THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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106 posts categorized "Printed books"

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

31 July 2020

Translation and melancholy

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Fray Manuel de Vega translated the biography of Ludovico Sforza from the Italian of Diego (i.e. Giacomo) Monti in 1699. It recounts Sforza’s life as a warning against overwhelming ambition. (The Library of Catalonia holds a digitised copy

Fr.Manuel opens his Prologue to the reader with meditations on idleness, identified by authorities with the sin of sloth alias acedia and by the early moderns with melancholy. It is, he says, particularly pernicious for those who live in solitude. (He was a member of the Order of St Benedict.) ‘Virtue has no greater enemy than idleness’. It lets in the Devil through the gates of the Imaginativa.

Opening of the prologue to Manuel de Vega, El ambicioso politico infeliz...

Opening of the prologue to Manuel de Vega, El ambicioso politico infeliz: descrito y representado en la vida de Ludovico Esforcia (Barcelona, 1699) [Awaiting shelfmark]

This is familiar territory with an early Christian and medieval history, studied by Siegfried Wenzel and others.

While most translators devoted their prologues to flattering their patrons or potential patrons, Fr. Manuel gives his a twist by recommending translation as a cure for such melancholy. He made good use of his ‘descanso’ [leisure], which was caused by ‘un desengaño que me bolviò a mi retiro’, a ‘disappointment which returned me to my retreat’.

He is by nature opposed to translations (he lards his prologue with untranslated Latin quotes), as traduttore traditore. He uses a striking image of the Spanish language: ‘nunca un cuerpo estrangero, por galan que fuesse en su trage, pudo acomodarse al nuestro, sin que quite algo del espiritu a la gala y gentileza que a nuestra Nacion son tan propias’ (‘a foreign body, however splendidly arrayed, could never match the grace of ours’).

But the book is useful, he says, more useful than some because it is both history and morality, and deserves to be widely known. (I wonder if he is thinking of the large number of works of fiction such as Boccacesque novelle, which were translated into Spanish from Italian.) He attacks those critics who ‘lounging in the midden of idleness’ (‘repantigado en el estrecolar [read estercolar] del ocio’) satirized others’ efforts, accusing them of vanity.

He praises two translators whose work is so brilliant that one cannot tell which is the original: Cristóbal de Figueroa and Juan de Jáuregui, verse translators of Guarini’s Il pastor fido  and Lucan’s Pharsalia respectively. He admits he is not in the same class. He comments that each language has its excellences which are hard to render, particularly puns (equívocos). (Remember this is the age of Góngora, Quevedo and the Metaphysicals.) He, like many a translator such as Alfred the Great, has followed a middle course between the spirit and the letter, where usage allows.

Engraving of Don Quixote in the printing shop

Engraving of Don Quixote in the printing shop. From Miguel de Cervantes, El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (Madrid, 1853-1854) Source: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes

Finally, he admits that Spaniards find it easy to understand and speak Italian, especially with the aid of Latin. But this does not mean that they can translate it so easily. Cervantes touches on this question in Don Quixote, II, lxii. Quixote visits a printing house in Barcelona where he has a discussion with a man who is translating from the Italian. There’s obviously some irony, as Quixote (who is a sophisticated man of letters if you keep him off the romances of chivalry) is delighted to hear that più has been translated as más and su as arriba.

In a final phrase, Fr Manuel says the translator is like an acrobat (bolteador): if he does it well he earns a pittance (medio real) and praise, and if he does it badly he falls from the tightrope and breaks his neck.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References:

Siegfried Wenzel, The Sin of Sloth: Acadia in Medieval Thought and Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967) X.950/9274.

23 June 2020

Inheritance Books: Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic 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. This week, Pardaad Chamsaz, responsible for the Nordic collections, shares his selections. 

It’s coming up to three years that I’ve been responsible for the Nordic collections and I learned early on that, while most of what we inherit comes with an explanation, there will always be something unexpected. For me, it was the unmarked acid-free envelopes in the secure cupboard. After finally getting round to an audit, I discovered tied together a set of 18th-century Swedish official orders and privileges. Two of these concerned Sweden’s colonial activity in the Caribbean, something I had not really considered before but was now inspired to dig into further. Sweden’s acquisition of the island of St Barthélemy from France in 1784 featured prominently. The most interesting of these pamphlets was the notification ‘Til hämmande af obetänkte utflyttningar til Ön St Barthelemy’ of 2 May 1786. It effectively rows back on the previous year’s efforts to encourage Swedish traders to travel to the island due to unsustainable living conditions and the harsh uncultivated land, telling aspiring travellers to stay put and think about working the Fatherland. In this brief order we can almost read the whole story of Sweden’s colonizing efforts.

