leaders of the Anabaptists who briefly established an Anabaptist theocracy in the city of Munster in 1536. He calls ‘Master Peters’ (Hugh Peters, a Puritan preacher) the ‘Ape of Knipperdolling’ (i.e. Bernhard Knipperdolling, a partner of Jan van Leyden).
Last page of Karel Stuarts, of Gemartelde Majesteyt.
Vondel penned a third ‘anonymous’ pamphlet against the regicide: Testament om Fairfax vtersten Crom Will recht te maecken. In it he aims his arrows at Cromwell and Fairfax as leaders in the rebellion, with a pun on Cromwell’s name. ‘Crom Will’ means ‘crooked will’, so then the title becomes: ‘Fairfax’s Testament to make right a Last Crooked Will.’ It was signed: ‘The Devil Take the Rogues’.
Testament om Fairfax vtersten Crom Will recht te maecken. ([The Hague?, 1649?]) 8122.ee.3
Vondel was well informed about events in Britain. He must have read the many newspapers and pamphlets on these events, published in the Netherlands, some written in Dutch, some translated from English, many kept in our collections.
But that’s for another time.
Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch Language Collections
20 December 2021
Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), the prolific Austrian author whose collection of autograph manuscripts is at the British Library, was fascinated by artistic creativity, and with it the drafts, scores, sketches and proofs that allow us a glimpse of a work of art coming into being. At once evidence of both sheer artistic labour and a kind of otherworldly genius, manuscripts had for him the potential to insert us into decisive moments, what he would call Sternstunden, whether they were creative breakthroughs or political turning points. He turns his attention to one such Sternstunde in a discussion on ‘The World of Autograph Manuscripts’ (1923):
The most powerful and harrowing must of course always be those autographs, where the moment of putting pen to paper was itself a historic, cultural, universally significant one. Elizabeth I’s signature underneath Mary Stuart’s death warrant – all of us have seen the scene in Schiller’s tragedy and now it suddenly lies before us, the original fateful page, the live stroke of the quill which brought a heroic life to its end.
Digitised copy of Mary Stuart’s death warrant. Add MS 48027, ff. 448r-450r
The British Library’s current exhibition Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, expands on Zweig’s quintessential example of the most powerful of manuscripts and brings to life the epic history through its personal and political documents. The signed death warrant – now in Lambeth Palace Library – does not appear in the current exhibition, but the act is represented by ‘A true Copie of the Proclamation lately published by the Queenes maiestie, under the great Seale of England, for the declaring of the Sentence, lately given against the Queene of Scottes, Richmond, 4 Dec 1586’ (Add MS 48027, ff. 448r-450r).
Title page of Stefan Zweig, Maria Stuart (Vienna, 1935), W14/4184
Zweig wrote a hugely popular biography of Mary Queen of Scots in 1935, adding to an already weighty Mary-bibliography. Of course, German-language interest in Mary was already longstanding and is most commonly associated with Friedrich Schiller’s play Maria Stuart (1800). While Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach wrote the drama Maria Stuart in Schottland (1860) as a kind of response to Schiller’s portrayal, interrogating her predecessor’s notion that femininity (Weiblichkeit) and political authority were incompatible qualities. Zweig returns somewhat to that theme in that he pits a hyper-feminised Mary against an unwomanly Elizabeth, a passionate martyr against a cold-hearted Queen. Although, as Ulrike Tanzer writes, Zweig’s dichotomising tendencies are not absolute, as he depicts both queens as political agents and victims, as leaders and subjects of manipulation, thrown into the political and religious power structures of the time.
Zweig moved to London in 1934 while in the process of finishing his biography of Erasmus von Rotterdam. He had had the idea to move his focus to the rival queens the previous year, his new Portland Place flat allowing him to consult the “enormous amount” of material at the British Museum. Despite the many accounts of the history already available, Zweig felt the book [‘das entscheidende Buch’] on Mary did not yet exist, hence his compulsion to write it. His interest was however already established, given the mention of the signed death sentence in our first quotation from 1923. A trip to New York in January 1935 brought Zweig, now an expert in his subject, face to face with Elizabeth at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “A remarkable portrait of Elizabeth I by Lucas de Heere, which shows her more nervous with a quite frightened expression, always an indecisiveness suppressed behind her pomp.” (Doubt was later cast on the identity of both sitter and painter, and the Met now describes the picture simply as a ‘Portrait of a Woman’ by a ‘British Artist’.)
