14 September 2021
Today, 14 September 2021, we mark the 700th anniversary of the death of Italian poet Dante Alighieri. His main work, the Divine Comedy, is widely considered one of the most important works of literature. His vision still informs our idea of afterlife: how Hell, Purgatory and Paradise look like. His poetry still moves and inspires.
The British Library holds outstanding Dante collections, dating from the Middle Ages right up to the present day, which you can find out about in the following video made especially to celebrate this anniversary. The video has been made by European and American Collections in collaboration with Western Heritage Collections.
This video offers the rare opportunity to look at the circulation of one work of literature across seven centuries. Nothing survives in Dante’s own hand. The manuscripts of the Divine Comedy are, for this reason, even more important. The invention of printing shows how Dante was very popular in the 15th and 16th centuries in Italy, and his limited fortune during the Baroque and Enlightenment eras.
The Romantic era, the Risorgimento and the Italian unification sparked a new and increased interest in Dante as national poet. The Divine Comedy was acknowledged as the greatest work of poetry in Italian and became the subject of studies in Italian schools and universities. Translations started to become popular outside of Italy (we have editions of the Divine Comedy in about 40 different languages in our catalogue) and Dante studies became a subject in itself.
Amos Nattini, Purgatorio, Canto XXVIII
Dante became popular in the mass media: for example, the first Italian feature length movie, commissioned in 1911 for the 50th anniversary of Italian unification, was inspired by the Divine Comedy and titled Inferno.
The political importance of the Divine Comedy is shown by the number of editions published in the 20th century, many directly sponsored by the Italian government.
Two of them are shown in the video. La Divina Commedia novamente illustrata da artisti italiani a cura di Vittorio Alinari (Firenze, 1902-3; 11420.k.11.) is the first. This lavish edition includes works of 59 young artists who had won a contest to produce new illustrations for the Divine Comedy. Two of them, Duilio Cambellotti and Alberto Martini, both in their early twenties at the time of the competition, distinguished themselves with a work of great graphical interest that shows their Symbolist style and anticipates the development of Art Nouveau.
Duilio Cambellotti, Inferno, Canto X
The second work that I show is La Divina Commedia / illustrazioni di Dalì ([1963-64], awaiting shelfmark). On the occasion of this anniversary the British Library had the opportunity to acquire a precious edition of the Divine Comedy illustrated by the Spanish painter Salvador Dalì. This edition was commissioned on the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth, in 1965. The painter took nine years to complete this work. In this collection of 100 watercolour woodcuts, Dalì adds elements of his iconic and unique imagination to Dante’s vision: desolate landscapes, crutches, spiders, figures with drawers.
Salvador Dalì, Purgatorio, Canto I
We couldn’t include them all in the video, but here are some other remarkable editions:
La Divina Commedia. Illustrazione su cento cartoline eseguita da artisti fiorentini, ideata e diretta dall’ingegnere Attilio Razzolini. (Milano, [1902, 03]). 11421.e.23. This is a collection of 100 postcards, one for each canto, in Gothic revival style. Each of them is decorated with miniatures by the illustrator.
La Divina Commedia, with plates by Amos E. Nattini. (Turin, [1923-41]). Cup.652.c.
La divina commedia. Introduzioni ai canti, di Natalino Sapegno. Disegni a colori di Antony de Witt. (Firenze, 1964). L.R.413.w.37.
Interested in learning more on Dante? Join us tonight for the online event Dante in the British Library: Hell, Purgatory and Heaven (Tuesday 14 September 2021, 19:30 - 20:30).
Valentina Mirabella, Curator, Romance Collections
10 September 2021
Tuesday 14 September 2021 will be the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death. The British Library holds extensive Dante collections, with some richly illuminated manuscripts and precious printed editions of Dante’s masterpiece, the Divine Comedy.
To celebrate the Italian poet (c. 1265-1321) we have organised an online event, Dante in the British Library: Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, presenting original research on the Divine Comedy. Dr Alessandro Scafi of the Warburg Institute will focus on Dante’s vision of the Garden of Eden against the backdrop of medieval tradition, seen through maps. The second lecture will be given by Elisabeth Trischler, who is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds. Elisabeth will be speaking about the expansion of Florence during Dante’s lifetime and how it influenced the Divine Comedy. She will look at two examples: medieval representations of cities, and towers.