Notification discouraging travel to the Caribbean

Notification discouraging travel to the Caribbean. Awaiting shelfmark.

One thing I’m happy my successors will inherit is a healthy collection of contemporary Nordic comics and graphic novels. After a conversation with the Finnish comics association and artist collective Kuti Kuti, they kindly agreed to send over their back catalogue of comics.

Illustrated covers of Kuti Kuti issues

Kuti Kuti issues, ZF.9.d.403

As a result, we started thinking about doing more work around Nordic comics, culminating in the Nordic Comics Today events. One of the artists who joined us, Kaisa Leka, donated an exquisite copy of her and Christoffer Leka’s Time after Time, which I am very happy to be able to hand down to whoever comes after me!

Cover of Time after Time

Time after Time. Awaiting shelfmark.

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

 

31 January 2020

‘Foreign Language Printing in London’ online

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In May 2000 the British Library held a one-day conference on the theme of foreign-language printing in London from 1500 to 1900, specifically printing by and for immigrants in London. The focus was on the languages of continental Europe, with papers on German, Dutch, Scandinavian languages, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, Greek, Russian, Polish, and Hungarian printers and printing, which were collected into a book, published in 2002 as Foreign Language Printing in London. Long out of print, this volume has now been made freely available via the British Library’s research repository. Some of its articles offer a general overview of printing activity while others concentrate on particular periods, printers or publications.

Cover of  'Foreign Language Printing in London', with a picture of Christopher Wren's architectural works by C. R.Cockerell
Cover of Foreign Language Printing in London, edited by Barry Taylor (Boston Spa, 2002) 

One thing we discover is that, apart from the special case of Latin, the foreign vernacular language most frequently printed in London was French, also the only one to appear in the 15th century. Italian, Spanish and Dutch material all first appeared in the 16th century while German, Portuguese and modern Greek made their debuts in the 17th century. Most languages show an upward trend over time, although the number of Dutch publications gradually declined from the 16th to the 18th centuries. However, none of the numbers are particularly large: only for French do figures reach into the thousands rather than hundreds or fewer.

Most printing in foreign languages in London began with language-learning aids: dictionaries, grammars, textbooks and phrase-books. The earliest such work was a French-English vocabulary printed in 1480 by William Caxton (who had himself started out as a foreign-language printer in Flanders where he produced his first book in English, The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye). These works might be aimed equally at English learners of another language or at native speakers looking to learn English in their new home. Likewise the printing of foreign-language literature in London could appeal to an audience of language learners as well as native speakers, although as a rule literature remained more likely to be imported than printed in London. Nonetheless, there were printers and publishers who also had a role as ‘foreign booksellers’ in promoting foreign-language literature to Anglophone audiences and some, like the 18th-century German bookseller Carl Heydinger, also translated works into English.

Parallel German and English title pages of the farce 'Die Drei Freier'
A bilingual German and English edition of the farce Die drei Freier / The Three Suitors (London, 1805; 1343.d.10), published by the London German firm of J. B. G. Vogel 

Other foreign-language printing was aimed more specifically at foreign communities. A number of these were initially formed by those fleeing persecution. In earlier centuries this tended to be religious persecution, with Protestants from Catholic Europe in particular finding refuge in England (paralleled, of course, by English Catholics seeking similar refuge abroad). Printing religious texts was an understandable preoccupation for these groups, but was also typical of foreign communities in general since places of worship were usually among the first community meeting-places to be established by immigrant groups. Most of the examples in the book come from Christian denominations, but there was also printing by Jews arriving in England from the continent, notably the Sephardim from Spain and Portugal who established a synagogue in London in the mid-17th century and printed sermons, calendars and polemical works, mostly in Spanish. Later, especially in the 19th century, the refugees were more often fleeing political than religious persecution. Liberal and socialist exiles took advantage of Britain’s relatively tolerant climate and, in particular, its free press.