‘Portrait of a Woman’ by a ‘British Artist’. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Zweig’s Maria Stuart devotes most of its pages to just the two or so years covering the murder of David Rizzio until Mary’s imprisonment in England, when “passion flamed up in her with elemental force, and what might have seemed an average destiny assumed the lineaments of a Greek tragedy as formidable as that of Orestes.” It is typical of Zweig’s biographies to draw attention to a central scene, a decisive moment, or in this case the decisive two years during which “Mary underwent the supreme experiences which led in the end to her destruction, and thanks to which, likewise, her memory has become so noteworthy.” Subsequent interpretation, the BL exhibition included, has no doubt nuanced Mary’s legacy to show her “noteworthiness” beyond the intrigue of those years.
On the famous casket letter debate, Antonia Fraser’s 1969 biography (London, 1969; X.700/3754), among others, attests to their forgery, whereas Zweig is convinced of their authenticity: “We, who know that Mary in times of stress always poured her heart out in verse, can have no doubt that she composed both letters and poems.” Zweig the biographer always takes a position, asserting the causes, intentions and consequences of events, even if that required some serious speculation, which was often the case for his psychological portraits.
Cover of Stefan Zweig, The Queen of Scots (London, 1950), W.P.8077/2.
The biography was incredibly successful and, as with pretty much all of Zweig’s work, was immediately translated into numerous languages, with the English edition, translated by long-time Zweig-collaborators Eden and Cedar Paul, appearing the same year. While Zweig’s legacy waned in the middle of the century, that same English translation was reissued by Pushkin Press in 2018, along with a raft of Zweig’s work, showing that there is a place for Zweig’s take on this much churned history. Its place is surely secured more as an example of Zweig’s hugely popular and gripping style, rather than an example of sober, historical analysis. It is of its time, a deeply psychological insight into a fascinating period, which complements the personal letters between the rival queens currently on display at the Library.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
Stefan Zweig, Maria Stuart (Vienna, 1935), W14/4184
Stefan Zweig, The Queen of Scots (London, 1950), W.P.8077/2.
Rüdiger Görner and Klemens Renoldner (eds.), Zweigs England (Würzburg, 2014), YF.2015.a.10030
Ulrike Tanzer, ‘11.4 Maria Stuart (1935)’, in Stefan-Zweig-Handbuch, edited by Arturo Larcati, Klemens Renoldner and Martina Wörgötter (Berlin, 2018), YF.2018.a.13186, pp. 415-424
Oliver Matuschek, Ich kenne den Zauber der Schrift : Katalog und Geschichte der Autographensammlung Stefan Zweig ; mit kommentiertem Abdruck von Stefan Zweigs Aufsätzen über das Sammeln von Handschriften (Vienna, 2005), YF.2006.a.13265
14 October 2021
Content warning: This blog reproduces an image from a historical publication which is now considered racist
Last week, the Zanzibari writer Abdulrazak Gurnah became the first black African author in 35 years to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Judges from the Swedish Academy highlighted his ‘uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism’ as a key reason for the distinction.
Much of Gurnah’s writing is set in East Africa, and his latest novel, Afterlives, explores the impact of German colonialism on the region. The novel’s protagonists are residents of a coastal town whose lives become shaped by interactions with German soldiers, settlers and missionaries.
Gurnah’s receipt of the Nobel Prize is not only a testament to his literary prowess, but also reflects a long overdue process of engagement by European cultural institutions with the history of colonialism. As part of a three-month PhD placement, I am investigating what the British Library’s collections reveal about German colonialism and its legacies.
