THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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67 posts categorized "Netherlands"

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

23 September 2020

Shining a light on Wilkie Collins and the Low Countries

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Today is the 131st anniversary of Wilkie Collins’s death.

Portrait of Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins in Hollandsche illustratie, 1 May 1871. Reproduced in P.L. Tissot van Patot, Wilkie Collins: Bibliographic overview of the Dutch language translations (The Hague, 2017). Awaiting shelfmark

Collins was well known in the Low Countries during his lifetime. His novels and plays were translated and performed widely. A great source of information for anyone interested in Wilkie Collins and his connection to the Low Countries is P.L. Tissot van Patot’s Wilkie Collins: Bibliographic overview of the Dutch language translations. This gives a comprehensive description of all aspects relating to Wilkie Collins and the Low Countries; which of his works were translated into Dutch, the publishers involved, which theatre companies performed his plays and where and when, even Dutch language books held in his own library.

Front cover of Wilkie Collins: Bibliographic overview of the Dutch language translations

 Front cover of Wilkie Collins: Bibliographic overview of the Dutch language translations

The Lighthouse is one of Collins’s plays. Written in 1855, it is regarded as one of the first detective stories, together with The Woman in White. Four manuscript versions of The Lighthouse have been preserved: two in Britain and two in the US. One is held by the British Library at Add MS 52967 H; another is held at the V&A and has never been published before. Two translations also appeared as serialisations in French and Flemish newspapers. Tissot van Patot has recently brought all six versions together in a synoptic edition with an introduction.

Front cover of Wilkie Collins The Lighthouse: Six versions in one document with an image of a lighthouse

Front cover of Wilkie Collins The Lighthouse: Six versions in one document, ed. by P.L. Tissot van Patot (The Hague, 2018) Awaiting shelfmark

Page from Wilkie Collins The Lighthouse: Six versions in one document, showing six versions side by side.

Page 7 of Wilkie Collins The Lighthouse: Six versions in one document, showing six versions side by side.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

27 August 2020

Dutch Debut Wins International Booker Prize 2020

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“I am as happy as a cow with seven udders”, was Marieke Lucas Rijnevelt’s reaction to the announcement that they (Rijnevelt’s preferred pronoun) and translator Michele Hutchison had won this year’s International Booker Prize for The Discomfort of Evening (London, 2020; DRT ELD.DS.490780), a translation of their debut novel De Avond is Ongemak.

Front cover of The Discomfort of Evening with an illustration of a person with a jacket pulled up over their nose and mouth

Front cover of The Discomfort of Evening

Well, that got everybody’s attention. It may-be a less surprising remark when you know that Rijnevelt is a dairy farmer as well as a writer.

This year’s International Booker is one of ‘firsts’: the first win for a Dutch novel, by the youngest winner ever, for their first novel. Not bad going.

The comment caused as much a stir in the media as the book itself. Ted Hodgkinson, the chair of the jury, said of the book that it is “shocking” and “absolutely arrests your attention” (The Guardian 26/8), “not a book you can sit back from”.

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld self portrait photograph

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, self portrait photograph (Source: Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA 4.0) 

Rijneveld doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to telling the story of how a deeply religious farming family deals (or not) with the death of their young son in an accident. The story is told through the eyes of one of the daughters, who is ten when the accident happens and nearly twelve when the book ends. The book is based on Rijneveld’s own loss of a sibling in their childhood. They always knew they had to write a book about it. That became De Avond is Ongemak which became The Discomfort of Evening. Critics are full of admiration; calling the book visceral and virtuoso in its language, the best debut they ever read, and so on.

The International Booker Prize is equally divided between the author and translator. Michele Hutchison is one of the top translators of Dutch literature. She has translated works by Esther Gerritsen and Tom Lanoye, and she was one of the translators in the Frisian literary anthology Swallows and Floating Horses (London, 2018; YC.2019.a.5165)

Her translation of the winning novel opens up the claustrophobic, isolated world Rijneveld conjured up so well in the Dutch version with an immediacy and totality seldom seen in translations.

I look forward to reading both versions: the English, and the Dutch, once the latter has a shelfmark. The book was received at the end of March, just after the Library closed due to COVID-19. It may yet take a while before it gets to the shelves, but meanwhile I’ll entertain myself with the English, digital version. It will be udder delight!

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

24 August 2020

Gutenberg Anniversaries - not all that they seem?

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The date of 24 August is often claimed as the anniversary of the Gutenberg Bible, the first European book printed with moveable type. The date is not in fact the anniversary of the printing being completed, but is based on a rubricator’s  inscription of 24 August 1456 in a copy of the Bible held by the French National Library. It’s the earliest dated evidence of a complete copy being in existence, but obviously made when the rubrication was completed rather than the printing (thought to be the previous year). But it’s become well established as a date to commemorate the Bible’s completion.

Opening page of the Gutenberg Bible, with hand decorated initials and margins
Opening of the Gutenberg Bible, from one of the British Library copies (Mainz, ca. 1455) C.9.d.4.

In fact this is not the only anniversary date connected with Gutenberg that is somewhat tenuous. Few exact dates in  Gutenberg’s life (and little precise chronology of the Bible’s printing) are definitely known. However, since the 16th century, various years have been chosen and commemorated as Gutenberg anniversaries, and the two most common (1400 and 1440) are based on guesswork.

The most frequently commemorated Gutenberg date is 1440, claimed as the anniversary of the invention of the printing press. This is based on documents from a legal case brought against Gutenberg in 1439 in Strasbourg, which implied that he was working on some new innovation and used terminology similar to that later used to describe parts of the printing process. But it is not until the early 1450s that we have any evidence of Gutenberg, back in his native Mainz, actually producing printed texts.

Gutenberg Strasbourg
Statue of Gutenberg in Strasbourg, erected in 1840 to commemorate the ‘400th anniversary’ of the printing press (Photograph: Susan Reed)

Nonetheless, 1440 was the anniversary date that stuck. As early as 1540 the printer Hans Lufft of Wittenberg is said to have held a commemorative feast, although no primary evidence of this survives. A Latin poem published in 1541 has been described as the first Gutenberg centenary publication, but can only claim the title by default since the author, Johannes Arnoldus doesn’t actually mention an anniversary, stating that a visit to Mainz inspired his work. He calls the printing press a new wonder of the world, and praises Gutenberg and his colleagues Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer as divinely inspired.