These persecuted groups often printed books, pamphlets and newspapers to be exported – sometimes smuggled – back home. Their efforts met with varying degrees of success, perhaps the greatest being that of the Russian-language newspaper Kolokol (‘The Bell’), published in London between 1857 and 1867, which circulated widely and was much read in Russia. Less influential when first published was the Communist Manifesto (Manifest der kommunistischen Partei), printed in London in February 1848; it was not until the 1870s that it began to be widely reprinted.

Masthead of 'Kolokol' issue 1, with title and imprint details
Masthead of the first issue of Kolokol (London, 1857) C.127.k.84

Not all immigrants, of course, were fleeing persecution. Many were scholars, tradesmen or workers of all kinds and classes, and many soon became assimilated into English life and society – one of the reasons why a career in foreign-language book trades in London was often precarious. The short lives of many foreign-language newspapers which were founded in 19th-century London offer one of the clearest pieces of evidence for the difficulty of maintaining an audience for foreign-language material. Nonetheless, foreign-language printing and publishing have continued in London through the 20th century and into the 21st, with the addition now of internet resources by and for the many communities from Europe – and of course beyond – in Britain. A more recent British Library project, the ‘Russia in the UK’ Web Archive Collection, showcases examples of this.

When Foreign Language Printing in London was published, the Internet was still far from the ubiquitous tool it has become today, and all forms of online publishing still in their relative infancy. It is gratifying that, nearly two decades later, the book can be freely accessed online, for it remains a valuable introduction to the topic and of potential interest to specialists and lay readers alike.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

23 December 2019

Is it better to give or to receive?

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Everybody needs a patron, nobody more than the medieval or early modern author.

Erasmus dedicated one work to four successive patrons (Carlson 85; also 45). The assumption was that the patron would respond with a payment, sometimes delivered on the spot (Carlson 85). Hence the delicious title of Richard Firth Green’s Poets and Princepleasers: literature and the English court in the late Middle Ages.

Woodcut of the poet Juan de Mena doffing his cap to King John II

Title-page of Juan de Mena, Las ccc (Seville, 1499) G.11274

Here we see the poet Juan de Mena doffing his cap to King John II. (Of course, the woodcut obviously comes from some other work, but such reuse was commonplace.)

Another popular scene shows the patron, the author and the book. It’s probably the norm for an author to be shown presenting his work to his patron.

Harley MS 4431 (c. 1410-c.1414), f. 3r, for example, shows Christine de Pizan presenting her manuscript to Queen Isabeau of Bavaria:

Christine de Pizan presents her manuscript to Queen Isabeau of Bavaria

But in other cases the patron is pretty unambiguously doing the presenting.

Henry VIII hands out his Great Bible

Here Henry VIII is handing out his Great Bible (London, 1540; C.18.d.10) to the clergy and directly to the people.

Henry‘s iconography is probably the older, as it has been traced back to images of Justinian handing down the law.

Here we have Fray Antonio de Montesino kneeling before Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs. The book is his Spanish translation of pseudo-Ludolph of Saxony’s Vita Christi (Alcalá de Henares, 1502-03; C.63.i.1.). 

Woodcut of Fray Antonio de Montesino kneeling before Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs

Lyell (385, n. 150) thinks the presenter is the patron Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros, the recipients the patron’s patrons the King and Queen, and that the humble translator, Montesino, is literally sidelined.

The tug-of-love between King and Cardinal makes it hard to see who is giving and who is receiving.

So just remember that this festive season.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References

David R. Carlson, English Humanist Books (Toronto, 1993) YA.1995.b.12352

Richard Firth Green, Poets and Princepleasers: literature and the English court in the late Middle Ages (Toronto, 1980). 80/17195

James P. R. Lyell, La ilustración del libro antiguo en España (Madrid, 1997). YF.2009.a.21979. (First published in English as Early book illustration in Spain (London, 1926) 11907.g.58.)

07 November 2019

The Book as a Project: Giambattista Bodoni

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This is the first of a series of blogs dedicated to Italian typography.

It is not an easy task to write something brief about the Italian typographer Giambattista Bodoni. Bodoni the polyglot, Bodoni the artist, Bodoni who achieved rock-star fame during his lifetime. He made the Italian town of Parma world capital of printing from the second half of the 18th century, an obliged stop for intellectuals and bibliophiles during the Grand Tour. Rulers and princes would visit his workshop and he would dedicate books to them, in order to consolidate his prestige.