Cover of Abdulrazak Gurnah’s latest novel, Afterlives (London, 2021)
By consulting curators in various collections and exploring the Library’s holdings in their full breadth, including sound recordings, maps and postage stamps as well as written material, I hope to identify the potential for interrogating European accounts and locating under-represented, colonised and subaltern voices.
The era of formal German colonialism was short compared to other European empires such as Britain and France. Germany, which did not become a unified state until 1871, expanded into eastern Africa and modern-day Namibia, Cameroon and Togo in the 1880s, and established colonies in China and the Pacific a decade later. After defeat in World War One, Germany lost all of its overseas territories, with Britain taking over most of German East Africa.
The involvement of German speakers in colonial projects, however, has a longer history. In the first half of the 19th century, missionaries from German regions travelled to Africa to propagate Christianity.
One such individual was Johann Ludwig Krapf, whose activities were pointed out to me by Mariam de Haan from the British Library’s Asian and African Studies department. A clergyman from Württemberg, Krapf worked in East Africa between 1837 and 1855, and was one of the first Europeans to document the Swahili, Maasai and other regional languages.
In an account of his travels, available digitally in German on the British Library’s website, Krapf proposed that European nations take charge of different areas of Africa and Asia. Each power would place the indigenous peoples under their tutelage until Christianity had brought them to ‘full maturity’.
Krapf’s geographical findings are shown on W.D. Cooley’s ‘Map of part of Africa, South of the Equator, shewing the discoveries of the Rev. Dr. Krapf and Rev. J. Rebmann' (London, c. 1864) 2.b.14.
Krapf’s life provides an example of the transnational entanglement of European actors in ‘civilising’ projects. He did not travel under a German organisation, but rather as a member of the British Church Missionary Society, and likened his activities to Scottish counterpart David Livingstone’s work in southern Africa. In London, the cartographer William Desborough Colley published a map (shown above) charting the geographical findings of Krapf and fellow German missionary Johannes Rebmann.
In the mid-1880s, the German East Africa Company sought to gain economic and political power in the region. Following heavy local resistance to the company’s administration, the German government took control of the territory in 1891.
The contemporary and retrospective literature published by colonial officers active in East Africa contains racist stereotypes, and frequently masks the brutal realities of German practices. However, the texts occasionally reveal how local resistance undermined imperial authority.
Early opposition came in particular from the Hehe ethnic group. In 1891, Hehe warriors ambushed a German column in what became known as the Battle of Lugalo. The German defeat, with heavy losses, was described as a ‘catastrophe’ in the memoirs of the officer Tom von Prince, who acknowledged admiringly how the Hehe leaders had exploited their enemy’s vulnerability when marching in line.
Cover of Tom von Prince’s Gegen Araber und Wahehe. Erinnerungen aus meiner ostafrikanischen Leutnantszeit, 1890-1895 (Berlin, 1914) 9061.d.35.
Accounts of indigenous resistance in the British Library’s collections are not limited to German perspectives. The Sound and Moving Image catalogue contains interviews recorded by Alison Redmayne, a researcher who conducted fieldwork in Tanzania during the 1960s. Redmayne collected interviewees’ descriptions of the Battle of Lugalo and the Maji-Maji Rebellion, a major uprising between 1905 and 1907.
The uprising began when a spiritual medium, Kinjikitile Ngwale, claimed that a water-based medicine (maji means water in Swahili) would protect rebels from German bullets. After Tanzania became independent in 1961 following British rule, the Maji Maji Rebellion was celebrated as a moment of unity between different ethnic groups.
Ebrahim Hussein’s popular play Kinjeketile, published in 1969, reimagined the leader – who was executed by colonial officers early in the rebellion – as a tragic hero who privately doubted the power of his ‘sacred water’ but kept silent to preserve the newfound solidarity among the rebels.
Cover of the English translation of Ebrahim Hussein’s Kinjeketile (Dar es Salaam, 1970), X.908/26258
Early postcolonial interest in the Maji Maji Rebellion was also reflected in an oral history project at the University of Dar es Salaam in the late 1960s, in which students interviewed individuals who experienced the uprising. A published collection of material from the project, including transcriptions of the interviews in local languages and translations into English, can be found in our holdings.