Title page of 'De chalcographiae inventione' with a woodcut of printers at work
Joannes Arnoldus, De chalcographiae inventione poema encomiasticum (Mainz, 1541) G.9963

In 1640 a handful of scholars and printers produced celebratory publications for the bicentenary of printing. One such was Bernardus Mallinckrodt, apparently the first writer to use the term ‘incunabula’, from the Latin word for cradle, to refer to books from the ‘infancy’ of printing’, now used for western books printed before 1501.

Title page of 'De ortu ac progressu artis typographicæ' with portraits of Gutenberg and Fust and a picture of a printing workshop
Bernardus Mallinckrodt, De ortu ac progressu artis typographicæ dissertatio historica … (Cologne, 1640) C.75.b.17.(1.)

Mallinckrodt’s chief aim was to defend Gutenberg’s reputation as the inventor of printing against Dutch claims that Laurens Janszoon Coster of Haarlem had first perfected the art. This debate continued for generations, becoming particularly fierce in the 19th century. It even inspired a play, staged in London in 1856, which depicted Gutenberg’s ‘theft’ of Coster’s idea.

First Printer
Playbill advertising The First Printer, a play by Tom Taylor and Charles Reade, as performed at the Princess’s Theatre in March 1856 (Playbills 161)

In the Netherlands Coster was long celebrated as the inventor of printing, with 1428 commemorated as the date of his breakthrough. The modern consensus has come down in favour of Gutenberg, and contemporary debates focus more on whether or not knowledge of older East Asian printing technologies influenced developments in Europe.

Portait of Coster holding a letter A and a printed sheet, with a church in the background.
Laurier-krans geflogten om’t hoofd van Laurens Koster, eerste uitvinder der boekdrukkunst binnen Haarlem (Haarlem, 1726.) Koning. 13. The scroll superimposed on the church spire may be intended to reflect the shape of an early press

1740 saw anniversary festivities in many German towns, usually organised by local printers and booksellers, but also involving scholars and clerics, whose lectures, speeches and sermons accompanied more entertaining events such as processions and firework displays. These celebrations often emphasised the role of printing in spreading Christianity. In a work commemorating the celebrations in Wernigerode, the printer Michael Anton Struck proudly claims to have printed 50,000 Bibles in 40 years.

Engraved title page with vignettes showing printers, presses, books and church scenes
Decorative title page of Michael Anton Struck, Wernigerodisches Danck- und Jubel-Fest, welches wegen der vor 300 Jahren 1440 erfundenen Buchdrucker-Kunst  … celebriret worden ([Wernigerode, 1740]) 9930.ccc.59.(5.)

In the 16th-18th centuries, Gutenberg commemorations emphasised the invention of printing more than the inventor. Gutenberg was praised, but there was little interest in his character or motivation. 19th-century Romantic notions of the hero were among the factors that helped move Gutenberg himself into the limelight in 1840. For the first time, fictional and dramatic portrayals of his life and work were presented, as well as biographies aimed at a wider popular audience.

Allegorical image of Gutenberg and a spirit
A tormented Gutenberg confronts the spirit of the past. From Franz Dingelstedt, Sechs Jahrhunderte aus Gutenbergs Leben: kleine Gabe zum grossen Feste (Kassel, 1840) 839.m.11.

The Gutenberg of 1840 appeared in many different guises, often with a particular political colour. To some he was still the man who had brought God’s word to the masses and facilitated the Reformation. To others, and particularly to radicals who used the anniversary to call for freedom of the press, he was a more secular apostle of enlightenment, pushing aside mediaeval darkness and superstition, and creating a technology to unite the peoples of the world.

Allegorical image of printing uniting the world
Printing unites the peoples of the world. From Heinrich Meyer (ed.) 1840: Gutenbergs-Album (Braunschweig, 1840). 819.l.15

1900 saw the first major celebrations of Gutenberg’s supposed birth date (as determined in the previous decade) of 1400. By this time Germany had become a strong unified state and the emphasis was more on Gutenberg as national hero. A spectacular pageant in Mainz placed him and his achievement in the specific context of German culture and history alongside figures such as Luther, Goethe, Schiller and Frederick the Great.

Frederick the Great and his soldiers as shown in the 1900 centenary procession
Frederick the Great and his army as depicted in the 1900 celebration pageant, marching past the Gutenberg Statue in Mainz. From, Gutenberg-Feier, Mainz 1900: Offizielle Darstellung des historischen Festzuges ... (Mainz, 1900) 1858.a.6.

With the advent of cheap mass-production, popular souvenirs such as postcards, ornaments and pictures were another feature of the 1900 celebrations. However, the anniversary also gave rise to a number of serious scholarly publications on the early history of printing which had become an important area of research in the previous century.

The idea of celebrating Gutenberg as a German hero was, of course, taken to extremes by the National Socialist regime, which instituted annual ‘Gutenberg Celebration Weeks’ in Mainz. However, with the country at war, plans for grandiose celebrations in 1940 were replaced by more modest events. It was among academics and bibliographers in the USA that the anniversary received perhaps the most attention. Their serious studies of early printing were complemented by humorous offerings such as M.B. Cary’s The Missing Gutenberg Wood Blocks (New York, 1940; 12332.bb.15.), purporting to be newly-discovered 15th-century illustrations of Gutenberg’s early life and work, and A.W. Rushmore’s ‘The Mainz Diary’, which portrays Gutenberg’s wife as the true inventor of the press.

Cartoon of a mediaeval woman working a printing press
Mrs Gutenberg at work. From: A.W. Rushmore, ‘The Mainz Diary: 1437-1440. In which new light is shed upon the cradle days of the art and mystery of printing.’, in Print: a quarterly journal of the graphic arts, Vol. 1 no.3 (December 1940). PP.1622.bfg.