Bodoni shells

Illustration from Giuseppe Saverio Poli / Stefano Delle Chiaie, Testacea Utriusque Siciliæ Eorumque Historia Et Anatome Tabulis ... Illustrata, (Parma 1791). 458.g.11-13.

Trained in typography and ‘oriental’ languages in Rome, having unsuccessfully tried to come to London to learn new skills and perfect his technique, in 1768 Bodoni was called to Parma by Ferdinand of Bourbon, with the purpose of establishing and managing the government Royal Printing Office that he would be in charge of for the rest of his life.

Page from Britannia

Robert Hampden, Britannia; Lathmon, Villa Bromhamensis (Parma, 1792). G.10064.

Despite never leaving Parma, Bodoni managed to be known internationally, by choosing his patrons (Napoleon and his family, the monarchs of Spain, Italian rulers), by printing in many languages and scripts, and by setting his much-imitated typographic style. In his own words, he ‘shook the old typographic conventions’, introducing harmony and proportion in the frontispieces, showing neo-classicist taste in his bare, epigraphic compositions. The sense of perspective and the balance between space and font offer optimal readability to his pages. The series of crisp and neat ‘bodonian’ typefaces that he designed in the late 1780s are still very popular today, appreciated for the clear contrast between the thickness of strokes and the thinness of rules and serifs.

Title page from The Castle of Otranto

Horace Walpole. The Castle of Otranto, a Gothic Story. Sixth edition (Parma, 1791). 682.f.22

A lot was printed in his Greek typefaces, and many of his books were in foreign languages, including English. The most celebrated of his works in English were Walpole’s 1791 edition of The Castle of Otranto, on behalf of the London bookseller Edwards, and the 1792 Britannia by Lord Hampden. Of Britannia, the British Library owns the only copy printed on vellum (G.10064.), from the splendid library of Marshal Junot, sold by auction in London in June 1816 and purchased by Thomas Grenville for his rich collection of rare books, which are now part of the British Library.

Page from Britannia

Robert Hampden, Britannia; Lathmon, Villa Bromhamensis.

Constantly in competition with his fellow typographers (notably with the Didot brothers in France, known for the rigour of their editions), Bodoni liked to re-edit books published by others, trying to make them better. A case in point is the Oratio Dominica (a polyglot edition of the Lord’s Prayer), which Bodoni was invited to produce by Pope Pius VI when he stopped to see him in Parma. The Pope said that, during his recent visit to Paris for the coronation of Napoleon, in December 1804, he was gifted with a copy of the Oratio Dominica in 150 languages, by Jean-Joseph Marcel, director of the Imprimerie Nationale, and he challenged Bodoni to produce something finer and in more languages, to prove his skills.

In less than a year, Bodoni put together an acclaimed Oratio Dominica, in 155 languages, using 215 typescripts (including Phoenician, Tibetan, and Etruscan), some of which were missing from the French edition.

Pages from Oratio Dominica

Oratio Dominica in CLV. Linguas Versa Et Exoticis Characteribus Plerumque Expressa (Parma, 1806). Cup.652.m.4.

However, Bodoni’s masterpiece was certainly printed after his death, in 1813. Having produced his own types since 1771, in 1788 he published the first manual Manuale tipografico containing a hundred Roman type alphabets, 50 italics and 28 Greek alphabets. His alphabets were improved during the course of his career, and this project was accomplished by his widow, Margherita Dall’Aglio, with the posthumous publication of the final Manuale Tipografico in 1818.

The fruit of more than 40 years of work, this manual in two volumes was composed of 265 pages with roman types, capital letters, Greek and oriental types, borders, ornaments, numbers, and musical examples.

Bodoni’s Manuale Tipografico established high standards for typography. It offers an overview of the uniformity of design, neatness and good taste that made him famous and inspired generations of typographers up to the present day. But, this is a topic for my next blog…

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

Further Reading

Of the over 1400 ‘Edizioni Bodoniane’ (listed by H C Brook’s Compendiosa Bibliografia delle Edizioni Bodoniane) printed while Bodoni’s presses were active, in 1834, the BL collections has over 200, of which 38 are available digitally 

Giovanni Battista Bodoni, Manuale Tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura di Giovanni Mardersteig. (Verona, 1968). L.R.413.h.17.