Dante con l’espositione di Christoforo Landino et di Alessandro Vellutello sopra la sua comedia dell’Inferno, del Purgatorio, & del Paradiso (Venice, 1564) C.78.d.13.
We will also be sharing something really exciting about Dante and the British Library’s Dante collections in the coming weeks!
In the meantime, I would like to share some of my favourite lines from the Divine Comedy. It is a quote from Ulysses’ ‘little oration’ to exhort his companions to set sail towards the unknown. This sums up Dante’s own desire for knowledge, which he passes on to all his readers:
Considerate la vostra semenza:
fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza.
Consider well the seed that gave you birth:
you were not made to live your lives as brutes,
but to be followers of worth and knowledge.
Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections
19 February 2021
Georgia has long been represented in the collections of the British Library and its predecessors. We hold Georgian manuscripts, printed books, maps, sound recordings and visual materials as well as a wide range of publications in Western languages relating to Georgia and the Caucasus. We also hold official publications, periodicals and newspapers.
These materials describe Georgian culture at different times and from different perspectives. They also tell a story about British curiosity and the desire to learn and read about lesser-known countries and cultures.
Georgia had strong links with the Classical and Byzantine worlds. This period of Georgian history is well illustrated in the Library’s collections by seven Georgian medieval manuscripts and early Western cartographic material.
The Georgian flag, among others, appears on this map created in Venice in the 1320s. It is a white rectangle, with a large red cross in its central portion touching all four sides of the flag. In the four corners there are four crosses of the same colour as the large cross.
After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the links between Georgia and Europe were lost. Consequently, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Georgia became trapped between Turkey and Persia in their rivalry for domination over Transcaucasia. The King of Georgia, Teimuraz I, sent his envoy, Niceforo Irbach, to Europe to ask for assistance and to seek allies. His ambassadorial mission had little political success, but it did bring about a significant cultural event: the printing of the earliest Georgian books.
These books, printed in Rome by the Propaganda Fide press in the 17th century, are well represented in the Georgian collections. Indeed, we have several copies of them. They are the earliest printed publications in Georgian and they are also the earliest dictionaries and grammar books printed in Georgian.
Title page and opening of Sefano Paolini, Dittionario giorgiano e italiano (Rome, 1629); 622.e.34.(2.).
The reports of English and European travellers to Georgia stimulated interest in the country in the 17th century. The desire for knowledge of little-known countries and cultures encouraged the publication of their travel accounts and of maps.
The Library has a number of these early accounts, including the works of Sir John Chardin and Sir Robert Ker Porter. These remained the most important sources of information in Europe about life in Georgia until the early 19th century.
‘A Georgian lady’; Add MS 14758/2, fol. 187r.
In the 19th century interest in Georgian culture became more academic. This was linked to a more general interest in Asia. The Royal Asiatic Society was founded in London in 1823. The British and Foreign Bible Society was also encouraging its members to study early Eastern Christian manuscripts including those in Georgian. In 1837 the British Museum purchased two Georgian manuscripts: Add MS 11281 and Add MS 11282.
11th-century Georgian manuscript, ‘Lives of Holy Fathers’. Add MS 11281.
The Library’s collections hold the works of the first British Kartvelologists, researchers on Georgian studies, who initiated the promotion of Georgian language and culture in the second half of the 19th century. They were responsible for the first attempts to introduce Georgian culture to intellectual and research circles in Britain and Continental Europe.
Sir Oliver Wardrop and William Edward David Allen founded the Georgian Historical Society (1930), which published its own journal, Georgica, (1935- ; Ac.8821.e.) dedicated to Kartvelian studies. Several Georgian literary classics were translated by Marjory and Oliver Wardrop and other scholars.