It was not until 1968 that Gutenberg was commemorated on a verifiable historical date: the 500th anniversary of his death. Wider commemorations were held for his ‘600th birthday’ in 2000, again with a mixture of scholarly and more frivolous activities. Alongside exhibitions, conferences, and printed and digital facsimiles, there were new fictional retellings of Gutenberg’s life, and such souvenirs as Gutenberg chocolates and candles.

It will be interesting to see if 2040 is marked as the 600th anniversary of western printing. It wouldn’t necessarily be historically accurate, but it would continue centuries of tradition. As for today, 24 August 2020, surely even the most hard-nosed pedant can at least say, ‘Happy 564th anniversary of a Gutenberg Bible rubricator laying down his pen’. After all, he too was making history in his own way.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

Vignette 011899.h.515
Vignette showing Gutenberg at the press, from Paul Goldschmidt, Gutenbergbuch: Festgabe zur 500jährigen Geburtstagsfeier (Halle, 1900) 011899.h.15

12 August 2020

Inheritance Books: Marja Kingma, 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, Marja Kingma, responsible for the Dutch collections, shares her choices.

The one item that I would consider to be my inherited item is a 16th-century herbal, which has been a constant presence over the ten years I have been a curator for Dutch Language Collections. It is without a doubt my favourite item from the Dutch Language Collections.

It is a Latin edition of Rembert Dodoens’ Cruydboeck, or herbal, Stirpium historiæ pemptades sex, sive libri XX, printed in 1583 by Christophe Plantin in Antwerp. It was THE standard book on plants for almost 200 years.

We hold two copies, but my favourite copy is at shelf mark 442.i.6.

Title page of Stirpium historiæ pemptades sex, sive libri XXX

Title page of Stirpium historiæ pemptades sex, sive libri XXX. (Antwerp, 1583). 442.i.6.

I had only just taken up my position as curator in January 2011 when I received an enquiry from a reader relating to this copy. I cannot remember what the enquiry was about, but I do remember my utter amazement and surprise when I opened the book.

It is full of manuscript notes, in the margins, in between text blocks and on inserted pages, crossed out sections, hand-coloured images of plants, cut out from some other book (another edition of his Cruydboeck, perhaps?). It had five dried plant specimens in it, now separately stored in a special case.

The title page of the second edition of 1616 states: ‘Varie ab auctore, paullo ante mortem, aucti & emendati’ (‘In several places augmented and amended by the author shortly before his death’). Dodoens himself edited the second edition shortly before his death in 1585. Could this copy be the editing copy?

It was none other than Hans Sloane, one of the founders of the BL’s collections, who acquired this copy. His catalogue number is written on the title page (to the right of the words ‘medici caesarii’ on the title page pictured above).And it was none other than Joseph Banks, another founder of our collections who acquired the second edition. (442.i.7). I display both copies at show-and-tell sessions for visitors, where I lay them side by side so you can trace the changes made by Dodoens. We also hold many more editions of Dodoens’ Cruydboeck, as well as other titles written by him. 

Last September BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time recorded an episode at the British Library. I asked the panel whether they could identify the dried plant specimens. It turns out they are all medicinal plants. I like to think they were inserted by Hans Sloane, which would make them 300 years old.

The link between Dodoens, a Fleming of Frisian descent who taught at the newly established university in Leiden, the city I was born in, with Sloane and Plantin makes this copy very special to me. The copy is digitised and will be available online via our website in due course.

The book I would like to pass on is a wonderful artist’s book, entitled Spijker-schrift, by the avant-garde artist Willy Scholte. This is also a unique book, for it is handmade and one of only six copies. Willy was self-educated as an artist and her handmade publications were usually issued in small editions

Front cover of Spijker-schrift

Front cover of Spijker-schrift (Amsterdam, 1985) HS.74/2416.

Scholte was one of very few women artists in Amsterdam working with Stempelplaats, an avant-garde printing house/artists’ studio in Amsterdam led by Ulises Carrion and Aart van Barneveld, from its beginning in 1976.

The book plays with the concept of nails. Spijker-schrift is the Dutch term for cuneiform, and there are two clay tablets with cuneiform texts, one a quote from the Assyrian period. The clay is of course modern. It is attached to cardboard ‘pages’, two of which have nails in them. The pages are wrapped in a cardboard cover, which is covered on the inside in words and texts relating to nails, produced using a stamping technique. You can watch a video about it on the @BL_European Twitter feed.

Spijker-schrift is a marvellous work and I am so happy I have been able to acquire it, thanks to a London based dealer who specializes in mail art, concrete art and similar avant-garde art forms from all over Europe. It is a valuable addition to our small but nice collection of works by concrete and mail artists from the 1970s and 1980s.

It is an art form I knew nothing about before I became curator, but I am getting to know it better and love it. I hope to write more about it in future.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

N.B. Items mentioned in this blog were acquired and previously owned by figures who are associated with wealth obtained from enslaved people or through colonial violence.

16 June 2020

Inheritance Books: Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

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This post is part of our ‘Inheritance Books’ series, 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. Today, Barry Taylor, responsible for our Spanish and Portuguese collections, makes his selection.

I first encountered the book I ‘inherited’ on the reading list for my second year undergraduate course on medieval Spanish literature. The Waning of the Middle Ages: a Study of the Forms of Life, Thought, and Art in France and the Netherlands in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries by Johan Huizinga was translated from the Dutch of 1924 by F. Hopman (BL 09073.d.20.), so well you’d never know it was a translation. The college library copy was sparsely illustrated in black and white, but that was essential to Huizinga’s argument and an added attraction for me. (My Penguin edition (BL X.708/8266), bought years later, doesn’t have any pictures, which leaves me as disappointed as Alice.) The British Library, of course, holds a number of editions both in English and Dutch.

Cover of the 1972 edition of The Waning of the Middle Ages

Cover of the 1972 edition of The Waning of the Middle Ages

Huizinga explained, with plenty of quotations, themes such as courtly love, the attitude to death, and religion. One of his points which stayed with me was that medieval people were so familiar with everyday religious practices that they weren’t offended when these practices were played with by the poets who likened their lady love or the queen to the Virgin Mary.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned that Huizinga (1872-1945) was inspired in his multidisciplinary approach by seeing a big exhibition of medieval art. I also learned that he had been kicked out of his university job by the Nazis.

