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07 October 2020

Nomen est omen

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We’re all too young to remember this joke from ITMA.

Posh lady: ‘There’s nothing my little Jimmy likes better than snuggling up in front of the fire with Enid Blyton.’
Louche voice: ‘Beats reading any day.’

Authors are often conflated with their books, sometimes through ignorance. In the Middle Ages Policraticus/Policratus was often cited as an author rather than the work by John of Salisbury.

Other authors made a point of naming their books after themselves: Orme (the 12th-century Augustinian) called his exegetical work Ormulum

Thiss boc iss nemmnedd. orrmulum; / Forr tha orrm itt wrohhte.
[This book is named Ormulum; for that Orme it wrote.]

Similarly, Emmanuele Tesauro named his biblical compendium the Handy Treasury, so that on the title page it came out as Emmanuelis Thesauri Thesaurus Manualis. Manuel and Manual of course aren’t related. But note that crazy chiasmus.

Title-page of Thesauro Manual en el Conde Manuel Thesauro

Title-page of Thesauro Manual en el Conde Manuel Thesauro … (Madrid, 1674) 4226.dd.33 

When Dutch mapmaker Jacob Aertsz Colom wanted a title for an atlas to guide the seafarer, he thought back to his Bible reading and recalled Exodus 13:21-22. When Pharoah let the Israelites go they went out:

through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea … And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people. (King James Bible)

And so Colom called his book De Vyerighe Colom (Amsterdam, 1654; Maps C.8.c.3.), translated into English in 1648 as Upright fyrie colomne … wherein are described and lively portrayed all the coasts of the west, north and east seas.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

28 July 2020

Inheritance Books: Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

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This post is part of our ‘Inheritance Books’ series with the Americas blog, where colleagues choose an ‘inherited’ item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to ‘pass on’ to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they’re important to us. This week, Susan Reed, Lead Curator of Germanic Collections, shares her selections. 

The book I have inherited is one that I have never actually read in the form in which I have inherited it, but which was indirectly responsible for my interest in the German language and, by extension, for my choice to study German at university and the path of my career ever since. It is a 1930s adaptation of Emil Kästner’s children’s classic Emil und die Detektive, simplified for English-speaking learners of German. Why have I inherited it? It’s a slightly long story.

Cover of the 1933 edition of Emil und die Detektive

Erich Kästner, Emil und die Detektive, adapted and edited by Dorothy Jenner (London, 1933). W.P.8659/4

On the outbreak of war in 1939 my mother Jean, then 12 years old, was evacuated from her home in North London. Like many early evacuees, she returned home after a few months as the feared attacks on cities failed to materialise, although ironically the family house was in fact bombed early in the Blitz. Thankfully the whole family – including Tanner the dachshund – survived, but that’s another story. The point of this story is that, while Jean and others were away, the pupils at her school who had not been evacuated had started learning French. Those returning were simply given a textbook and told to catch up. It was Jean’s first experience of learning a language and she did not enjoy it. She always remembered being baffled by the teacher repeatedly saying what she heard as ‘on cauliflower’ – in fact ‘encore une fois’, the request to repeat a sentence.

So when Jean started learning German from scratch in the following school year, it was a bit of a revelation. Her textbook was the long-lived Deutsches Leben by A.S. Macpherson (first published 1931-34; 12964.de.4.) but what really stuck in her mind was that, as early as they were able, they started reading the simplified Emil und die Detektive. Even in a much abridged and simplified form it made her realise that it was possible to read something in another language that was a real story and genuinely entertaining.

Although Jean never pursued language studies beyond school, her stories of the difficulty of French and the relief of learning German must have planted a seed in me. Although I actually found French initially easier to learn at school, I was far more excited about starting German, and German was the language that I pursued and still love. In a strange and indirect way, the Second World War, with help from Emil und die Detektive and my mum, made me a Germanist.

After 27 years in the BL there are many books I could pass on, and the one I have chosen is perhaps over-familiar, having often been featured in blogs, in exhibitions and on the website, but it remains the most memorable and exciting acquisition of my career.

When I started researching the history of German-language printing in 19th-century Britain, I was surprised to discover that the first edition of the Communist Manifesto was published in London by a group of German radical exiles and immigrants in February 1848. I was less surprised (although disappointed) that the BL didn’t have a copy: it was after all a clandestine publication and none of those revolutionaries in neighbouring Fitzrovia would have thought of dropping a copy off at the British Museum Library to comply with legal deposit legislation (then not particularly rigorously enforced even for mainstream publications). Also, the Manifesto quickly faded from view after its first publication following the outbreak of European revolutions based on more moderate calls for change and largely led by middle-class liberals rather then the united proletariat. It was only in the 1870s and 80s that European socialists rediscovered the Manifesto and started to spread its message.

Cover of the first edition of the Communist Manifesto

First edition of the Communist Manifesto (London, 1848). C.194.b.289

Ironically, by the early 21st century the few surviving copies of the first edition of the Manifesto were highly expensive and sought-after items – potentially luxury purchases for rich collectors. The then Lead Curator of 19th-Century British printed books and I kept our eyes open for copies on the market, and in late 2008 we spotted one that fulfilled all our requirements regarding condition, printing and provenance. It was to be sold at auction in Paris and, by a fortunate coincidence, I was travelling to Paris shortly before the auction date for a work-related visit, so was able to go to the auction house and meet the agent who was going to bid on our behalf in order to inspect the book together. Auction houses near the Champs-Élysées are not my usual stamping-ground and I had mixed feelings of excitement and heavy responsibility as we examined the book and agreed that the BL would go ahead with our bid.

On the day of the auction I was back in the office doing routine things when my 19th-century British collections colleague came rushing in to say “We’ve got it!” Uncharacteristically for two rather restrained Brits, we hugged each other for joy, and I remember feeling thrilled that this important piece of world history and Anglo-German publishing history was finally going to find a home in the BL. And I was the one who got to catalogue it!