Photograph of Marjory Wardrop in Georgian national dress, 1896. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Various aspects of 20th-century Georgian culture and history are reflected in the Library’s collections:
The first sound recordings made in Georgia and the Caucasus, recorded in Tbilisi, 1901-1914, by the Gramophone Company of London;
A rare copy of H2SO4, the Georgian avant-garde journal, published in 1924 (RB.23.b.6973);
First editions of writings by the avant-garde artist David Kakabadze, published in Paris in 1924;
Avant-garde books designed and written by Ilia and Kiril Zdanevich;
Georgian émigré newspapers published in Europe and the USA after the Russian Revolution.
We also hold two later manuscript collections. The first, Musha (‘The Worker’: a journal of the socialist-revolutionary party in Georgia), was presented to the British Museum in 1898 by Prince Varlaam Cherkezishvili, a remarkable person who obtained a seat in the Constituent Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Georgia.
The second, written in the 1950s, consists of a collection of letters and postcards by Grigol Robakidze, a writer, publicist and public figure (Or 16935).
The Library’s Georgian holdings continue to grow in the 21st century. Contemporary Georgian material is acquired in the mainstream humanities disciplines. The emphasis is on reference books, history, art and culture, as well as literature, language, contemporary politics, ecology, etc.. We collect contemporary fiction in Georgian and also acquire translations via Legal Deposit and by purchase.
In addition to ongoing acquisitions of new material, the collection is supported by donations from the public and partners. Most recently, the collections were significantly strengthened by generous gifts from the Art Palace of Georgia - Museum of Cultural History.
Besides extremely valuable publications from the Art Palace, we have also received a collection of Georgian film posters 1934-1985 and four Georgian contemporary illuminated manuscripts. These manuscripts have been created by contemporary Georgian artists and calligraphers. They are original works but executed in gold ink in traditional Georgian style. The Art Palace commissioned these works specially for the British Library to enrich our Georgian collections.
Manuscript donated by Art Palace; (Awaiting shelfmark).
On Friday 25th and Sunday 27 February the British Library in association with Maya Jaggi and Writers’ House of Georgia will present two days of online events as part of the four-day festival Georgia’s Fantastic Tavern: Where Europe Meets Asia. Some of Georgia’s most celebrated novelists, playwrights and screenwriters will be reflecting on Georgia’s artistic legacy on the centenary of the first Georgian Republic and the 30th anniversary of independence from Soviet rule. Further details and booking information can be found here.
Anna Chelidze, Curator Georgian Collections
Anzor Erkʿomaišvili = Anzor Erkosmaisvili. Kʿartʿuli pʿonočʿanacerebi ucʿxoetši = Georgian pohonogram recordings abroad. (HUS 016.7809475)
04 January 2019
Many researchers who have explored the extensive Spanish collections of the British Library will have consulted the Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Spanish Language in the British Museum (London, 1875-1893; RAR 090.16 Eng). Compiled by the orientalist and bibliophile Pascual de Gayangos y Arce (1809-1897), the work can be seen not only as a scholarly catalogue, but also as exemplifying his role as a cultural bridge between Spain and the English-speaking world.
Pascual de Gayangos y Arce, from La Ilustración Española y Americana, 8 October 1897. LOU.F899
For some six decades, Gayangos was arguably the most respected Spanish scholar in both Britain and the United States. His first contact with the British Museum occurred during a research visit to London in 1835 when he learned of the acquisition of manuscripts from the library of Juan de Iriarte (1703-71), who had been the Spanish Royal Librarian. He even added to the Spanish collections the following year when he sold a series of original letters relating to the history of England and Spain to the Museum (now BL Egerton MS 616).
In 1837, Gayangos set up home in London in order to carry out research for his major work, The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain (London, 1840-1843; 14003.f.23), based on manuscripts held by the Museum. Soon, he became a familiar figure in the reading rooms. The American historian Jared Sparks commented to William H. Prescott in 1840 that among ‘a hundred readers and transcribers, of all nations and tongues … you see Gayangos eagerly poring over his Arabic manuscripts’. During this time he willingly aided a growing number of scholars; hunted in library, book trade and auction catalogues and in private collections for Spanish books and manuscripts; wrote on Spanish topics for books, journals and encyclopaedias; gained the friendship of Hispanophiles such as Richard Ford; and performed the role of ‘literary ambassador’ for Spain in London. It was in 1842 when, according to Gayangos himself, he began his catalogue of the Museum’s Spanish manuscripts as an aid to his own research. In 1843, however, he returned to Spain where he was appointed to the chair of Arabic at the University of Madrid, but this did not prevent him from strengthening his links with ‘dear old England’.