Why did our far-sighted teachers ask us to read him? After all, he wasn’t going to figure in an exam on medieval Spanish literature, was he? Except that he was everywhere. The glittering display culture of France and Burgundy was the model for court life in Spain. Only later did I read El Victorial, the life of Pero Niño (1378-1453), who attended such festivities in France. And I got a tick in the margin for mentioning in an essay the depiction of St Joseph as ‘Joseph le fou’ when noting the poor figure that the saint cuts in a medieval religious play.

Illustration of a man in medieval clothing

Illustration of a man in medieval clothing from Costumes Historiques de la France..., vol. 1 (Paris, 1852; 2260.f.4.)

People are revisionist (i.e. sniffy) about Huizinga nowadays, and blame him for relying too much on chronicles (always gussied up for propaganda purposes) rather than archival documents (dull but worthy). But his appeal was that he was a cultural historian avant la lettre. Critics are also quick to point out that ‘Waning’ in the English is ‘Autumn’ in the Dutch and pretty much all other translations, signifying autumn fruits.

The Waning of the Middle Ages obviously doesn’t feel now like the book I read at 19, but it made me a medievalist in my heart if not in my tights.

Pages from Diogo de Teive's Epodon siue Ia(m)bicorum carminum libri tres...

Pages from Diogo de Teive’s Epodon siue Ia(m)bicorum carminum libri tres [...] Ad Sebastianum primum, inuictissimum Lusitaniæ Regem (Lisbon, 1565) RB.23.a.23815.

The book I can pass on is a volume of Latin poetry by Diogo de Teive, in Latin Jacobus Tevius (1513 x 1515 – 1565 x 1579). I’d been working on proverbs and sententiae (the more learned type of proverb) and also on bilingual editions. I knew as a frustrated researcher that Tevius’s book included some sententiae of his own devising, with a facing Portuguese translation. There were also epithalamia on the marriages of various noble houses. I also knew it was nowhere to be found in a complete copy, so when this edition appeared in a bookseller’s catalogue I jumped at it. I catalogued it and wrote it up promptly (hem hem) and it was quickly picked up in an Oxford thesis.

Tevius (rather like Huizinga) lived at a turning-point in history. At the beginning of his career the Portuguese universities were recruiting actively all over Europe, bringing in distinguished professors like the Scot George Buchanan. King John III invited Erasmus, but he wouldn’t be tempted. Not long after the tide turned: in came the Jesuits and that was the end of international Latin culture in Portugal.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References:

A digitised version of the first English edition of The Waning of the Middle Ages from the University of Michigan Library is available via the Hathi Trust website 

Peter Arnade [et al.] Rereading Huizinga: Autumn of the Middle Ages, a Century Later (Amsterdam, 2019). Available via JSTOR 

‘Recent acquisitions: a rare work by Jacobus Tevius’, Electronic British Library Journal, 2003, article 5 

Catarina Barcelo Fouto, Edition and study of Teive’s Epithalamium: The Epodon libri tres (1565) and Neo-Latin literature in Counter-Reformation Portugal. Doctoral thesis, University of Oxford, 2012

 

29 April 2020

Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman – a most unlucky printer

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Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman never was the luckiest of men. He lost his father at a young age and during his career as a printer he fell on hard times a couple of times. He always managed to overcome his problems with creativity and optimism, but on 29 April 1945, barely three weeks before his 63rd birthday and only three days before Groningen was liberated, Werkman was executed together with nine others. At the same time most of his works were destroyed in the battle for Groningen that raged at that moment.

Undoubtedly the best source of information about Werkman and the British Library’s holdings of his work is Anna Simoni’s article from 1976 in the British Library Journal, which is available for free online. Simoni, herself an exile from Nazi Germany, was curator for Dutch Collections from 1950 to 1981. It is thanks to her that the Library holds such an extensive collection of Werkman’s work and his clandestine works from the Second World War in particular.

Werkman was a painter before he was a printer. He was a member of the Groningen artists’ group De Ploeg (‘The Plough’) and took part in a exhibition of their work in 1938.

Self-portrait of H.N. Werkman
Self-portrait of Werkman from the catalouge of the 1938 exhibition, Lustrum tentoonstelling van schilderijen en zwart wit werken van leden van “De Ploeg” in de zalen van “Pictura” van 25 Sept. tot 10 Oct. 1938 ... (Groningen , 1938). Cup.406.b.97

His printed works are just as artistic as his paintings. They were called ‘druksels’, a word sitting halfway between modesty and irony. The word belies the work that went into them and the innovative techniques Werkman applied to them. Most titles are only a few pages long. They range from translations of the Psalms, and other religious texts to poems from the Eighty Years’ War and specially-written poems by both Dutch and foreign writers. The Library owns 41 titles Werkman published clandestinely between 1940 and 1944. Because of the scarcity of paper he used other materials, such as brown packing paper.

Print runs ranged from ‘a few copies’ to 40 to 150. As Simoni notes in her article (page 72) not all copies are the same. Hand pressed from several templates, Werkman would shift them slightly to make another version. The Royal Library (KB) in The Hague carried out a systematic research project on their own collection of ‘Werkmaniana’ which showed similar deviations in many copies. This makes them unique works, rather than part of a print run.

Hopefully similar research will be carried out on our collections, to see whether our copies differ from those at the Royal Library. Unfortunately for the time being this will have to wait.

Plate from 'Chassidische legenden' showing four figures in front of houses and trees
Suite 1, plate 2 from H.S. Werkman, Chassidische legenden [1942]. (Image from the website of the Dutch Royal Library)

With no access to our collections at the moment I refer to the webpages on Werkman on the Royal Library website for examples of images of his work. The Chassidische legenden (‘Hasidic Legends’) are among his most famous work. The British Library holds a facsimile edition of Werkman’s original of 1942/3 consisting of two sequences of ten loose druksels, each with the text of passages from Buber’s Die Legenden des Baalschem from the edition published in Berlin, 1932, in German, with F. R. A. Henkel’s commentary in Dutch. It was published in Haarlem in 1967 (C.160.c.15).