Since then my path has continued to cross with the Manifesto. It was featured in the British Museum’s 2014 exhibition Germany: Memories of a Nation, and readers in the UK can hear me (among other more expert voices) talking about it in the accompanying radio series here. And of course it had to be part of our own Russian Revolution exhibition in 2017. There it was displayed at the start of the exhibition between two large maps showing the extent of the Russian Empire at the start of the 20th century. We wanted to illustrate the fact that this flimsy, obscurely-published pamphlet was like the pebble that started the avalanche that would destroy that vast empire.

Photograph of the Manifesto displayed in the BL's 2017 Russian Revolution exhibition
The Manifesto as displayed in the 2017 BL exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths (Photograph: Sam Lane Photography)

Whatever you think of the Communist Manifesto and its legacies, it was probably the most influential (for good or ill) foreign-language work ever printed in Britain, and I will always remember the excitement and pride I felt at bringing a copy of the original, London-printed edition to the BL.

20 December 2019

Travels with George Eliot: the Moulin/Moinho/Mühle on the Floss

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Last month readers throughout the world were celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Mary Ann Evans – or, as she would later become known, George Eliot. Before her bicentenary year passes, it may be fitting, in view of her cosmopolitan interests and fondness for travel, to see how her works have fared abroad.

Engraving of a portrait of George Eliot in 1865

George Eliot in 1865, engraving after the portrait by Sir Frederic William Burton, from The complete poetical works of George Eliot  (New York, 1888) 11612.h.1

Not surprisingly, given Eliot’s lifelong interest in German literature and philosophy, it was not long before her writings were translated into German. Patricia Duncker’s novel Sophie and the Sibyl (London, 2015; Nov.2016/1979) offers a lively account of Eliot’s relations with the firm of Duncker & Humblot (founded by Franz Duncker, an ancestor of the author) which published the German versions of her novels. The first of these to appear was Die Mühle am Floss, translated by Julius Frese (Berlin, 1861; 12633.cc.4), followed by Emil Lehmann’s four-volume translation of Middlemarch (Berlin, 1872-73; 12637.aa.6.). German readers had to wait until after Eliot’s death for Scenes of Clerical Life to come out in their language as Bilder aus dem kirchlichen Leben Englands in a translation by G. Kuhr (Leipzig, 1885; 12604.h.10).

Title page of Silas Marner with notes in French

An edition of Silas Marner with notes in French (Paris, 1887) 12604.cc.10.

With the exceptions of Romola, Daniel Deronda and the novellas Brother Jacob and The Lifted Veil (the last partly set in Prague, a city which Eliot visited in 1858 and described, somewhat confusingly, as ‘the most splendid city in Germany’), Eliot’s work largely draws on the landscape and society of Warwickshire, the county of her birth. For French readers who wished to become acquainted with her writings in the original English, Hachette brought out, in 1887, an edition of Silas Marner with notes in French and an introduction, also in French, by A. Malfroy which rather disparagingly describes the author’s native landscape as having about it ‘rien de pittoresque ni de grandiose’. Those not deterred by this unenthusiastic appraisal but mystified by the dialect spoken by the people of Raveloe might turn to translations such as those of Scènes de la vie du clergé, made by A. F. d’Albert-Durade, also for Hachette (Paris, 1886; 012547.e.77), in which Janet’s Repentance is transformed into La conversion de Jeanne. The same translator produced a version of Romola the following year (Paris, 1887; 12603.ff.11), but it was not until 1890 that a translator identified only as ‘M.-J. M.’ ventured to tackle the monumental Middlemarch. Étude de la vie de province (Paris, 1890; 12603.f.16).

Title page of a Yiddish edition of Daniel Deronda

Title page of a Yiddish edition of Daniel Deronda (Warsaw, 1914) 012612.i.2.

At first sight it might appear that the limited geographical compass of such novels might discourage translators from opening them up to a wider audience, but this is far from being the case. The British Library’s holdings include translations of Eliot’s works into Japanese, Telugu, Estonian, Oriya and Irish, as well as more widely-spoken languages. It is interesting to consider the reasons for a translator to give preference to one particular title and select it as likely to appeal to potential readers within a different culture. A notable example of this is Daniel Deronda, which appeared in translations into Hebrew by David Frishmann (Warsaw, 1893; (B)615.7045) and Yiddish. This is not surprising, despite the unpopularity of the novel’s Jewish plot among Gentile readers, as Eliot’s partner G. H. Lewes writes in a letter of 24 December 1876 to the palaeontologist Richard Owen:

[T]he Jews themselves – from Germany, France, and America, as well as England – have been deeply moved, and have touchingly expressed their gratitude. Learned Rabbis, who alone can appreciate its learning, are most enthusiastic. Is it not psychologically a fact of singular interest that she was never in her life in a Jewish family, at least never in one where Judaism was still a living faith and Jewish customs kept up? Yet the Jews all fancy she must have been brought up among them; and in America it is positively asserted that I am of Jewish origin!

Portuguese artist’s impression of the world of The Mill on the Floss

Cover of The Mill on the Floss in Fernando de Macedo’s translation, O moinho à beira do Floss (Lisbon, 1943) 012643.ppp.17

In this, perhaps, lies the key to Eliot’s world-wide popularity among translators. Her empathy with characters from many walks of life and ability to portray them with humanity and vividness enables her to transcend boundaries of language and geography. Moreover, the apparently humdrum nature of the landscapes of some of her novels became quite different when viewed from a different perspective. The Portuguese artist’s impression of the world of The Mill on the Floss in Fernando de Macedo’s translation is just one example of the inspiration which these distant and paradoxically ‘exotic’ scenes provided for illustrators. Similarly, a Dutch translation of Adam Bede by Anna Dorothee Busken Huet contains three plates by Jozef Israëls portraying the figures of Adam, Dinah and Hetty with deep psychological insight.

