THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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51 posts categorized "Rare books"

12 November 2019

Ceremonial greetings in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

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

Title page of Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III…

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

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

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

Portrait of King Sigismund III Vasa

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

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

Lithuanian text in Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III…

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

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

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

Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator, Baltic Collections

References

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

28 September 2019

A Journey from St Petersburg to Moscow, or a story of Imperial glory, radical ideas and rare books

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Banned Books Week (22–28 Sept 2019) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to the number of challenges to books in schools, bookshops and libraries. The theme for 2019 urges readers to ‘keep the light on’ to ensure censorship doesn’t leave us in the dark.

For over six months, from the beginning of January 1787, Empress of Russia Catherine the Great conducted an inspection of her newly-acquired lands in the south. The journey, known as the Taurida Voyage, was documented in an account kept by the Tsarina’s secretary Alexander Khrapovitskii (now digitised), but the itinerary with short descriptions of the places that she had intended to visit or pass by was published prior the trip.

Title page of Puteshestvie Ee Imperatorskogo Velishectva v poludennyi krai Rossii, predpriemlemoe v 1787 godu

Title page of Puteshestvie Ee Imperatorskogo Velishectva v poludennyi krai Rossii, predpriemlemoe v 1787 godu. (St. Petersburg, 1786) 1426.h.1

Map from Puteshestvie Ee Imperatorskogo Velishectva v poludennyi krai Rossii, predpriemlemoe v 1787 godu

Map from Puteshestvie Ee Imperatorskogo Velishectva v poludennyi krai Rossii, 

The purpose of the voyage was to celebrate the Empire, the Empress, and her victorious policies of expansion. Accounts of travels were a popular genre in 18th-century literature, but of course, Khrapovitskii’s ‘journal’ was also a distinguished piece of state propaganda.

We might speculate that the journal of Catherine’s travels ‘inspired’ Alexander Radishchev, a graduate of the University of Leipzig and therefore somewhat radical thinker, and a civil servant of the ninth rank (out of 14, first being the highest), to write his book A Journey from St Petersburg to Moscow and publish it in 1790.

Title page of the facsimile edition of Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu

Title page of the facsimile edition of Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu (Moscow; Leningrad, 1935) 010291.f.36

The last pages of the facsimile edition of Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu

The last pages of the facsimile edition of Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu 

An account of a routine journey from the capital city to the second most important city in the country and its ex-capital does not sound like an exciting new adventure that could capture readers’ imagination. And indeed, it meant to do the complete opposite – to show the dire state of social conditions in Russia where serfdom was as routine as a trip from St Petersburg to Moscow. If Catherine’s trip was a symbol of glory and victory of the ruling classes, Radishchev’s book presented an account of the misery and defeat of the people of Russia.

Map of the journey from Moscow to St Petersburg

Map of the journey (Materialy k izucheniiu “Puteshestviia”)

As one can see, there is no author’s name on the title page. In addition, the statement that the work had received approval from a censor – a mandatory condition for any print publication at that time in the Russian Empire – is put on the last page. It becomes obvious that Radishchev is playing some kind of trick here. The version he deposited for censorship was much lighter on criticism of the state than the version he eventually printed. Having received approval for printing, he reinstated the pages that contained his most radical, critical views.

Radishchev made use of Catherine’s decree on free printing, which from 1783 allowed individuals to set up private printing presses, and had a printing press in his own house. Between January and May 1790, he, his subordinate from the civil service, and domestics (mainly his own serfs) managed to produce 650 copies of his book. The first 50 copies were sent to the bookseller Zotov, and 30 of them sold. Quite unfortunately, one copy landed on Catherine’s desk. The Empress was infuriated, as she interpreted Radishchev's calls for reform as the most dangerous radicalism, and therefore all the remaining copies were confiscated and destroyed. Zotov was arrested and revealed the author’s name while being interrogated. Subsequently, Radishchev was also arrested and condemned to death, though the sentence was later softened and he was exiled to Siberia.

Out of the 650 copies originally printed, only just over a dozen survived. For decades, this book became the rarest and most desirable for any Russian bibliophile. Alexander Pushkin paid 200 Rubles for his copy. In 1858, Alexander Herzen published the book in his Free Russian Press in London. However, the Russian edition of 1872 was again banned by the authorities.