Later in 1945 a friend of Werkman’s, Willem Sandberg, then at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam held an exhibition about Werkman. Other exhibitions would follow, the latest one was held in 2015 at the Groningen Museum.


Cover of a book about Werkman with the title superimposed on one of Werkman's pictures
Cover of H.N. Werkman, 1882-1945: leven & werk. (Zwolle, 2015) LF.31.b.11054

Marja Kingma, Curator, Germanic Collections

References and further reading

More on H.N. Werkman at the Royal Library, The Hague. https://www.kb.nl/themas/boekkunst-en-geillustreerde-boeken/de-blauwe-schuit-en-hn-werkman-1941-1944

Catalogus. H. N. Werkman, drukker-schilder, Groningen. Tentoonstelling, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, 24 november tot 17 december 1945 ([Amsterdam, 1945]) X.805/2781.

Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman, Brieven rond De Blauwe Schuit, 1940-1945 (Amsterdam, 2008) YF.2010.a.9693

Anna E. C. Simoni, ‘Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman and the Werkmaniana in the British Library’, British Library Journal, vol. 2 (1976) 70-87

Dieuwertje Dekkers, Jikke van der Spek, Anneke de Vries, H.N. Werkman: het complete oeuvre (Rotterdam, 2008) LF.31.b.4972.

Willem Sandberg, Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman, 1882-1945 (Sacramento, 2004) RF.2019.b.31.

Het verborgen woord: drukken van Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman en andere clandestiene publikaties uit de collectie *** / samenstelling Marieke van Delft (The Hague, 1995) YA.1995.a.22294.

23 April 2020

Poems from the Edge of Extinction II

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This blog continues our theme of poetry in languages on the edge of extinction. It is part of a collaborative mini series with our Americas and Oceania collections colleagues. 

Cover of Swallows and Floating Horses

Cover of Swallows and Floating Horses (details below)

Frisian

Frisian is the language closest related to English. As the old saying goes: ‘Bread, butter and green cheese is good English and good Friese’. In Frisian this reads as ‘Bûter, brea en griene tsiis, etc.’

Otherwise Frisian and English are each other’s opposites. For a long time, Frisian was scarcely written down. Over the centuries it has stubbornly refused to die out, but it has changed with the times and is as strong now as ever. It is now the second official language of the Netherlands.

The above image is from Swallows and Floating Horses: An Anthology of Frisian Literature (London, 2019, awaiting shelfmark), published last year by Francis Boutle as part of their series ‘Lesser Used Languages of Europe’. It covers 1,000 years of Frisian poetry and prose, in English and Frisian. In February 2019 at UCL it was presented to the British public, with Frisian poet Tsead Bruinja, currently Poet Laureate of the Netherlands, performing some of his poems. You can read and listen to his poem, ‘Gers dat Alfêst Laket’ (Grass that’s Started Laughing) from Swallows and Floating Horses here

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections 

Cover of Sovremennaia literatura narodov Rossii. Poeziia. Antologiia

Cover of Sovremennaia literatura narodov Rossii. Poeziia. Antologiia (Moscow, 2017). YF.2019.b.1108

Russia

In 2017, the well-known Moscow publishing house OGI (The United Humanitarian Publishing House) published a really unique book – an anthology of poetry in 57 minority languages spoken in the Russian Federation in original languages and Russian translations (BL YF.2019.b.1108). The editor of the volume was Maksim Amelin, himself a poet, translator, publisher and literary critic. In the foreword to the book, it is compared to an encyclopaedia of living national languages, cultures and worldviews. Here you can see several pages of this book and read poems (alongside their translations into Russian) by:

  • Anisa Kettunen, who writes in Finnish. Although 5.4 million people in the world are native speakers of Finnish, it is a minority language in the Russian Federation, where we see permanent decrease in the use of the Finnish as a native language.
  • Pimagomed Aslanov and Giulbika Omarova, whose poetry represents 129,000 speakers of the Tabasaran language from the Lezghin group of the Nakh-Dagestan language family. Apparently, this is one of the most difficult languages to learn.
  • Georgii Tsvetkov and Radmira Bogdanova – two poets who use for their creative expression the North Russian dialect of the Romani language. 128,000 people speak the Romani language in Russia.
  • Brontoi Bediurov, who in his native Altai language created a ritual verse on the spring worship to the Holy mountain Babyrgan.Altai, 

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections 

 

Cover of People like us. Seļļizt nemē mēg

Cover of People like us. Seļļizt nemē mēg (details below)

Livonian

Livonian (līvõ kēļ or rāndakēļ), currently spoken by around 20 people (three of them poets!), is on the UNESCO list of endangered languages. For centuries it was spoken in fishing villages along the Livonian Coast of Latvia. Unlike Latvian, which is a Baltic language, Livonian belongs to the Finnic branch of the Uralic language family and is related to Estonian, Finnish and Karelian. Even though the last native speaker of Livonian is thought to have died in 2013, there is a sustained interest in Livonian language and culture. In 2018 the University of Latvia Livonian Institute, the first research institution solely focused on the history, culture and language of Livonia, was established. In May 2019 the Institute’s director Valts Ernštreits, who is also a poet writing in Latvian and Livonian, took part in the European Literature Night: Poetry and Performance event held at the British Library. The poem below comes from Ernštreits’ first bilingual (Livonian and English) collection of Livonian poetry People like us. Seļļizt nemē mēg, translated by Ryan Van Winkle and Ernštreits (London, 2019, awaiting shelfmark).

Siz ku kievād virgõbõd
tallõ vied allõ maggõnd līndõd,
nänt tūrgõd āt vel kažžizt,
nänt ēļ um vel kardõ,
nänt kēļ um vel ȭnõz ja vȭrõz.
Ku kivīd virgõbõd, paļļõd ja ōgizt,
ne nūzõbõd ilzõ jõugõst ja viedstõ, ja mūldast,
lougõ ja sitkõ,
addõŗi murdõs ja
kējid jālgad sil akkõs.
Nänt kēļ neku nänt eņtš sidām
vel um vizā, lǟlam ja tijā;
amād sõnād āt ūd,
set set sindõn,
set pimdõmst ulzõ tunnõd;
abbõrz sieldõm kūoŗ nēḑi katāb.
Kievād, ku lūomõd ja liestād,
pūošõd ja neitsõd
āt īdlimist jagdõd
pids randõ,
līndõd ja kivīd rõkāndõbõd
ūds kīels,
missõn jūŗi äb ūo
äbka īrgandõkst,
äb ka tutkāmt.