Plate depicting Adam Bede engaged in woodwork

Plate from Dutch translation of Adam Bede (Sneek, [1891]) 11409.m.39, showing the eponymous hero

The fact that George Eliot’s writings so quickly found translators testifies to their universal appeal and relevance of the issues which they raise. Whether they are given a voice in Swedish, Hungarian, Czech or Greek, Adam Bede, Silas Marner and Dorothea Brooke are truly citizens of the world and witnesses to the greatness of their creator.

Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

12 November 2019

Ceremonial greetings in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

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Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III… published in Vilnius in 1589 is the oldest book in the British Library’s holdings which includes text in the Lithuanian language. It came to the Library as part of Sir Hans Sloane’s collection – one of the founding collections of the British Museum. It is not known when and how Sloane acquired it.

Title page of Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III…

Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III… (Vilnius, 1589) 5890.e.34

Gratulationes, written by the Vilnius academic community, is dedicated to King Sigismund III Vasa who visited Vilnius in 1589. It is an example of ceremonial greetings, a literary genre which became popular in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 16th-18th centuries. Ceremonial greetings were originally written in Latin but later also in other languages. In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania they were used to welcome rulers and noblemen to Vilnius.

There was a set route of ceremonial processions in Vilnius: participants would gather in St Stephen’s Church, the procession would start near the Rūdninkų Gate and finish at the main entrance to the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Welcoming ceremonies were very elaborate: King Sigismund was greeted in 1589 by a triumphal arch with four towers erected in Rūdninkai Street, adorned by portraits of Jagiellonian rulers and allegorical paintings. When the king was approaching the arch he was welcomed by four students from the Jesuit Academy, coming down from the towers dressed as angels. They symbolised the Republic of Lithuania, Religion, Arts and Sciences, and Vilnius. The main part of the ceremony took place in the Palace and started with six students greeting the king with short maxims about his glorious ancestors. Epigrams were written for each member of the Jagiellonian dynasty, with allusions to ancient Greek and Roman history and mythology. There were also actors personifying Religion, Virtue, Nature, Fortune, Rumour and Glory.

Portrait of King Sigismund III Vasa

Portrait of King Sigismund III Vasa, artist unknown, Uffizi Gallety, Florence (Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Several collections of ceremonial greetings are known to have been published in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo is particularly important as it is the first multilingual collection of greetings prepared by scholars from the Jesuit Academy in Vilnius (later Vilnius University): it includes texts in Latin, Spanish, Italian, French, German, English, and Polish. It also includes the earliest example of ceremonial greetings in Lithuanian, a panegyrical poem – the first Lithuanian text in hexameter, and the first original literary work in Lithuanian in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Inclusion of this text suggests that the Lithuanian language is treated here as equal to other languages, and like other languages capable of expressing complex ideas.

Lithuanian text in Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III…

Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III… (Vilnius, 1589) 5890.e.34

Interestingly, another collection of greetings dedicated to Sigismund III Vasa was published in the same year and included welcoming texts in Finnish and Swedish.

Part of court culture, ceremonial greetings were an excellent way for members of the academic community of the Vilnius Academy to show off their erudition, knowledge of rhetoric, mastery of Latin and ability to write in a variety of languages.

Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator, Baltic Collections

References

Eugenija Ulčinaitė, Kalbų varžybos : Lietuvus Didžiosios Kunigaikštystės valdovų ir didikų sveikinimai (Vilnius, 2010), YF.2011.a.17943

30 August 2019

Women in Translation Month: top picks from the European Studies team (Part 2)

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Collage of book covers featured in the blog post

In this two-part blog post, the European Studies team have selected books by women authors in translation from across the continent. Ranging from 20th-century classics to contemporary fiction, the majority of these works were also translated by women, and several have won or been shortlisted for literary and translation awards.

Cover of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

Olga Tokarczuk, Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017), ELD.DS.228759
Chosen by Magda Szkuta, Curator East European Collections

Olga Tokarczuk, the winner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, is one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful Polish writers of her generation, particularly noted for the hallmark mythical tone of her writing. The Polish title Bieguni refers to runaways, a sect of Old Believers, who believe that being in constant motion is a trick to avoid evil. Flights is a fragmentary novel consisting of over 100 episodes, each exploring what it means to be a traveller through space as well as time. Set between the 17th and 21st centuries, the novel includes some fictional stories and some fact-based, narrated from a perspective of an anonymous female traveller. It was translated by Jennifer Croft, an American author and critic who works from Polish, Ukrainian and Spanish. She is a founding editor of the Buenos Aires Review.

Cover of The Polyglot Lovers by Lina Wolff

Lina Wolff, The Polyglot Lovers, translated by Saskia Vogel (And other stories, 2019), ELD.DS.410017
Chosen by Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

Referred to as ‘feminism for the Fleabag generation’ (Spectator), Lina Wolff’s second novel takes down ‘myths of male authorship’ (FT) in this absurb book about love and loss. Both this and Wolff’s first novel, Brett Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs, were awarded PEN Translates awards by English PEN, thanks to the translations of Saskia Vogel, prolific translator of Swedish fiction, who recently wrote about how she has mainly translated women authors, who ‘question the shape of society and the assumptions we make, with a particular interest in sex and gender, language, economics, and power.’

Covers of Parts I and II of The time is out of joint: Shakespeare as philosopher of history by Ágnes Heller, featuring an owl

Ágnes Heller, The time is out of joint: Shakespeare as philosopher of history (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), translated by Magda Módos (Osiris, 2000), YC.2003.a.4129 (English) YF.2010.a.20242 (Hungarian)
Chosen by Andrea Déri, Cataloguer

‘The time is a sphinx in Shakespeare’s plays, but a sphinx whose secret will never be known, whose riddle will never be solved.’ ‘[…] for the secret of time is the meaning of life. A life has no meaning except for the question concerning meaning itself.’