Title page of Herzen’s edition

Title page of Herzen’s edition. 9455c.11

In 1888, Aleskei Suvorin, one of the most prominent publishers of that time, managed to get permission to reprint 100 copies of Radishchev’s book. He borrowed a copy of the 1790 edition from a Moscow bibliophile, Pavel Shchapov, but his careless employees damaged and then disposed of this rare copy. To replace it, Suvorin first quietly tried to obtain a copy from antiquarian booksellers for around 300 Rubles, but did not get very far. He then published an advert in the newspaper Russkie vedomosti (No. 56, 1888) where he offered 1,500 Rubles for a fine copy. Eventually, he managed to get a copy for two thirds of this price and Shchapov was satisfied, although he died shortly after having received a new copy of Radishchev’s journey back into his collection. His friends and relatives were sure that the stress of losing the rarity contributed significantly to his premature death.

Newspaper advert in Russkiie vedomosti

Newspaper advert in Russkie vedomosti (N 56, 1888)

Thus, ironically, this criticism of social injustice became one of the most expensive collectors’ items on the market. The British Library does not hold the 1790 edition of Radishchev’s book.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The Library will be holding a number of events to mark Banned Books Week, and for more related posts, see our English and Drama and Americas blogs

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

13 June 2019

‘The Father of German Calligraphy’: Johann Neudörffer

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In an earlier post I wrote about the use and long survival of ‘gothic’ typefaces and handwriting in the German-Speaking countries. It was surely no coincidence that, at the time when the printing press and the influence of humanist thought and teaching were beginning to popularise ‘Roman’ printing and writing styles, the first printed writing manuals for German scripts also began to appear.

One of the first and most influential creators of such manuals was the Nuremberg writing and mathematics teacher Johann Neudörffer (1497-1563), who published his first collection of alphabets, designed for his own students and usually referred to as the Fundament, in 1519 (1267.g.24.(3)). His major work, Ein gute Ordnung und kurtze Unterricht der furnemsten Grunde aus denen die Jungen zierlichs schreybens begirlich, mit besonderer Kunst und Behendigkeyt unterricht und geubt mögen werden, appeared 19 years later.

Title-page  of Johann Neudörffer, Ein gute Ordnung und kurtze Unterricht 
Title-page  of Johann Neudörffer, Ein gute Ordnung und kurtze Unterricht (Nuremberg, 1538).  C.69.aa.18.

The Gute Ordnung contains not just alphabets and examples of how to form and join letters, but also models for the kinds of  documents his students would need to prepare in their later careers as court or civic scribes.

Practical guidance on points and lines from Ein gute Ordnung
Practical guidance on points and lines from Ein gute Ordnung

An alphabet in capitals from Ein gute Ordnung
An alphabet in capitals from Ein gute Ordnung

There are also models of scripts using prayers, Biblical quotations and educational maxims. Most are in German hands, although there are some samples of Roman and italic lettering. There are large and elaborate capitals, and texts in script almost too tiny to read, practical scripts for everyday work and decorative ones for special occasions.

An inscription in outline script
An outline script from Ein gute Ordnung

Decorative flourishes
Decorative flourishes from Ein gute Ordnung

Perhaps the most complex model is a prayer presented as a labyrinth pattern.

A prayer written out in a labyrinth pattern

Because of the method of reproduction used, many of the plates also appear in reverse, which were often bound in with the others. This, together with the fact that Neudörffer produced more plates in later years which were bound into some copies, makes the work a bit of a bibliographical challenge.

A page with a handwriting sample
A page (above) and its reverse (below) from Ein gute Ordnung

A page with a handwriting sample reproduced in mirror image

The British Library holds two copies, one (C.69.aa.18.) with 103 leaves of which 46 are accompanied by the reverse, and one (1256.kk.31.) with 101 leaves of which 45 are accompanied by the reverse and one appears in reverse only. Both copies show evidence of being owned by contemporary scribes. The first copy has an ownership inscription by a Hanns Lebzelter dated 1549, and the second has 18 manuscript leaves bound in, one of them signed by Veit Stoss (1533-1576) a grandson and namesake of the sculptor.

Ownership inscription 'Hannes Lebzelters Kunstbuch Anno 1549
Ownership evidence: Hanns Lebzelter (above, C.69.aa.18) and Veit Stoss (below, 1256.kk.31.)

Handwritten text and ownership inscription by Veit Stoss, 1550

The 1519 Fundament and Ein gute Ordnung are copy-books with little or no explanatory text, but in 1549 Neudörffer published what was more of a descriptive textbook. Ein Gesprechbüchlein zweyer schüler, wie einer den andern im zierlichen schreyben untherweyst takes the familiar pedagogical form of a dialogue between instructor and learner, although rather than the more familiar model of a teacher or parent in the role of instructor, Neudörffer’s dialogue is between fellow students of a similar age. Stephan is keen to improve his calligraphy skills with the help of the more experienced Johann (based on Neudörffer’s own son). “I’m ashamed to let you see my handwriting,” Stephan explains at the start of the first lesson, but Johann reassures him, “It isn’t so very bad, at least one can read it,” and goes on to explain how to cut and hold a quill, how to make basic lines, points and letter-shapes, how to form and join up letters and so on.