In recent years, historians have revisited the interviews and highlighted underexplored passages which challenge the notion of the Maji Maji Rebellion as an interethnic struggle against European domination. Thaddeus Sunseri, for example, has pointed to instances of collaboration with the Germans and emphasised the variety of motives behind participation in the revolt.
Introductory page of the University of Dar es Salaam’s Maji Maji research project, 1968. Collected papers (Dar es Salaam, 1969) X.805/195.
Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Afterlives, too, illustrates the complex choices faced by individuals whose lives are disrupted under foreign rule, and Gurnah’s works are a reminder that understandings of the colonial past are constantly evolving. The British Library does not contain everything there is to know about European colonialism: accounts from colonisers and European perspectives are likely to be better represented than the voices of the colonised, which sometimes survive only in mediated form. Nonetheless, the collections offer potential for new insights which can only be realised through dialogue across departments and across source collections.
I have been astounded by the wide range of relevant material which I have found in the library so far, and, when speaking to colleagues, I think they have been surprised too. As my project continues, I look forward to sharing further library resources for investigating colonialism with colleagues and library users.
Rory Hanna, PhD Placement Student, German Collections
References and further reading:
Abdulrazak Gurnah, Afterlives (London, 2021), in order
Abdulrazak Gurnah, Paradise (London, 1994), Nov.1994/631
Sebastian Conrad, German Colonialism: A Short History (Cambridge, 2012) YC.2011.a.17036
Clarissa Vierke (ed.), Johann Ludwig Krapf: the life and work of a missionary and scholar-traveller in nineteenth-century East Africa (Nairobi, 2009) YD.2009.a.6998
Clemens Gutl (ed.), Johann Ludwig Krapf: „Memoir on the East African slave trade“. Ein unveröffentlichtes Dokument aus dem Jahr 1853 (Vienna, 2002) X.0909/1053.(73)
J.L. Krapf, Reisen in Ost-Afrika, ausgeführt in dem Jahren 1837-55, etc (Stuttgart, 1858) 10096.e.30.
J.L. Krapf, Travels, researches and missionary labours, during an eighteen years' residence in Eastern Africa (London, 1860) 010095.gg.34.
Andrew Roberts (ed.), Tanzania Before 1900 (Nairobi, 1968), X.709/15877.
Alison Redmayne, 'The Wahehe people of Tanganyika', PhD thesis (Oxford, 1965)
J.B. Gewald, ‘Colonial Warfare: Hehe and World War I, the Wars Besides Maji Maji in South-Western Tanzania’, African Historical Review 40:2 (2008), pp. 1-27, 0732.493000
Tom von Prince, Gegen Araber und Wahehe. Erinnerungen aus meiner ostafrikanischen Leutnantszeit, 1890-1895 (Berlin, 1914) 9061.d.35.
Carl Peters, Das Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Schutzgebiet (Munich, 1895), 10094.e.29.
Felicitas Becker und Jigal Beez (eds), Der Maji-Maji-Krieg in Deutsch-Ostafrika, 1905-1907 (Berlin, 2005) YF.2006.a.30647
James Giblin and Jamie Monson (eds), Maji Maji: Lifting the Fog of War (Leiden, 2010) 0733.775000 v. 20
Ebrahim Hussein, Kinjeketile (Dar es Salaam, 1970) X.908/26258
University College, Dar es Salaam, Department of History, Maji Maji research project, 1968. Collected papers (Dar es Salaam, 1969) X.805/195.
Thaddeus Sunseri, ‘Statist Narratives and Maji Maji Ellipses’, The International Journal of African Historical Studies 33:3 (2000), pp. 567–84, 4541.580000
Elijah Greenstein, ‘Making History: Historical Narratives of the Maji Maji’, Penn History Review 17:2 (2010), pp. 60-77
Stefan Noack et al (eds), Deutsch-Ostafrika: Dynamiken europäischer Kulturkontakte und Erfahrungshorizonte im kolonialen Raum (Berlin, 2019), YF.2020.a.11433
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