Hungarian philosopher Ágnes Heller (1929–2019) interrogates time and temporality in Shakespeare’s plays in this book and engages her readers in doing the same in their life as well; challenges foreshadowed by Hamlet’s words in the title. An obituary in the Financial Times described Heller as ‘one of the most respected European philosophers of her generation’, ‘a life-long fighter for freedom’. Magda Módos, known for her interest in philosophy, translated the book from the English original into Hungarian.

Cover of Bad Roads by Natal'ya Vorozhbit

Natal'ia Vorozhbit, Bad Roads, translated by Sasha Dugdale (Nick Hern Books, 2017), ELD.DS.228387
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

First performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London in 2017, Natal'ia Vorozhbit’s powerful and sometimes bitterly comic play focuses on the impact of the conflicts in Ukraine on women from different generations and backgrounds. A leading contemporary Ukrainian playwright, Vorozhbit is the co-founder of the Theatre of the Displaced in Kyiv and curator of the Class Act project in Ukraine. Bad Roads was translated from the Russian by the prolific poet, translator and editor Sasha Dugdale, who reflected on her experience of translating the play and its harrowing subject matter in an article for the Guardian.

Cover of Bitter Herbs by Marga Minco, featuring a drawing of a woman

Marga Minco, Bitter Herbs, translated by Roy Edwards (Oxford University Press, 1960)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

This autobiographical novella or chronicle about a Dutch Jewish family during the Second World War was published as Minco’s debut in 1957. Bitter Herbs was given a literary award in 1958 and has been translated into several languages. Minco became the Dutch voice in European war literature. The book’s sober, clear, direct style belies its deeper meanings. Minco’s themes are loss, loneliness, fear, guilt, and a longing for security. She and her uncle were the only members of her family to survive the war. Minco received the highest Dutch literary award, the PC Hooftprijs, for her complete oeuvre in 2019, at the age of 98.

Cover of The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern, featuring a figure sitting on a bench
 

Hélène Gestern, The People in the Photo, translated by Emily Boyce and Ros Schwartz (Gallic Book 2014), Nov.2018/1771
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

Hélène Gestern (born 1971) is a French writer and academic. One of her favourite themes is photography, and the power it exercises over memory. In The People in the Photo, Hélène is an archivist living in Paris. Her mother died when she was a baby, so she posts a newspaper ad requesting information about a mysterious photograph of her mother alongside two unknown men. This provokes a response from Stéphane, a Swiss scientist living in Ashford, who recognises his father. The People in the Photo revolves around the exchange of letters, emails and text messages between the two, and explores themes of memory, loss and the power of photography and images as the pair shares discoveries and speculate about their parents’ secrets. Published in 2011, the original French Eux sur la photo received the “Prix Coup de cœur des lycéens” de la Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco and the Prix René Fallet in 2012.

27 August 2019

Women in Translation Month: top picks from the European Studies team (Part 1)

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Collage of book covers featured in the blog post

Founded in August 2014 by book blogger Meytal Radzinski, Women in Translation Month (WITMonth) aims to celebrate and promote women writers in translation, as well as their translators and publishers. So why do we need WITMonth? As the organisers of the upcoming ‘Translating Women’ conference in London highlight, ‘translated literature notoriously accounts for only 3.5% of published literature in the English-language book market, and less than one-third of this is women-authored.’

In addition to WITMonth, initiatives such as the Translating Women project and associated conferences and events all help to redress the gender imbalance in the publishing industry. And there does appear to have been a shift in recent years, with the 2019 Man Booker International Prize shortlist featuring five women authors and six women translators.

In this two-part blog post, the European Studies team have selected books by women authors in translation from across the continent. Ranging from 20th-century classics to contemporary fiction, the majority of these works were also translated by women, and several have won or been shortlisted for literary and translation awards.

 

Cover of The Art of Joy by Goliarda Sapienza

Goliarda Sapienza, The Art of Joy, translated by Anne Milano Appel (Penguin Books, 2013), Nov.2015/2304
Chosen by Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

Written between 1966 and 1976, rejected by many publishers and issued posthumously in Italian, The Art of Joy only sparked interest after its French and English (by award-winning translator Anne Milano Appel) translations appeared, in 2008 and 2013. The Art of Joy is, above all, a novel of instruction and liberation, feminist, socialist, anti-Fascist. Goliarda Sapienza, its provocative and nonconformist Sicilian author, has just recently been rediscovered, being the subject of an international conference organised by UCL in 2013.

Cover of The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann

Marion Poschmann, The Pine Islands, translated by Jen Calleja (Serpent’s Tail, 2019), awaiting shelfmark.
Chosen by Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019, The Pine Islands follows a lecturer with a specialism in beards, as he decides to take off to Japan on a Bashō-inspired journey to the pine islands of Matsushima. It is a poetic exploration of nature and man, and of the potential for resisting conventional existence. This light but profound text is seamlessly reflected in the translation of Jen Calleja, the British Library’s first Translator-in-Residence and writer of fiction and poetry.

Cover of Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes by Guzel Yakhina,

Guzel Yakhina, Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes, translated by Lisa C. Hayden (Oneworld Publications, 2019), awaiting shelfmark.
Chosen by Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Russian author and filmmaker Guzel Yakhina’s debut novel explores one of the most tragic periods in Russian and Soviet history – the large-scale repression of wealthier peasants, kulaks, who were stripped of their property and forcefully relocated to distant and uninhabited parts of the Soviet Union together with other groups of citizens, such as intellectuals, ethnic groups and peoples and ‘enemies of the state’. At the same time, this is a very personal story that relates to the experience of the author’s grandmother – a Muslim Tatar woman in the 1930s Soviet Union. This multi-award winning book is beautifully translated by Lisa Hayden, who described the process as an ‘enjoyable challenge’ due to the novel’s vivid characters and rich cultural and historical elements.