Franco Maria Ricci, Bodoni, 1740-1813 (Parma, 2013) LF.31.b.11849

Andrea De Pasquale / Massimo Dradi, B Come Bodoni: i Caratteri di Bodoni a Brera e nella Grafica Contemporanea (Milan, 2013). YF.2014.a.22184

Hugh Cecil Brooks, Compendiosa Bibliografia di Edizioni Bodoniane (Floerence, 1927) 2704.bp.2.

23 October 2019

‘The Shakespeare of the dance’: Jean-Georges Noverre

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As we celebrate World Ballet Day in the year which sees the centenary of the birth of Margot Fonteyn, arguably the greatest ballerina that a British company has ever produced, it is instructive to consider how much farther back the tradition of ballet as we know it extends. In the very first line of a pamphlet entitled Problema russkogo baleta (‘The Problem of Russian Ballet’), A. L. Volynskii claims that ‘Modern classical ballet was born in Russia, and grew up there’ – a statement which, had he read it, would no doubt have left Jean-Georges Noverre speechless.

Cover of Problema russkogo baleta with a drawing of a ballerina

Cover of Problema russkogo baleta (Petrograd, 1923) YA.1997.a.20295

Noverre was born in Paris on 29 April 1727, and was expected to follow a military career like his Swiss father. Instead, though, the young Jean-Georges chose a vocation requiring equally rigorous discipline, studying dance with a M. Marcel and then with the famous Louis Dupré and making his debut at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 8 June 1743. This led to further engagements abroad; while still in his teens, Noverre performed at Fontainebleau, and in Berlin before Frederick II, at whose court he met Voltaire. The king’s excessive thrift, however, led his maître de ballet, Lany, and several of his colleagues to break their contracts and desert the Prussian court in 1747. Noverre became ballet master in Strasbourg and created his first great success, Les Fêtes chinoises, there. He went on to Vienna, where he worked under Empress Maria Theresa and became maître de danse to her 12-year-old daughter, the future Marie Antoinette, who later became his patron.

Portrait of Noverre

Portrait of Noverre from Deryck Lynham, The Chevalier Noverre: father of modern ballet (London, 1950) 7920.e.34

In 1755, he went to London with his family and his company to work with David Garrick at the Drury Lane Theatre. He had access to Garrick’s library, enabling him to study classical literature and draw on it for subjects for his ballets while developing his own methods of teaching dance and choreographing for the stage. It was here, in 1756, that he began to formulate his ideas in a treatise published four years later in Lyons.

When the London production of Les Fêtes chinoises was destroyed by rioters on the eve of the Seven Years' War, Noverre and his family were forced to go into hiding. Although he continued to oversee productions at Drury Lane, he was not credited on the playbills. When Marie-Antoinette became Queen of France in 1774, she recalled her former dancing-master, and appointed Noverre to the Paris Opéra. However, in 1779 Noverre was displaced from his position because rival ballet masters and dancers Jean Dauberval, Maximilien Gardel and Mlle Guimard campaigned against him, although he did not finally leave the Opéra until 1781.

Noverre’s innovatory ideas are preserved in his Lettres sur la danse, et sur les ballets, of which the British Library holds a copy of the first edition (1760); it was translated into English in 1782. He was strongly opposed to the flamboyant virtuoso style of Italian choreographers such as Gasparo Angiolini, his successor in Vienna. Maria Theresa herself declared in 1774 that Angiolini was ‘producing abominable ballets’ there, and said of Noverre that, although he was ‘unbearable, especially when he has had a little wine which frequently happens to him, […] I find him unique in his art and his ability to get something out of the most indifferent material’.

Title page of Lettres sur la danse  et sur les ballets

Title page of Lettres sur la danse, et sur les ballets (Lyons, 1760) 785.b.54.

The type of material which Noverre brought to life is evident from another volume in the British Library’s collections, Recueil des programmes de ballets de M. Noverre. This contains details of ballets such as his first great dramatic piece, Der gerächte Agamemnon / Agamemnon vengé, first performed in Vienna in 1772. In a preface, Noverre anticipates criticism for taking liberties in his presentation of great classical myths, but defends his decision to bend the rules in accordance with contemporary taste, maintaining that ‘a ballet is not a drama, and that it is impossible for a production of this kind to be subordinated to the strict rules of Aristotle’. The action conflates the entire Oresteia of Aeschylus, culminating in a scene where Orestes is ‘terrified by the Furies, tormented by Crime, Remorse and Despair personified, and finally rent by the bloodstained spectre of his mother’ (providing, no doubt, not only a terrific spectacle but all kinds of opportunities for vengeance by any performers with a personal grudge against the dancer portraying Orestes).