A diagram of a perfectly-cut quill pen
Above: A perfectly cut quill pen, from Ein Gesprechbüchlein zweyer schüler (Nuremberg, 1549) 1267.g.24.(1).  Below: Guidance on how to hold a pen, from a 1601 reissue of the work under the title Schreibkunst (Nuremberg, 1601) 1477.dd.52.(1)

Diagrams and an explanation of how to hold a quill pen

Under the title Schreibkunst, Neudörffer’s grandson Anton reissued the Gesprechbüchlein in 1601 with an additional collection of letters and alphabets, some of them so elaborate that it becomes almost impossible to decipher the basic letter-forms beneath the flourishes.

Decorative letters A-L
Decorative letters A-L (above) and R-S (below) from  Schreibkunst

Heavily decorated letters R and S

Neudörffer helped to shape the style of both German handwriting and German printing types in the 16th century, and thus to influence German writing and printing styles for four centuries. Today he is recognised as the father of German calligraphy, and has inspired modern designers of gothic typefaces who have given his name to their fonts.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

References/further reading:

Oliver Linke, Christine Sauer, Zierlich schreiben: der Schreibmeister Johann Neudörffer d. Ä. und seine Nachfolger in Nürnberg (Nuremberg, 2007) YF.2011.a.17762

Werner Doede, Bibliographie deutscher Schreibmeisterbücher von Neudoörffer bis 1800 (Hamburg, 1958) 2739.c.6.

08 May 2019

A Spanish pioneer of deaf education and his early English readers

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For Deaf Awareness Week we recall the groundbreaking work of Juan Pablo Bonet (dates unknown) and his Reducción de las letras y arte para enseñar a ablar los mudos [‘Simplification of letters and art of teaching the dumb to speak’].

Title-page of Bonet’s Reducción de las letras
Title-page of Bonet’s Reducción de las letras … (Madrid, 1620) 71.a.18.

The engraved title page by Diego de Astor shows the mottoes: ‘Sic natura vincula solvit artis’ and ‘Ita ars naturae vincula solvit’ (‘As Nature loosens the chains of Art [we might say, ‘invention’] so Art loosens the chains of Nature] and an emblem of a hand of art picking the lock which nature has placed on the tongue of a dumb man. In another emblem a mother bird (nature) has undone the grille which ‘art’ had put over the entrance to her nest.

Bonet’s method was first to teach the written letters; then teach the hand signs for the letters; then teach the pronunciation of the letters. Bonet comments that the pupil learns to lip-read by himself and the teacher must not take credit for this.

Bonet was of the first teachers to devise and record in print a sign alphabet, and his system has had some influence on modern sign languages. However, he was also typical of his age in believing that signing was only a step towards an ideal of oralism rather than a valid form of communication in itself.

Sign for the letter A in Bonet's alphabet Signs for the letters B,C and D in Bonet's alphabet
The first four letters of Bonet’s sign alphabet, from Reducción de las letras…

There was only one edition of the Reducción in its time and bibliographically speaking it’s striking to me that various English-speakers are known to have owned copies of this first and only edition.

In the British Library we have three copies:

One (71.a.18) is from the King’s Library and therefore can’t be traced back before George III (1738-1820).

Another (556.b.20.(1.) probably belonged to Sir Hans Sloane (see the Sloane Database), and a third (1043.l.5.) to Sir Paul Methuen (c. 1672-1757).

Samuel Pepys had a copy (now in Cambridge, 1396(2)) (Gaselee 16; Knighton p. 136).

And not far away from the BL, in Gordon Square, Dr Williams’s Library has had a copy since 1727 (1038.H.11; Catalogus 1727, p. 46). I maintain that this copy belonged to Dr William Bates (1625-99), owner of 97 Spanish books. He was a contemporary of Pepys but they don’t seem to have known each other.