Cover of Sphinx by Anne Garreta

Anne Garréta, Sphinx, translated by Emma Ramadan, (Deep Vellum Publishing, 2015), YA.1987.a.16171 (French), English translation awaiting shelfmark.
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

Born in 1962 in Paris, Anne Garréta currently teaches at Duke University as a Research Professor of Literature and Romance Studies. In 2000, she joined Oulipo (short for French: Ouvroir de littérature potentielle or workshop of potential literature), a loose gathering of (mainly) French-speaking writers and mathematicians who seek to create works using constrained writing techniques. Garréta’s first novel, Sphinx (Grasset, 1986) is a work of literary ingenuity: a love story between two characters, the narrator, “I,” and A***, written without any gender markers referring to the main characters, all the more difficult with the strict gender requirements of the French language. Sphinx is the first novel by a woman member of Oulipo to be translated into English. Emma Ramadan’s translation was nominated for the 2016 PEN Translation Prize and the Best Translated Book Award.

Cover of Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena

Nora Ikstena, Soviet Milk, translated by Margita Gailitis (Peirene Press, 2018), ELD.DS.269711
Chosen by Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator Baltic Collections

Nora Ikstena’s bestselling and widely translated novel is set in Soviet Latvia and tells a story of three generations of women. The mother, a doctor, is banished for political reasons to rural Latvia and takes her daughter with her. Uprooted and separated from her loving grandparents, in a reversal of roles, the daughter cares for her psychologically damaged and suicidal mother. This novel by one of the most prominent and influential prose writers in Latvia not only explores the mother-daughter relationship (under-represented in literature, according to Ikstena) but also gives a powerful voice to women living under - and coping with - an oppressive regime. It is seamlessly translated from Latvian by translator and poet Margita Gailitis.

Cover of Nada by Carmen Laforet, featuring a woman walking down an alleyway

Carmen Laforet, Nada, translated by Edith Grossman (Harvill Secker, 2007), Nov.2007/1429
Chosen by Geoff West, Former Curator Hispanic Studies

Published in 1945, Carmen Laforet’s first novel tells how 18-year old Andrea comes to Barcelona to live with her grandmother’s family while studying at university. The Spanish Civil War has greatly impoverished her relatives and created a nightmarish household of conflict, domestic abuse and religious bigotry. This world contrasts with the better-off milieu of her university friend, Ena, who also becomes embroiled in the family’s personal hell. The novel was translated into English in 2007 by Edith Grossman, whose credits already included works by Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa.

20 August 2019

Learning to read Cyrillic from 13th century Novgorod to the USSR

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We do not know much about how children learned to read and write Slavonic languages in Cyrillic script in the 11th-15th centuries. The most popular teaching method was learning Psalms and copying manuscripts. Near the Russian city of Novgorod, among birch bark manuscripts, archaeologists found a tablet with a wax surface for writing on the right and the Cyrillic alphabet carved on the left.

Novgorod tablet, 13th - early 14th century

Novgorod tablet, 13th - early 14th century. Reproduced in A.F Medvedev, Drevnerusskie pisala X-XV vv., in Sovetskaia arkheologiia, 1960, issue 2

It definitely looks like a school exercise book, but who keeps their jotters? Children learning to read Cyrillic did not, and nor did they even care much about their textbooks, passing them from one to another until the books disintegrated. That is why only two copies of the first Eastern Slavonic printed primer, published in Lviv by Ivan Fedorov in 1574, are known. The copy held at the British Library has been digitised and is freely available. 

The first page of the 1574 Azbuka

The first page of Ivan Fedorov’s primer (Lviv, 1574). C.104.dd.11(1)

It starts with listing Cyrillic letters three times: in the direct and reverse order, and in columns rather than lines. Then the book suggests that learners could put together consonants and vowels. As Russian is primarily a phonetic language, where written symbols directly correspond to spoken sounds, it is quite an easy exercise. Try it yourself: M+A=MA, B+A=BA, etc. Elementary grammar and texts for reading were also included.

Such books were called Azbuka, for the first two letters of the Cyrillic alphabet: A – was called Az and B – Buki. Another name for them was Bukvar’, from the word ‘bukva’ – letter. Soon, educators started separating such alphabet books from more advanced grammars. Also, the power of images in teaching and learning was recognised and more educators started to include pictures in their textbooks.

The most remarkable example of an illustrated primer was created by Karion Istomin, one of the first Muscovite enlighteners, who was editor of the Moscow Printing House, court poet and tutor to the royal children. The book was published in Moscow in 1694, but previously two manuscript copies had been presented to the royals for Peter the Great’s son and two young nieces.

The book opens with a short introduction illustrated by an engraving showing Christ teaching schoolchildren. Each page is devoted to one letter, which is drawn symbolically as a picture, and then in various other ways – print and shorthand. Istomin also wrote short poems that would help learners remember the letter, and included images of objects and animals whose names started with that letter. The book was too complex to be printed with moveable type and therefore was engraved by Leontii Bunin. He seems to have worked on it for about two years, between 1692 and 1694.

First page of Karion Istomin's Bukvar

Letter A from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter A.

Letter Zh from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter Zh.

Letter O from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter O.

Letter S from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter S.

First page, letter A, Zh, O, S. Images from the facsimile edition: Bukvar’ sostavlen Kariononm Istominym; gravirovan Leontiem Buinym; otpechatan v 1694 godu v Moskve. Leningrad: Avrora, 1981. X.955/980.

Although most scholars agree that so many variations in the letter shapes could confuse rather than help learners, this primer set up a tradition of illustrated textbooks for learners.

By the beginning of the 19th century, textbooks and learning materials were in demand by a network of various educational establishments and private tutors. Not only royal children could get books with pictures (although of course not so lavishly printed!). An Azbuka published in 1818 for public schools, was called Dragotsennyi podarok detiam (‘A Precious Present for Children’). It also introduced the alphabet in various types and shorthand, illustrating it with pictures, elementary reading exercises and texts for further reading, such as moral instructions and prayers.