Title page of Recueil des programmes de ballets de M. Noverre

Title page of Recueil des programmes de ballets de M. Noverre (Vienna, 1776) 11739.a.7

Besides Garrick, the great influences on Noverre’s work were the composer Jean-Philippe Rameau, whose opera-ballets he greatly admired, and the dancer Marie Sallé, notable for her acting abilities and imaginative use of mime, who collaborated with Handel during her London seasons. Sallé also shared Noverre’s belief in the potential of ballet for dramatic expression and narrative rather than mere displays of impressive footwork. Cooperating with Noverre allowed Sallé to introduce many of her own ideas, including costumes which departed from the rigid ceremonial quality of earlier productions and allowed the dancers greater freedom of movement. For Noverre, as later for Wagner, ballets within operas could not be merely inserted to provide a pretext for glittering display, but should be closely integrated into the action: ‘the dancers … would have to abandon their posturing and take unto themselves a soul’.

Noverre’s own life was almost as eventful as the plot of any of his ballets. In June 1776 he returned from Vienna to Paris, retaining his post there until the French Revolution reduced him to poverty. He died on 19 October 1810 at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, at the beginning of a century which would see his concept of the ballet d’action established as the basis of classical ballet performance throughout Europe.

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

23 August 2019

Raymond Roussel’s strange book

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Where to start with the eccentric French poet Raymond Roussel? He was born into fabulous wealth, which he used to indulge his many idiosyncrasies. He threw lavish banquets just for himself. He more or less invented the modern electrified caravan, in which he travelled the world. Oh, and there’s a childhood photograph of him astride a swan.

Photo of Raymond Roussel, aged 3, sitting astride a swan

Photo of Raymond Roussel, aged 3, with a swan. Picture by Wilhelm Benque (1849-1903) & Cie (Paris) from Wikimedia Commons

He also produced a book with peculiar, unturnable pages, called Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique. There’s a first edition in the British Library’s collections, and it has quite a story attached to it. You can listen to a podcast I made about it here, featuring Dr Dennis Duncan of University College London, and Dr Sophie Defrance, Curator of Romance Collections at the British Library.

Nouvelles Impressions is a long poem written in rhyming couplets, which Roussel published in 1932 after spending over a decade writing it. Convinced it was a masterpiece, he wanted to it to be his lasting literary monument. The problem was that it wasn’t very monumental in length and so, possibly to turn it into a longer, more impressive looking tome, he decided to include some illustrations. But here’s where it starts to get weird: Roussel hired an illustrator using a private detective agency, keeping his own identity a secret and providing only a series of captions or one-sentence instructions. And so the artist, Henri Zo, produced a set of line drawings without ever seeing the actual poem, or even knowing whose book he was illustrating. What’s even weirder is that Roussel then instructed his printer to produce the book in such a way that the illustrations would be partially concealed, hidden in the folds of uncut pages.

Books with uncut (or ‘unopened’) pages used to be very common. They were a by-product of the way books were produced in the era before industrial printing. Handpress production involved printing several pages at a time on a single larger sheet, which was then folded, usually into quarters or eighths, depending on the format and size of the volume. When these folded sheets were then stitched together into a book, some of the pages would still be joined together at the top or along the fore-edge. (Try this with a sheet of paper and you’ll see what I mean). Often the first thing you would need to do as a reader is to slice open the pages in order to read.

Roussel turned this quirk of book production into a feature of his Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique. He made sure that the text and illustrations appeared on alternate leaves, and whereas the text is easily readable by turning the pages conventionally, the images could be seen only with difficulty, by prising apart two pages which are joined at the top. He even seems to have included an instruction to readers in later editions not to slice the pages, but to leave them joined. There’s something not only awkward but quite voyeuristic and intimate about this mode of reading, as Dennis Duncan has observed.

Roussel’s text itself seems well aware of this, and one of the illustrations depicts a man who is reading in exactly this way, looking rather furtive as he prises apart the leaves of an uncut book. It creates a funny kind of regression, placing us in the same position as the man in the illustration, even as we look at him.