–––––

In spring, birds wake
from their underwater slumber,
their feathers damp,
voices cracked and croaking
in an empty, foreign language.
Stones, naked and grey, rise up
from the sand, soil, sea – stubborn
and heavy – breaking ploughs,
getting under your feet.
Their rocky tongues,
just like their hearts, are cold
heavy and hollow. Their words;
new born
fresh out
of darkness, swaddled
in a thin, eggshell light.
In spring, when beasts and fish
and all the young men
and all the young women
get dispersed fairly and evenly
throughout the coast,
the birds and stones
speak their rootless language,
a tongue
with no beginning, no end.

Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator Baltic Collections

 

Photograph of José María Iparraguirre playing guitar

José María Iparraguirre, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Basque

Basque, or Euskara, is a pre-Indo-European language spoken today in four provinces of Spain and three in France on both sides of the Western Pyrenees. It is an ‘isolate’, i.e. it is unrelated to any language group. Attempts have been made to find connections between Basque and an extraordinary variety of languages, living and dead. However, only the surviving fragments of Aquitanian, a language of S.W. Gaul, have revealed any meaningful coincidences.

Greater centralization after the Revolution weakened regional identity in France and minority languages suffered in consequence. In northern Spain, the fueros (local laws) were abolished in 1876. Paradoxically, Basque culture and language underwent a renaissance that lasted until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Use of the Basque language was forbidden under Franco, but it continued to be studied, initially clandestinely. Today, speakers of Basque number about 850,000. Its future is brightest in the Autonomous Community of Euskadi in Spain where it has co-official status. It is much less so in Navarra, where its status is more complex. The language is at greatest risk in the French Basque Country.

Poetry has always been a vital strand of literature in Basque. Indeed, the first book printed in the language was a collection of poems, Linguae vasconum primitiae (Bordeaux, 1545), by a parish priest, Bernart Etxepare. A feature of Basque verse, today and in the past, has been oral poetry. One of the most famous poems in the language, Jose Maria Iparragirre’s Gernikako arbola (c. 1853), is composed to a popular dance rhythm. Dedicated to the tree of Gernika, the ancient oak that symbolized the rights of the people of Bizkaia, it has become a de facto anthem of the Basque people and their aspirations. Iparragirre (1820-81) had himself been a defender of the fueros and he forms an indirect link to the cultural movement that grew up after their suppression.

The poem has 12 stanzas. We quote here the first in its original dialect spelling, as the whole poem can readily be found online:

Guernicaco arbola
Da bedeincatuba
Euscaldunen artean
Guztiz maitatuba
Eman ta zabaltzazu
Munduban frutuba,
Adoratzen zaitugu
Arbola santuba.

–––––

The Tree of Guernica
is blessed
among the Basques;
absolutely loved.
Give and deliver
the fruit unto the world.
We adore you,
holy tree.

Geoff West, Former Curator Hispanic Collections 

Further reading:

Luis de Castresana, Vida y obra de Iparraguirre. Seguida de la obra completa, original euskera y versión castellana, del autor del Gernikako Arbola (Bilbao, 1971). X.981/3103.

Nick Gardner, Basque in education, In the Basque Autonomous Community (Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2000) YA.2002.a.39245.

Luis Villasante, Historia de la literatura vasca, 2nd ed. rev. ([Oñate], 1979). BL HLR 899.92

 

29 February 2020

Children's Tales from Across the Channel (1)

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The British Library has just launched its new ‘Discovering Children’s Books’ web pages, a treasure-chest of stories, poems and illustrations from old favourites to modern classics, with plenty to discover along the way. This venture has inspired us here in European Collections to reflect on some favourite and classic children’s books from the collections we curate and the countries we cover. Here’s a first selection.

Cover of 'The Mitten', showing a child losing a mitten in a snowy wood

Cover of Alvin Tresselt, The Mitten (Kingswood, Surrey, 1964) X.992/87.

‘Rukavychka’, traditional Ukrainian folktale
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

‘Rukavychka’ (‘The Mitten’) is a much-loved Ukrainian folktale about a lost mitten that stretches and stretches (and stretches!) to provide shelter for an increasing number of woodland animals, ranging from a mouse to a bear. Eventually the mitten bursts and they all tumble out. There are a number of different versions of the story, including a 1964 retelling in English by Alvin Tresselt  with beautiful illustrations by Yaroslava (pictured above), but the overarching message is one of sharing and helping others in need.

Illustration of Vitalis the Fox, walking on his hind legs with a nest of birds perched on his tail
Vitalis the Fox, from Jan Brzechwa, Od baśni do baśni (Warsaw, 1969) X.990/1813

Szelmostwa lisa Witalisa’ (‘The Tricks of Vitalis the Fox’)  
Chosen by Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

This verse tale by Jan Brzechwa tells the story of a mischievous fox, Vitalis, who is renowned for his beautiful tail and exceptional intellect. Unfortunately, he uses his intelligence again and again to trick other animals for his own benefit. Following an election campaign full of empty promises, Vitalis becomes president of the forest animals. His tyrannical, exploitative rule triggers a revolution, in which the fox’s tail is shaven and Vitalis himself chased away from the forest. And thus a brilliant, but overly arrogant dictator is punished by his subjects – a scenario by no means limited to fairy tales.

Cover of 'Glasblåsarns barn' with an illustration of two children and a coachman
Cover of Maria Gripe, Glasblåsarns Barn (Stockholm, 1987) YA.1997.a.9920.