Annual visits to London began in 1855 and he continued to note systematically the Museum’s new acquisitions of Spanish materials. He also investigated its rare riches such as the Bauzá collection of maps and charts when, in the 1860s, he was commissioned by the Spanish Government to study documents relating to the historical rights of Spain to her colonies. Significantly too, he generously shared his discoveries with fellow scholars such as William Stirling-Maxwell, John Rutter Chorley, Edward Churton, Frederick W. Cosens and, later, Henry Spencer Ashbee and Norman Maccoll. The British Museum Trustees were therefore happy to entrust the Spanish manuscripts project to a scholar who, on Stirling-Maxwell’s recommendation, ‘has had some considerable share in furnishing materials for almost every good English book on any Spanish subject which has appeared during the last thirty years’. Gayangos made the formal proposal in 1867. He retired from the chair in Madrid in 1870.
Despite his age, Gayangos showed phenomenal vitality during the last three decades of his life and, while continuing to work on the Catalogue, he visited Simancas, Brussels and Vienna. He was also employed by the Public Record Office in the continuation of the Calendar… of State Papers relating to England and Spain. His career came to a sad end on 28 September 1897 when, crossing Southampton Row, probably en route to or from the Museum, a ‘badly driven horse’ knocked him to the ground, causing his death some days later. For those interested in ‘las cosas de España’, he left behind the Catalogue and the Calendar, just two of ‘his long series of impersonal, objective works’ that, in the words of James Fitzmaurice-Kelly, ‘but faintly mirrored’ his true stature. Today the two works, the Catalogue and the Calendar, remain essential reference tools and can be consulted on the open access shelves of the British Library.
Santiago Santiño Ramírez de Alda, Historian and Author
Calendar of letters, despatches and state papers relating to the negotiations between England and Spain… vols. 3-7 (London, 1871-99) HLR 941.
Cristina Álvarez Millán and Claudia Heide (eds.), Pascual de Gayangos. A Nineteenth-Century Spanish Arabist (Edinburgh, 2008) YC.2009.a.4466.
James Fitzmaurice-Kelly, ‘Chronique’, Revue Hispanique, 4 (1897), 337-41, p. 341.
Santiago Santiño, Pascual de Gayangos (1809-1897). Erudición y cosmopolitismo en la España del Siglo XIX (Pamplona, 2018) YF.2018.a.9696.
Roger Wolcott (ed.), The Correspondence of William Hickling Prescott (1833-1847) (Boston & New York, 1925) 010902.i.30..
14 May 2018
John Bax (1793-1863) was an administrator in the Bombay Civil Service. Throughout his working life he kept a meticulous record of his travels between England and India, as well as around Great Britain, and across continental Europe and the Middle East. Two volumes of Bax’s journals have been digitised for the Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme, thanks to Bax’s descriptions of Arabia and Persia. However, these volumes also offer us an insight into life in early 19th-century Europe.
Header for diary entries describing Bax’s journey from England to Persia during 1824/25. Mss Eur F377/1.
Bax’s overland journey from England to India during 1824 and 1825 is particularly illuminating, not least because it offers fascinating vignettes of life in the Habsburg Empire. Bax’s journey through the Empire’s dominions covered in excess of 1,000 kilometres. It took him from Salzburg to Vienna, where he stayed for several weeks over Christmas 1824, and then onwards to Buda and Pest, through Transylvania, stopping at the towns of Temeswar [Timisoara] and Hermanstadt [Sibiu], before passing into the Turkish province of Wallachia.
Bax’s diary entries reveal something of the internal contradictions and tensions of the Habsburg Empire; of the contrasts between its centre and far-flung frontiers, of strict religious codes versus cosmopolitanism, and the stark contrasts that existed between courtly opulence and provincial poverty.