As part of our Google Books project the British Library’s copy of the fourth edition of Dragotsennyi podarok detiam published without changes from the 1818 edition was digitised

Title-page of 1830 Azbuka

Title-page of the fourth edition of Dragotsennyi podarok detiam, ili novaia i polnaia rossiiskaia azbuka (Moscow, 1830) RB.23.a.23374

The cheap popular editions that mushroomed at the end of the 19th century could not afford many pictures, but at least tried to include some under colourful and attractive paper covers.

Collage of late 19th century Azbuka covers

Collage of late 19th century Azbuka covers

Most of the reading materials were still prayers, adaptations from the Gospels, and some simple statements and proverbs. Leo Tolstoy, who established a school for village children, was also concerned with education. He wrote his own Azbuka, where he aimed to offer exercises suitable for any learning method, including the ‘word method’ (reading not syllable by syllable, but memorising whole words), which, as he wrote in the introduction, was popular in England and America. It is interesting to note that Tolstoy thought pictures to be a luxury feature that could only distract pupils.

Cover of L. Tolstoy's Novaia Azbuka

L. Tolstoy. Novaia Azbuka . 25th edition (Moscow, 1908) 12975.m.33

In the new Soviet state this idea of Tolstoy’s was definitely not accepted. Primers illustrated with new communist propaganda became quite popular and were issued for adult learners. In 1921 Dmitrii Moor illustrated an Alphabet for a Red Army Soldier where he applied the same principle as in standard textbooks – introducing letters with a two-line verse and a picture. For example, letter ‘B’ showed a miserable bourgeois, begging for mercy.

Letter B from Dmitrii Moor's Red Army Alphabet. The illustration shows a worker, a peasant and a Red Army soldier standing over a 'bourgeois capitalist'.

Dmitrii Moor, Azbuka krasnoarmeitsa, (Moscow, 1921) Cup.401.g.25.

The campaign “Down with illiteracy!”, which started almost immediately after the October revolution in 1917, also required new textbooks, where learners’ first texts would be citations from Lenin and Trotsky instead of prayers.

Cover of a textbook for adults with an image of adults learning

Doloi negramotnost’. Bukvar’ dlia vzroslykh, (Moscow, 1920). 12975.n.15.

The Soviet primary school textbook had Lenin and a map of the USSR as the first pictures that children would see when they started learning to read and write. This is what the last Soviet edition of primer looked like; it was reproduced in more or less the same way for decades, so I also recognise the cover as my first schoolbook.

Last Soviet bukvar' with an image of Lenin and map of the USSR

Bukvar’. 9th edition (Moscow, 1989). YA.1996.a.6783.

Meanwhile, Russian-speaking children abroad also needed primers. Their parents, who had fled the Soviet regime, wanted them to keep their heritage language. It is interesting to see how old fashioned the YMCA-Press edition of 1957 looks. Children born in the early 1950s were introduced to reading through pictures of a 10 kopeks coin of 1911, a samovar, a horse-drawn carriage, and birch-bark shoes. As well as modern Russian, émigré children were also supposed to learn Church Slavonic so that they could read Christian Orthodox books.

Double-page spread from the 1957 reading book for Russian émigré children

V.P.Vakhterov. Russkii Bukvar’ dlia obucheniia pis’mu I chteniiu russkomu i tserkovno-slavianskomu. (Paris, 1957). 12993.w.1

To learn more about reading and writing in various countries, languages, alphabets, and societies, visit our exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark which is still open until 27th August.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

References/further reading:

Christine Thomas, ‘The East Slavonic Primers: Lvov, 1574 and Moscow 1637,’ The British Library Journal, 10 (1984), 32-47.

E. Rogatchevskaia, ‘“A Beautiful, Tremendous Russian Book, and Other Things Too”: An Overview of Rare Russian Books from the Diaghilev-Lifar Collection in the British Library’, Canadian-American Slavic Studies, Volume 51 (2017) Issue 2-3, 376-397.

Ivan the Terrible, primers, ballet and the joys of curatorship

06 August 2019

The three lives of the Georgian alphabet

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The Georgian alphabet is very old and is used only by the Georgian language. Its origins lie hidden in the depths of the past and are the subject of several theories.

According to the Georgian chronicles, King Parnavaz I was recognised as the creator of the Georgian alphabet. Among scholars, some suggest that the Georgian alphabet derived from Phoenician, while others propose Semitic and Aramaic origins. However, the majority of researchers consider that the Greek alphabet served as the basis for the Georgian one. In strictly structural terms, Georgian alphabetical order largely corresponds to the Greek alphabet with the exception of letters representing uniquely Georgian sounds, which are grouped at the end.

The oldest Georgian inscriptions date back to the fifth century AD. However, it is unlikely that the Georgian alphabet first appeared then as the written culture was by then long established and highly developed. According to the Georgian historian Ivane Javakhishvili, the Georgian writing system had been in use since the 7th century BC.

Inscription from Bolnisi Sioni Cathedral, dated to 494 AD

Inscription from Bolnisi Sioni Cathedral, dated to 494 AD, Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The evolution of Georgia’s written language has produced three scripts: Asomtavruli (5th-9th centuries), Nuskhuri (9th-11th centuries) and Mkhedruli (11th century onwards). The appearance of the letters at each stage is very different. Despite their obvious visual differences, all three scripts are closely interrelated and show a gradual evolution. Their letters share the same names and alphabetical order and are written horizontally from left to right. Originally consisting of 38 letters, Georgian today is written using a 33-letter alphabet, as five letters were dropped as a result of reforms proposed by Ilia Chavchavadze in the 1860s. All three Georgian writing systems are phonemic; every sound is represented by its corresponding letter and almost every written letter is pronounced in speech.