Maria Gripe, Glasblåsarns Barn (The Glassblower’s Children)
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

First published in 1964, Glasblåsarns Barn tells how Klas and Klara, children of the brilliant but impoverished glassblower Alfred and his long-suffering wife Sofia, are kidnapped by a nobleman as a gift for his own childless and unhappy wife. But their presence doesn’t make her any happier, and in the great house beyond the River of Forgotten Memories the children are neglected and traumatised. A governess is hired to look after them but turns out to be a monster who makes life unbearable for the whole household. It it takes a benevolent witch from the children’s home village and her wise raven to defeat the awful Nana, restore happiness to the nobleman and his wife, and return Klas and Klara to their parents. Maria Gripe’s story, attractively illustrated by her husband Harald, is funny and moving by turns, a fantasy that asks real-life questions about family life, love and loss, and the nature of human desires. It was translated into English by Sheila La Farge (London, 1974; X.0990/4514) and that was how I came to discover the book as a child in my local public library.

Cover of a 1924 edition of 'Pinocchio' with an illustration showing some of the characters of the story
Cover of Carlo Collodi, Le Avventure Di Pinocchio: Storia Di Un Burattino (Florence, 1924) F10/1460

Carlo Collodi, Le Avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio)
Chosen by Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections

The story of the rebellious wooden marionette who wants to become a real boy is universally known, yet every edition of Pinocchio carries a unique freshness, a special appeal that continues to charm readers across generations. The iconic pointy nose, that grows every time he lies, the cone-shaped hat made of bread crumbs, these are Pinocchio’s most recognizable features across almost 150 years of this popular character.

Over 200 editions of Carlo Collodi’s story, first published in Italian in 1883, are held by the British Library, in virtually every language and dialect, illustrated by famous and lesser-known artists, so it’s been really hard to pick one. I chose the popular 1924 paperback edition, richly illustrated by Maria Augusta and Luigi Cavalieri, because this could be the copy that every average Italian household keeps in its bookshelves. These are the images that children look at before learning how to read.

The book is a bildungsroman telling the adventures and the many metamorphoses of an innocent and ignorant young character, who is granted human nature at the end of the story, as a reward for his efforts and hard work. Quintessentially Italian, Collodi’s book wasn’t my favourite as a child, but I can now see it in all its literary richness, not only as a reminder of the importance of frugality, honesty and education in become young adults. In fact, Pinocchio’s pedagogical value follows the introduction of mandatory education for children in the newly unified Italian Kingdom, but Collodi adds an unruly, almost anarchic edge to his story, making it a global evergreen.

Cover of 'Afke's Ten' with a picture of a small sailing-boat on a river
Cover of Nynke van Hichtum, Afke’s Ten, translated by Marie Kiersted Pidgeon (Philadelphia, 1936) 12801.f.21.

Nynke van Hichtum, Afke’s tiental (Afke’s Ten)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

Afke’s tiental is a timeless story about ten children growing up in a poor household in Friesland, the Northern province in the Netherlands where Frisian is spoken. Since its first edition in 1903 it has seen over 60 editions. The author Nynke van Hichtum (pseudonym of Sjoukje Maria Diderika Troelstra-Bokma de Boer) was married to Pieter Jelle Troelstra, the leader of the socialist party in the Netherlands
The foreword of the first English edition describes it as:

A story of modern child-life in a large, happy Dutch family in a Frisian village, written by a pioneer for better children’s books in the Netherlands, “Afke’s Ten” (Afke’s tiental) is not only considered a juvenile classic in Holland, but has been recognized by the International Bureau of Education in Switzerland as one of the best “international goodwill” stories in the world for boys and girls.

It adds that ‘Mrs Troelstra had already made a name for herself with translations of Robinson Crusoe, Kipling’s ‘White Seal’ and other English stories.’

20 February 2020

Travelling through the British Library’s Dutch-Surinamese Collections via Johan Fretz’s ‘Onder de Paramariboom’

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“Mummy comes from the Paramaribo-tree – that’s a tree on the other side of the ocean, and black people like mummy and Ruud Gullit grow on it.” – Johan Fretz, Onder de Paramariboom

Paramari-what? Sometimes it takes a child’s perspective to make you realise how little you really know about something; when you find you’re unable to correct what they’re saying with any degree of accuracy. Of course, when my coursemates and I were given the opportunity to work with the Dutch-Surinamese author Johan Fretz and translate part of his semi-autobiographical novel Onder de Paramariboom, I could have told you that Surinamese people don’t grow on a big tree named after the country’s capital, Pamaribo, but I couldn’t have told you much else about Suriname or its people.


Cover of 'Onder de paramariboom' with an image of two women in sihouette and an aerial view of a landscape
Cover of Johan Fretz, Onder de Paramariboom (Amsterdam, 2018) YF.2019.a.5725.

The British Library’s vast collection of maps, texts and images from and related to the former Dutch colony provides a pretty good impression of Suriname, but nowhere could I find mention of the ‘Paramaribo-tree’. The reason, of course, is that it has been invented by Johannes, the narrator of Fretz’s novel (the wordplay in the original title with the Dutch word ‘boom’ (‘tree’) is lost in English) who, despite having a Surinamese mother, has never really felt in touch with his Surinamese roots. It’s not until he visits Suriname that he realises how much he has been shaped by this part of his identity. As a fellow lover of a good pun, I adopted Johannes as my guide through the British Library’s collection.

Suriname, once known as Dutch Guiana, is located on the north-east coast of South America and is just over twice the size of Scotland. Although British planters were the first Europeans to permanently settle there, Suriname was largely under Dutch rule from 1667 until its independence in 1975.

Johannes’ mother, Virginia, was born and raised in Paramaribo, where Fretz’s novel is mainly set. The historical inner city, on the left bank of the Suriname River, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002. 

The oldest and most important street in Paramaribo is Waterkant (‘waterside’). Many of its buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1821, including the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Housing, which was rebuilt and now looks, according to Johannes, “like it has been blown up and then put back together again, all higgeldy-piggeldy.” (Fretz, p.29)

The photograph below is taken from a collection of wonderful pictures taken by Dutch photographer Willem van de Poll during the 1955 state visit of the Dutch Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard.

The Waterkrant in Paramaribo with wooden colonial-era buildings
‘The Waterkant, Paramaribo’. From Willem van de Poll, Suriname (Paramaribo, [1959]) X.709/26675.