Between Munich and Salzburg Bax noted that the ‘road is protected by whole troops of saints, several of whom were comfortably housed in a kind of sentry box.’ Of Salzburg itself Bax wrote that ‘the bigotry of [the town’s] inhabitants is of ancient date and no Protestant is permitted to domicile there.’ Bax added that ‘We were required to specify our religion immediately upon arrival’ (f 209).
Bax was ambivalent about Vienna. He described the ‘want of energy and activity of the inhabitants’ and the ‘changeless monotony of society’ as not befitting the capital of a large Empire. However, Bax did note that ‘all the finery and clothes of the city’ were on display at the Prater on New Year’s Day, and that the music of the carnival seasons was ‘universally of the superior order’. Bax appears to have thought the most ‘imposing spectacle’ of his stay was the funeral procession of an Austrian Field Marshal (ff 210-211).
When Bax arrived at Buda the town was still a distinctly separate entity from Pest, its modern neighbour, on the opposite bank of the Danube. 24 years elapsed after Bax’s visit before the Széchenyi Chain Bridge linked the two towns. In Buda, Bax wrote that during ‘the summer months, there is a bridge of forty-seven boats’ across the river, which were opened up for one hour each morning to allow the passage of other vessels up and down river (f 213).
In 1825, large parts of the Habsburg Empire had been liberated from Ottoman rule only a century previously. In Transylvania, Bax saw for himself past and present attempts to protect the region’s towns from the Turks. His journal indicates the contrast between the ‘strong fortified’ Timisoara and the ‘dilapidated’ red brick walls of Sibiu. On the road between Timisoara and Sibiu, Bax wrote of villages ‘built of wood and mud’, in which ‘poverty seemed to reign on every side in pale and wan squalidity’ (f 215).
When Bax arrived in Sibiu the carnival season was in full swing. He described dancing crowds of ‘Germans, Hungarians, Greeks, Saxons and Transilvanians [who] were nightly exhibiting a succession of the most intricate figures.’ On his departure from the town he witnessed a marriage procession, led by a man ‘bearing aloft a long pole to which streamers of various colours were attached’, followed by a fiddler, the bride and groom, and a ‘mob of men and women and children’ (ff 216-217).
You can read more of John Bax’s travels throughout Europe and elsewhere, in the first of his two volumes of travel journals, now available online on the Qatar Digital Library.
Mark Hobbs, Content Specialist, Gulf History, Qatar Project
29 March 2017
You’d be forgiven for thinking the British Library’s Stefan Zweig Study Day, which took place on Monday 20 March, would be a sombre occasion. Beginning with Klemens Renoldner, esteemed Director of the Stefan Zweig Centre in Salzburg, and his presentation entitled ‘When Europe was destroyed’ and ending with translator and poet Will Stone’s readings from the essay collection, Messages from a Lost World: Europe on the Brink (London, 2016; ELD.DS.115440), the programme might have struck a warning rather than warming tone. Yet the Library’s day of events brought together experts and fans – old and new – in a true celebration of Stefan Zweig and his collection of manuscripts around the 75th anniversary of his death.
In the sold-out Eliot Room of the Library’s Knowledge Centre, guests were presented a programme that united the very latest research – namely on Zweig’s personal library, and on the relationship between Richard Strauss and Zweig –, the anecdotal and personal aspects of Zweig’s experiences across Europe, as well as the writer’s own words in the most recent translations of his more political essays. As Will Stone read from the concluding essay in Messages from a Lost World, ‘In this Dark Hour’, written in 1941, the day approached its end with the lines: ‘Darkness must fall before we are aware of the majesty of the stars above our heads’.
As darkness fell on Monday and on the study day, the shining stars of the Stefan Zweig Collection took centre stage at the Library’s ‘Evening of Music and Poetry from the Zweig Collection’. As Samuel West spoke the first lines in the role of Zweig himself, the audience was welcomed into a different era.
In the words of West, and Zweig, following the performances of Schubert’s ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’ and ‘An die Musik’ by soprano Ilona Domnich and baritone Simon Wallfisch respectively, accompanied on the paino by Simon Callghan, we forgot ‘time and space in our passionate enthusiasm, truly transported to a better world’.