The three Georgian scripts

The three Georgian scripts: Asomtavruli, Nuskhuri, and Mkhedruli (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Asomtavruli (‘capital letters’) is a monumental script, and represents the oldest form of the Georgian alphabet. It is also known as Mrgvlovani (‘rounded’). The geometry of the Asomtavruli script is simple and plain. The first examples date back to the 5th century. From the 9th century, Asomtavruli was mainly employed for capital letters in religious manuscripts. Despite its name, this script is unicameral, i.e. it does not distinguish between upper and lower case, like the two later scripts, Nuskhuri and Mkhedruli.

Letter მ (M) in Asomtavruli script, 12th century New Testament MS

Letter მ (M) in Asomtavruli script, 12th century New Testament MS (Gelati Gospel) (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Book of prayers, 17th century (Sloane MS 1338). The manuscript is written in Nuskhuri, with Asomtavruli letter ‘M’ as a capital

Book of prayers, 17th century (Sloane MS 1338). The manuscript is written in Nuskhuri, with Asomtavruli letter ‘M’ as a capital

The second Georgian writing system, which derived from Asomtavruli, was Nuskhuri (‘minuscule’). Nuskhuri was soon combined with Asomtavruli illuminated capitals in religious manuscripts. The combination was called Khutsuri (‘clerical’) and was largely used in religious writings.

Lives of Holy Fathers, 11th century (Add. MS 11281). The manuscript is written in Khutsuri

Lives of Holy Fathers, 11th century (Add. MS 11281). The manuscript is written in Khutsuri

From the 10th century, Nuskhuri was employed in many texts. Nuskhuri developed as a written style because of the need to write faster and the increased demand for books. Nuskhuri letters have an angular shape, vary in height and slant to the right. They could be written without lifting the writing tool from the page. The oldest known inscription in Nuskhuri is the collection of sermons known as Sinuri mravaltvavi (‘Sinai Homiliary’) dated 864 AD.

These two scripts were followed by Mkhedruli, the modern Georgian script. It first appeared in the 10th century. The name Mkhedruli comes from the word mkhedari which means ‘knightly’. Mkhedruli can be seen as the product of the complex development of previous writing systems. It maintained the rounded design of Asomtavruli and, like Nuskhuri, facilitated faster writing. Letters, as in Nuskhuri script, can also be joined up. Due to its style and flexibility, it is also used for headlines and titles.

Mkhedruli has changed very little since its arrival in the 10th century and has become the standard script of modern Georgian and related Kartvelian languages. Mkhedruli first appeared in print in two books published in Rome in 1629.

Title page and opening of Sefano Paolini’s Dittionario giorgiano e italiano

Title page and opening of Sefano Paolini’s Dittionario giorgiano e italiano (Rome, 1629) 622.e.34.(2.)

The three writing systems co-existed for several centuries and all remain in use today. They were originally used for both religious and secular literature. Gradually, however, Mkhedruli came to be used only for state and secular purposes while Nuskhuri and Asomtavruli were limited to ecclesiastical use.

Georgian scripts were granted the national status of intangible cultural heritage in Georgia in 2015 and inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016. The decision recognised the value of the three writing systems that live together in harmony and mark out the Georgian language.

Anna Chelidze, Curator, Georgian Collections

Further reading

Tʿamaz Gamqreliże, Alphabetic writing and the Old Georgian script: a typology and provenience of alphabetic writing systems (Delmar, N.Y., 1994). ORW.1995.a.283

Michael Kurdiani, Georgian language and script (Tbilisi, 2008). YD.2011.a.5239

Elene Mačavariani, The Old Georgian Script (Tbilisi, 2015). YD.2016.a.2180

Georgian scripts & typography (Tbilisi, 2016). YF.2019.b.1408

The British Library Exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark continues until 27 August 2019. 

15 July 2019

Animals, Folk Tales and Tragedy: the family story behind a Ukrainian reading book

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Borys and Mariia Hrinchenko were two of the most prominent Ukrainian educators, folklorists, writers and linguists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Yet while Borys is widely celebrated, far less is known about Mariia and her work. On the anniversary of her death, this blog post looks at some of her activities through the lens of one book: Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka (‘Native Word. A Ukrainian Reader’), which was compiled by Borys and Mariia and published in Kyiv in 1912 (12975.l.27.).

A portrait of the Hrinchenko Family. Mariia and Anastasiia are seated and are wearing traditional Ukrainian clothes

The Hrinchenko Family: Borys, Mariia and their daughter, Anastasiia. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The history behind the book’s publication reveals the vital and often overlooked role that Mariia played in preserving and bringing to light Borys’s work, as well as her role as a writer and editor. Borys initially used the reader, which he put together in 1889, to teach his daughter, Anastasiia, how to read. The book was based on the 1864 children’s reading book Rodnoe slovo (Native Word) by the writer and pedagogue Konstantin Ushinskii.

After publishing a Ukrainian primer in 1907 (012901.i.25.(1.)), Borys also planned to publish his reader. The book needed considerable work, however, and he died before it was finished. Following his death from tuberculosis in 1910, Mariia edited the reader and added additional sections. The book was received as a gift by the British Museum Library in 1913, a year after it was first published.

Cover of Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka featuring a traditional Ukrainian folk design with flowers

Cover of Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka (‘Native Word. A Ukrainian Reader’), Kyiv, 1912. 12975.l.27.

The reader is arranged thematically, beginning with a section on domestic and wild animals, before moving on to subjects such as flora, clothing and science. In addition to short stories and poems (including by Borys and Mariia Hrinchenko, Lesia Ukrainka and Taras Shevchenko, songs and comprehension exercises, it contains a number of riddles relating to the topic of each section, such as the following agricultural gem:

Що старше: ячмінь чи овес?
[What’s older: barley or oats?]
Ячмінь, бо вуси має.
[Barley, because it has a moustache (whiskers).]