Illustration of a man reading an un-opened book

An illustration of the art of reading an unopened book, in Raymond Roussel’s Nouvelles impressions d’Afrique. (Paris, 1932) 11397.aaa.2. 

Except that in this British Library copy, it doesn’t work in quite the way Roussel intended. He might have been meticulous in planning what the book would look like, and how readers would have to navigate it, but his plans were derailed once it was out in the world. At some point, possibly as late as 1983, the pages of this edition in the British Library were sliced open and disbound, so that they could be coated in a peculiar protective tissue layer that conservators were once fond of, in a process called lamination, or the ‘technique/process of manufacturing a material in multiple layers, so that the composite material achieves improved strength and stability’. Lamination was used to conserve very fragile or acid paper and was rather a common habit in libraries that cared about conservation from the 1950s to the early 1980s.

Not only were the pages of the British Library edition cut, but it was rebound wrongly, so that Roussel’s masterpiece was interrupted mid way through by the accidental inclusion of some publishers’ blurb and critical endorsements, including a glowing review of one of Roussel’s previous works, La poussière de soleils by the Daily Mail

Pierre Bazantay’s study on Roussel’s aesthetics describes how this booklet, or “cahier” of praises to Roussel was prepared by his editor, Lemerre, in the 1930s (certainly at the request of Roussel himself) and inserted in all the re-editions of his works. For the modern reader, it is ever so slightly poignant to read these reviews, which were not always clearly laudatory, but were cut just the right amount to almost look so. As a point of comparison, the booklet was correctly inserted in a now digitised edition of another of Roussel’s works, Chiquenaude

A promotional booklet produced by Roussel’s publisher, Lemerre, wrongly inserted in the rebound book in Raymond Roussel’s Nouvelles impressions d’Afrique.

La critique et Raymond Roussel, a promotional booklet produced by Roussel’s publisher, Lemerre, wrongly inserted in the rebound book in Raymond Roussel’s Nouvelles impressions d’Afrique. (Paris, 1932) 11397.aaa.2.

Poor old Roussel tried so hard to control how his poem would be encountered and read. But the British Library copy is testament to the fact that books just don’t work like that. How they are preserved depends on the vagaries of conservators, collectors and readers. Subsequent publishers have also largely ignored his original design, taking all kinds of liberties with the layout of Nouvelles Impressions, and even bumping all the illustrations to end of the book. Laurent Busine’s study, Raymond Roussel: contemplator enim, described the composition process, Roussel’s relationship with his publisher, and reproduced and discussed the 59 images created by Zo. If you want to read the book as Roussel envisaged, you need to get hold of the 2004 English translation published by Atlas Press. It’s the only edition to scrupulously replicate its unopened pages and give you the original, peculiar reading experience. It even includes a stern warning note to its readers: ‘You are advised to cut only the pages containing the introduction, and to read it before deciding whether to cut the remaining pages’.

Gill Partington, 2018–2019 Munby Fellow in Bibliography at Cambridge University (with Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance collections).

References/further reading

Pierre Bazantay, 'Roussel: une esthétique de la crise?' in Cahiers de l'Association internationale des études françaises, 2004, no. 56. pp. 113-126. W.P.d.475.

Laurent Busine, Raymond Roussel: contemplator enim: sur les «Nouvelles impressions d'Afrique», ouvrage orné de 59 illustrations d’Henri-Achille Zo. (Brussels, 1995). YA.1996.a.1668.

Raymond Roussel, La poussière de soleils. Pièce en cinq actes et vingt-quatre tableaux. (Paris, 1926) C.104.dd.30.

Raymond Roussel, New impressions of Africa; with 59 illustrations by H.-A. Zo; translated & introduced by Ian Monk with the assistance of Henry Matthews. (London, 2004). YK.2007.a.15117.

20 August 2019

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

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

Novgorod tablet, 13th - early 14th century

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

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

The first page of the 1574 Azbuka

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

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

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

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

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

First page of Karion Istomin's Bukvar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Title-page of 1830 Azbuka

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

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

Collage of late 19th century Azbuka covers

Collage of late 19th century Azbuka covers

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

Cover of L. Tolstoy's Novaia Azbuka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

References/further reading:

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

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

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