Our performers navigated the often turmoiled life of Stefan Zweig through diary entries and letters, piercing the darkness of war and exile with moments of hope and friendship, and by bringing to life the sublime moments of creativity present in the manuscript collection.
From Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, via Keats, Verlaine and Wilde, to Mahler and Richard Strauss, Europe’s cultural heritage was on show, so that we for a moment could only share Zweig’s feeling that in the collection was the whole universe. As Zweig exited the stage, disillusioned with collecting and with a Europe lost to him forever, it was left for Ilona Domnich to bid us goodnight and to let the darkness fall once again with Strauss’s ‘Beim Schlafengehen’.
We thank all those involved in bringing the Zweig Collection to life and we hope to become aware once more in the near future of the majesty of those stars above our heads and in our collections.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library / University of Bristol
The Catalogue of the Literary and Historical Manuscripts from the British Library Stefan Zweig Collection is now published and can be purchased through BL Publishing. A display of manuscripts from the Zweig Collection will be in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery until 11 June.
23 February 2017
To mark the 75th anniversary of the death of the Austrian writer and collector Stefan Zweig (23 February 2017), the British Library has this week opened the display: ‘Stefan Zweig: The Magic of Manuscripts’ in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery.
Fast re-becoming a household name in the English-speaking world, Stefan Zweig was the most-translated author of his day. His short stories, his biographies and his memoir, Die Welt von gestern (The World of Yesterday), quickly became bestsellers but his writing was only one part of his work. From an early age, Zweig began collecting the manuscripts of creative figures he admired like Goethe and Beethoven. Soon, he owned one of the most prestigious manuscript collections in Europe and Zweig considered this group of ‘sublime figures’ as much of an artwork as his writing. Exile to England in the 1930s precipitated the dispersal of his collection – some items were donated to appropriate institutions, most were sold. What was left was the essence, the refined core of his original idea and in 1986, Stefan Zweig’s heirs donated this great collection to the British Library.
Our display will celebrate the breadth and eclecticism amongst the literary, historical and musical manuscripts. It begins with a case dedicated to the many close friendships Zweig made across Europe, with manuscripts from Romain Rolland, Hermann Hesse and ‘the dear master’ Sigmund Freud. We move onto showing how Zweig’s writing often reflected his collection through figures such as Marie Antoinette (the subject of an incredibly successful biography by Zweig), Leo Tolstoy and Lord Byron.
Zweig was motivated by the ‘secret of creation’ and the way for him to get closer to that secret was through manuscripts that were ‘still warm from writing’. In other words, working drafts, works-in-progress, corrected proofs – anything that showed the mess of production. This is precisely what the third case displays with a leaf from the monumental bound corrected proofs of Honoré de Balzac’s Une Ténébreuse Affaire, which is certainly the collection’s most emphatic example of the creative process. Works by Goethe, John Keats, Paul Verlaine and Oscar Wilde join the Balzac in revealing the deviations, re-imaginings and second thoughts at the heart of the creative process.
The final case belongs to Zweig’s musical manuscripts, since music would dominate his later collecting period. In exile in the 1930s and more and more uncomfortable with the German language which was becoming contaminated by Nazism, music became a less-complicated artistic refuge. Manuscripts by Richard Strauss, Mozart and Schubert each tell a story about Zweig’s later life. In Schubert’s ‘An die Musik’, we hear the famous line repeated so often in Zweig’s memoirs: ‘Thou lovely art, how often in dark hours, when life’s wild tumult wraps me round, have you kindled my heart with loving warmth, and transported me to a better world.’
Other musical treasures from Zweig’s collection are also on longer-term display in the section of the gallery devoted to Music: a cantata by Gluck (Zweig MS 34), sketches for Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella (Zweig MS 94), and one of the greatest treasures in the collection, and indeed in the British Library, Mozart’s thematic catalogue of his own works (Zweig MS 63).
‘The Magic of Manuscripts’ will be on display until 11 June 2017 and to accompany the exhibition and celebrate the publication of the catalogue of the literary and historical manuscripts in the collection the Library will be hosting a study day and an evening of music and poetry from the Zweig Collection on 20 March. Tickets for these events are available through the links.