Page from Ridne slovo about wild and domestic animals. Featuring drawings of a horse and hedgehog

Page from Ridne slovo about plants. Featuring drawings of mushrooms and flowers

Pages from Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka (‘Native Word. A Ukrainian Reader’), Kyiv, 1912. 12975.l.27.

Mariia was herself a prolific translator, writer, poet and collector. Like Borys, she was also interested in education and Ukrainian folk culture. Between 1887 and 1893, the couple taught in a school set up by Khrystyna Alchevska, an educator, teacher and a prominent activist for national education in Ukraine and the Russian Empire. After moving to Kyiv in the early 1900s, both Mariia and Borys worked on the Slovarʹ ukraïnsʹkoï movy (Dictionary of the Ukrainian Language), which was published in four volumes between 1907 and 1909. Mariia’s role in compiling and editing the dictionary, which is considered one of the most important works in the history of the modern Ukrainian language, is rarely acknowledged, however.

Writing most commonly under the pseudonym M. Zahirnia, her translations include works by Henrik Ibsen, Hans Christian Anderson and Hermann Sudermann. Some were collaborations with her husband and daughter. Mariia also wrote pamphlets and short texts on social issues, such as Strashnyi voroh (‘The Terrible Enemy’) which discussed alcohol and alcoholism (Kyiv, 1907; Ac.2655/2.).

Title page from a book in memory of Anastasiia. Includes her portrait.

Title page from a book in memory of Anastasiia (Nastiia), (Kyiv, 1912). 010795.aa.5.

In 1908, Mariia and Borys’ daughter, Anastasiia, tragically died at the age of 24. Influenced by her parents, Anastasiia was also an active writer and translator during her short life. She was involved in revolutionary activities in 1905, for which she was twice imprisoned. It was during this time that she developed tuberculosis, which led to her death just a few years later. Tragically, her infant son, who was born just before her death, also died shortly after. In 1912, Mariia published a series of books (including older titles written by her and Borys) in Anastasiia’s memory (010795.aa.5.).

In her later years, Mariia was known for her philanthropic and political work. She was also responsible for organising and donating Borys’s library of over 6,000 books to the National Library of Ukraine shortly after it was founded in 1918. Mariia died a decade later, on 15 July 1928. As is clear from the story behind Ridne slovo, she was a hugely important figure as a writer and editor at this time and instrumental in shaping the way Borys’s legacy is viewed today.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

References and further reading

Borys Hrinchenko and Mariia Hrinchenko, Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka. Persha pislia hramatky knyha do chytannia (Kyiv, 1912). 12975.l.27.

Borys Hrinchenko, Ukraïnsʹka hramatka do nauky chytannia ĭ pysannia (Kyiv, 1907). 012901.i.25.(1.)

Mariia Hrinchenko, Strashnyi voroh: knyzhka po horilku, No. 7 (Kyiv, 1907). Ac.2655/2.

Mariia Hrinchenko (ed.), Knyzhky pamʹiati Nasti Hrinchenko, No. 6-11 (Kyiv, 1912-1913). 010795.aa.5.

Liudmyla Nezhyva, Mariia Zahirnia: literaturnyĭ portret (Luhansʹk, 2003). YF.2007.a.23289

P. I. Skrypnyk, ‘Hrinchenko, Mariia Mykolaïvna’ Encyclopedia of Ukrainian History, Vol. 2 (Kyiv, 2004).

10 July 2019

Phrenology and English teaching: Mariano Cubí y Soler

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Mariano Cubí y Soler (1801-1875) was an early adopter of various ideas which in Spain were considered advanced: phrenology, spelling reform, anglophilia and possibly vegetarianism.

Aged 20, he set sail for the United States to teach Spanish and French; he founded schools in Cuba and Mexico.

In 1836, he travelled the States, examining heads. The result was his publication in the same year in New Orleans Introducción a la frenología por un catalán.

Title page of Cubí’s La Frenolojı́a i sus glorias..., featuring his portrait

Another of Cubí’s works on phrenology, La Frenolojı́a i sus glorias ...  (Barcelona, 1853) 7410.e.14.

A page from La Frenolojı́a i sus glorias with drawings of a man and a lion

Man compared to lion. A page from La Frenolojı́a i sus glorias, showing that the new phrenology in some senses was the continuation of the old physiognomy.

He wrote a Spanish course for English speakers, A New Spanish Grammar, adapted to every class of readers published by Boosey and Sons in London in 1826 (1211.l.12). (On Boosey as a publisher of language books, see Foreign-Language Printing in London.)

In 1851 he produced a teach-yourself English book for Spaniards, printed in Bath (‘Baz’) by Isaac Pitman. It uses Pitman’s phonography, a form of phonetic transcription.

Title page of Cubí’s Nuevo sistema, fácil en su práctica, i seguro en sus resultados, para aprender a leer i pronunciar con pureza, correccion i sentido la lengua inglesa …

Title page of Cubí’s Nuevo sistema, fácil en su práctica, i seguro en sus resultados, para aprender a leer i pronunciar con pureza, correccion i sentido la lengua inglesa … (Bath, 1851) RB.23.a.34190

This book is typical of its time in exposing its students to some demanding passages of literature, something which makes pure linguists huff and puff. An indication of Cubí’s willingness to think outside the box is that by Lesson Two we are already reading about Vegetarianism.

The first two lessons from the Nuevo sistema …

The first two lessons from the Nuevo sistema …

His left-field status might have rendered him attractive to the advanced-thinking generation of the late Franco period: it can’t be coincidental that Ramón Carnicer’s monograph on Cubí was published by the progressive house of Seix Barral, who introduced Spanish readers to the Latin American literary boom.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References

Ramón Carnicer, Entre la ciencia y la magia: Mariano Cubí y Soler (Barcelona, 1969) X.319/3922

Foreign-Language Printing in London 1500-1900, ed. Barry Taylor (Boston Spa, 2002) RAR 338.47686

Mariano Cubí y Soler, La frenolojía i sus glorias (1853) 7410.e.14