A map in King George III’s Topographical Collection lying on the desk before me tells me that Virginia’s favourite district in Fretz’s novel is Commewijne, named after the river that flows through it. Commewijne lies on the opposite side of the Suriname river to Paramaribo and is a former plantation district: the map shows plantations tightly packed along the rivers Commewijne and Suriname.

Map of Suriname in the late 18th century
Algemeene Kaart van de Colonie of Provintie van Suriname, met de rivieren, districten, ontdekkingen... (Amsterdam, [after 1758]) K.Top.124.47.1.

Many Dutch families owned plantations in Suriname, and family members would sometimes visit them. A journal by Gaspar van Breugel records one such visit in 1823 to inspect two plantations partially owned by his family. In his journal he calls these plantations ‘Carolinenburg’ and ‘Schoonwoud’, but a little bit of research provided me with their real names and details: the 500-acre Cliffort Kokshoven a coffee and cotton plantation in Commewijne, and Kocqswoud was a 163-acre coffee plantation in the Marrowijne district.

Title-page of 'Dagverhaal van eene reis naar Paramaribo' with a vignette of a white plantation owner and an African slave
“It was one of those subjects – just like slavery – that was not to be talked about, which of course meant that it was talked about as often as possible”. (Fretz, p.53).  The picture shows the title-page of G. P. C. van Breugel, Dagverhaal van eene reis naar Paramaribo en verdere omstreken in de Kolonie Suriname (Amsterdam, 1842) 10055.cc.6

Slaves were shipped to Suriname from the west coast of Africa. While the majority worked the plantations, some were domestic slaves. A major and unique publication in Dutch colonial history was Wij Slaven van Suriname (‘We Slaves of Suriname)’, by Anton de Kom. Born in Suriname to a former slave and having received an education which neglected to tell the narrative of the slaves who had been forced to work there, De Kom wrote his book to draw attention to the history of slavery in Suriname. The British Library houses a copy of the first edition of this important text.


Title-page of 'Wij Slaven van Suriname'
Title page of Anton de Kom, Wij Slaven van Suriname (Amsterdam, [1934]) X.529/73312

“Uncle Jimmy. He’s black, much darker than the rest of my family.
‘That’s because uncle Jimmy is a maroon,’ says my mother. ‘But of course, you should never say that.’
He came from the inland to Paramaribo when he was fifteen years old. (Fretz, p.54)

Slaves that managed to flee their masters tended to make their way into the rainforests of the Surinamese interior. Here, they formed groups with other runaway slaves, known as maroons, and established communities which still exist today. Johannes’ uncle Jimmy is a descendant of one such community. Often maroons would return to their former plantations and attack them, “both from a Spirit of revenge for the barbarous and inhuman treatment … they had received … & from a view of carrying away plunder … in order to provide for their subsistence and defense.” This quote is taken from John Gabriel Stedman’s  Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Suriname. Stedman was a British-Dutch colonial soldier who volunteered to assist local troops fighting maroons in Suriname.


View of a Surinamese plantation estate beside a riverView of the Estate Alkmaar, on the River Commewine. From J.G. Stedman, Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Suriname (London, 1796) 145.f.15

Stedman began writing his Narrative once back in Holland in 1778, based on the diaries he kept during his time in Suriname between 1773 and 1777. The book details the Dutch colony at the time as seen by an ‘outsider’ – Stedman documented most of what he witnessed, from military campaigns to flora and fauna to relationships between slaves and their masters. His editor, however, made significant alterations (unbeknownst to Stedman) to remove the text’s anti-slavery undertones. Indeed, extracts from later uncensored versions of the text proved valuable to those involved in anti-slavery efforts. The Narrative contains 80 etchings based on Stedman’s drawings, some made by William Blake, a close friend of Stedman during the mid-1700’s.

Slavery was not abolished in Suriname until 1863, although the slave trade had been illegal since 1814. To help prevent illegalslave trading, Dutch navy ships patrolled routes between Freetown in Sierra Leone and Paramaribo. Sierra Leone was then a British colony and, following the British Abolition of the Slave Trade Act (1807), there was a one-sided ban on the slave trade between Africa and Suriname. The British pressured other countries to ban the trade out of ‘economic necessity’, since while others continued to import plantation workers, they themselves faced labour shortages. After the British threatened not to return confiscated Dutch colonies, the Netherlands banned the slave trade in 1814. In a treaty of 1818 the British and Dutch agreed to work together to prevent illegal slave trading between their colonies. Both could search each other’s vessels, and two mixed commission courts, in Freetown and Paramaribo, were established with the power to sentence slavers.

Gerard Van Lennep Coster was a Dutch naval officer who served on one such ship from 1819 to 1821. I discovered this in his travel memoir Herinneringen mijner reizen naar onderscheidene Werelddeelen (‘Memories of my travels to different continents’), which I also find on my reading room desk alongside his Aanteekeningen, gehouden gedurende mijn verblijf in de West-Indiën... (‘Annotations kept during my stay in the West-Indies...’), a journal documenting his time in Suriname.

 

Cover of 'Herinneringen mijner reizen' with vignette showing the god Neptune in a sea-borne chariot

Above: Title page of Gerard van Lennep Coster, Herinneringen mijner reizen naar onderscheidene Werelddeelen (Amsterdam, 1836) 10027.e.7. Below: Title page from Gerard van Lennep Coster, Aanteekeningen, gehouden gedurende mijn verblijf in de West-Indiën, in dejaren 1837-1840 …(Amsterdam, 1842) 10470.d.3.

Title-page of 'Aanteekeningen, gehouden gedurende mijn verblijf in de West-Indiën'

In Fretz’s novel, Johannes’ trip to Suriname took him on a journey of self-discovery which also led me through the collections of the British Library. I may not have covered the distance that he did, but Fretz’s narrative certainly made me feel closer to Suriname. Suddenly, Suriname’s history doesn’t seem so distant, and I’m pretty sure that I could hold a conversation about the country that stretches a little further than quashing a child’s notion of the roots of the Surinamese.

Megan Strutt, University of Sheffield
Written as part of the Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) scheme, working in collaboration with Marja Kingma (Curator Germanic Collections BL) and Filip De Ceuster (University of Sheffield).