Pardaad Chamsaz, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library/University of Bristol
28 November 2016
Stefan Zweig, whose birthday we mark today, was one of the world’s bestselling authors in his lifetime. In recent years his work has enjoyed something of a renaissance in the English-speaking world: his books have been rediscovered by publishers and readers (and was an inspiration for the 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel), and there has been a growth in academic interest in his life and work. One reflection of the latter interest is the collaborative PhD project between the British Library and the University of Bristol which began in 2014 and has seen PhD student Pardaad Chamsaz work on the aspect of Zweig which is perhaps of greatest importance to the British Library: his activity as a collector of autograph manuscripts.
Manuscript collecting was a lifelong passion for Zweig. In the first three decades of the 20th century he built one of the finest and most admired collections in the world. When the rise of Nazism in the 1930s forced him into exile, first in Britain and finally in Brazil, he began to refine the collection, selling many items and keeping only those which had a particular significance for him. In 1986 his heirs donated the manuscripts from this final collection to the British Library in what has was justly described by the Library’s then Chairman, Lord Quinton, as “the most important and the most generous gift that the British Library has received since its foundation.”
The manuscripts now in the British Library reflect various aspects of Zweig’s life and interests. The greatest number are musical scores: Zweig had long sought solace in music from “the grime of the political stuff, the black downpour of events” (Diary, 27 October 1915), and in his years of exile he found in the abstract beauty of music a better example of art as he understood it, as a humanistic and uniting force, than the written word, especially the written word in his native German which was becoming known as the language of the Nazis.
But although he collected and retained more musical than literary and historical manuscripts, Zweig did not neglect the latter. Among the literary and historical manuscripts in the collection there are some which recall Zweig’s own literary friendships – works presented to him by authors such as Émile Verhaeren (Zweig MS 193-4), Romain Rolland (Zweig MS 184-6), Rainer Maria Rilke (Zweig MS 179-80) and Sigmund Freud (Zweig MS 150), all of whom he knew personally.
Freud is also an example of someone Zweig himself wrote about, along with historical figures such as Marie Antoinette (Zweig MS 171), Dostoevsky (Zweig MS 143) and Friedrich Nietzsche (Zweig MS 175), all present in the collection.
Zweig’s interest in the act of creation is clear from many of the manuscripts, perhaps most strikingly in the proof copy of Balzac’s novel Une Ténébreuse Affaire, with its numerous corrections and additions, but also in, for example, poems by John Keats (Zweig MS 163) and the German Romantic writer Novalis (Zweig MS 176).
Although French and German writers predominate, the European cultural internationalism of Zweig’s outlook is clear from the scope of his collection. There are works in English, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. Many items also recall Zweig’s love for collecting items that he felt brought him close to great figures of the past, including one surviving ‘relic’, a collection of clippings from Goethe’s hair (Zweig MS 155).
The first volume of a catalogue of the British Library Stefan Zweig Collection, covering the music manuscripts (Zweig MS 1-131) was published in 1999 (2702.f.433), but for various reasons the cataloguing of the literary and historical manuscripts (Zweig MS 132-200 with some later additions) was delayed, despite the dedicated work of two now retired colleagues. One aim of the collaborative PhD project – alongside overseeing the digitisation of the literary and historical manuscripts, which can now be seen on our Digitised Manuscripts Catalogue – was to help see the second volume of the printed catalogue through to publication, and we are delighted that this will appear early next year.
In order to celebrate this publication, and to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Zweig’s death in 1942, the Library will be mounting a display of items from the collection, ‘The Magic of Manuscripts’, in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery from 21 February until 11 June 2017, and on 20 March will host a study day, ‘Stefan Zweig: European, Humanist, Collector’, followed by an evening event featuring readings and music from manuscripts in the collection and from Zweig’s own writings.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies
23 November 2015
The Stefan Zweig Collection of manuscripts, donated to the British Library in 1986, has been described as ‘the most important and valuable donation made to the Library in the 20th century’. The manuscripts are not those of Zweig’s own works but a selection of the autograph manuscripts of great composers, writers and historical figures which Zweig collected throughout his life. A catalogue of the music manuscripts was published in 1999 and these have all been digitised. Now it is the turn of the literary and historical manuscripts. A digitisation programme was begun in early 2015, and nearly all of the manuscripts can now be viewed via the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts catalogue. A printed catalogue is due for publication in 2016, and the full catalogue descriptions will also be found online. In this post, Pardaad Chamsaz, a collaborative PhD student working on the collection, considers the challenges involved in digitising Honoré de Balzac’s proof copy of his novel Une ténébreuse affaire, with its myriad corrections and editions.
When the first marked page of the corrected proof for Balzac’s Une ténébreuse affaire (British Library Zweig MS 133) prosaically gives its title, author and status as “épreuves”, we may linger on this last word, as it signals both its stage in the writing process as well as the “test” that its reading threatens. This innocuous page sits on top of a pile of over 600 sheets, both typed and handwritten, where the typescript is aggressively handled and manipulated, so that the physical struggle for the work is eternalised on the underbelly of its published variant.
This unassuming opening faced the Imaging Studio team, as Une ténébreuse affaire was delivered for digitisation earlier this year. They were all too aware of the “test” they were about to embark on. Indeed, translations for épreuve include equivalents such as “hardship”, “ordeal”, “trial” – words not inappropriate to the task at hand. Once the conflict of logistics around when to attempt the digitisation was resolved (the difference between the “let’s leave it until the end of the project” and “let’s get it out of the way” schools of thought – both implying trepidation), the photographer entered the proof, labelled by its collector, Stefan Zweig, as a ‘Höllenlabyrinth von Korrekturen’, an infernal labyrinth of corrections.
Zweig considered the proof as a key document in his collection that could provide immense insights into the secret of literary creation. When Zweig purchased the item in 1914, he wrote in his diary that as soon as he saw it in the famous Parisian antiquarian bookseller, Blaisot, he bought it ‘lightning-quick, rashly, greedily, in spite of feeling like I might have overpaid’. Now, the library’s Zweig MS 133 is one of the most unique and complete examples of a Balzac corrected proof outside of the Spoelberch de Lovenjoul collection in the library of the Institut de France in Paris.
This mass of workings around the detective novel’s ever more complex intrigue, contains printed pages of uneven lengths and widths overlain with thick handwritten corrections, often with an indecipherable set of symbols linking old and new text. The reader will find slips of paper glued onto some pages to indicate replacement text, as well as, from the very beginning of the “labyrinth”, around 200 inserted small leaves of manuscript additions. It was rumoured that Balzac would go through this correction process 10-15 times for each work, and Zweig was in awe of how Balzac’s physical work was so tangible in these proofs.
Just as Zweig senses the artist wrestling with their art, like Jacob with the angel, the photographer fought with our corrected proof, unfolding its pages, pinning it down (for the count), before focusing the camera (one, two…) and shooting it still… only to turn the page and for the battle to recommence. ‘Jedes Blatt ein Schlachtfeld’, every page a battlefield, in the words of Zweig. Weeks of labour, in Balzac’s rewriting, in Zweig’s reading, in our digitizing. If the corrected proof opens a door onto the workshop of the writer, where, in the stroke and the trace of the ink, we experience the fugitive presence of the hand manically at work, we should retrace our digitisation in the same way and detail the actions behind the stillness of a photo.
With the majority of the manuscripts in the Stefan Zweig Collection now digitised and available online, we are presented with an awkward idea: the unique material object, with which Zweig experienced the writing process, has lost its materiality through its digital cloning. No longer the actual trace, the photograph becomes, in the words of Sonja Neef, an ‘imprint of a trace’, a step away from the unique encounter. In the same way as Zweig draws attention to the “underground” compositional stages of writing, perhaps, by re-embodying the digitisation process, we can give the screen shot the texture it deserves.
Pardaad Chamsaz Collaborative Doctoral Student
Stefan Zweig, Die Welt von gestern. (Frankfurt, 1955). F10/3573
Oliver Matuschek, Ich kenne den Zauber der Schrift: Katalog und Geschichte der Autographensammlung Stefan Zweig, (Vienna, 2005). YF.2006.a.13265
Sonja Neef Imprint and Trace: handwriting in the age of technology (London, 2011). YC.2011.a.14184
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