Bates didn’t write his name in this copy, but he did sign a similar work in English, John Bulwer’s Philocophus: or, The Deafe and Dumbe Mans Friend, Exhibiting the Philosophicall verity of that subtile art, which may inable one with an observant eie, to heare what any man speaks by the moving of the lips ...(London, 1648) [Dr William’s Library 1064.R.13]

Title-page of John Bulwer’s 'Philocophus'
Engraved title-page from the BL copy of Bulwer’s Philocophus  1041.c.23

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance collections

References/Further reading

Stephen Gaselee, The Spanish Books in the Library of Samuel Pepys (Supplement to the Bibliographical Society’s Transactions ; no. 2 ) ([London], 1921). Ac.9670.bba.

Catalogue of the Pepys Library, Supplementary series, I, Census of Printed Books, ed. C. S. Knighton (Cambridge, 2004) YC.2005.b.109

Simplification of the Letters of the Alphabet and Method of teaching Deaf-Mutes to speak ... Translated from the original Spanish by H. N. Dixon ... with a historical introduction by A. Farrar. ([Harrogate], 1890). 8310.cc.38

Bibliothecae quam vir doctus, & admodum Reverendus, Daniel Williams, S.T.P. Bono publico legavit, catalogus (London, 1727). 125.d.8.

Barry Taylor, ‘Los libros españoles del Dr. William Bates (1625-1699) en la Dr. Williams’s Library de Londres’, in El libro español en Londres: la visión de España en Inglaterra (siglos XVI al XIX), ed. Nicolás Bas and Barry Taylor (Valencia, 2016), pp. 13-60. YF.2017.a.19281

23 April 2019

English Recusants in Portugal, 1638

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A recent acquisition recalls the dark times of the religious conflicts of the 17th century.

Sermao RB.23.a.38272

 Thomás Aranha, Sermão que pregou o Muito Reverendo Padre Presentado Frey Thomas Aranha da Ordem dos Prégadores, Lente de Theologia no Real Collegio de S. Thomas de Coimbra, na festa, que celebrou ao glorioso martyr S. Iorge seu padroeiro a nobilissima naçaõ inglesa em S. Domingos de Lisboa no anno de 638 (Lisbon, [1638]). RB.23.a.38272

This sermon was preached at Lisbon on St George’s Day in 1638 to the community of English Catholic recusant exiles, “these gentlemen who have lived among us for so many years, and every year celebrate their patron saint” (fol. 12v). As a gesture of Anglo-Portuguese solidarity, he points out that in battle the Portuguese, like the English, used to invoke St George, unlike the Spaniards who called on St James (fol. 11v).

St George was of obvious appeal to the English. Of obvious relevance too was his status as a martyr at a time when Catholics were being martyred in England. Aranha says explicitly that England had once been as industrious and courageous in its faith, as those who still profess their Catholicism today (fols 11-12). Indeed, the English recusants in Portugal have made such sacrifices in being cut off from friends and family that they too may be called martyrs (fol. 13r). (This may not be as exaggerated as it sounds: a martyr is one who bears witness to his or her faith, not necessarily unto death.)

Eight of Fr Thomás’s sermons are recorded in the Tipografia portuguesa do século XVII: Letras A e B, pp. 130-32

Like many a preacher, he was also a poet. We have his poems on the occasion of the coronation of John IV.

Poesias Compostas

Poesias compostas na Universidade de Coimbra na occasiaõ da felicissima, & milagrosa acclamaçaõ, & coroaçåo d'el Rei nosso Senhor Dom Ioaõ o quarto de Portugal, que se não ofereceraõ no Certamen Poetico, que na dita Vniveridade ouve nem andão no livro dos seus aplausos. (Lisbon, 1645). 1560/808.(1.) [https://books.google.co.uk/books?vid=BL:A0021022066&redir_esc=y]]

King John won back Portuguese independence from the ‘Philippine Domination’ by Philips II-IV of Spain from 1580 to 1640. Aranha is not named in the book, but Innocêncio Francisco da Silva in his dictionary of Portuguese biography gives him authorship.

His book of 1645 is a belated supplement to the poetic celebrations dedicated by the University of Coimbra to the new king:

Invictissimo Regi Invictissimo Regi Lusitaniæ Joanni. IV. Academia Conimbricensis libellum dicat in felicissima sua aclamatione .. (Coimbra, 1641). Cup.408.ww.8

Thus like many a Baroque author Fr Thomás wrote for the moment.

An indication of this little book’s rarity is that A. F. Allison and D. M. Rogers didn’t include it in their classic bibliography, The contemporary printed literature of the English Counter-Reformation between 1558 and 1640 : an annotated catalogue, Vol. 1, Works in languages other than English; with the collaboration of W. Lottes (Aldershot, 1989). RAR 230.242

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References

Tipografia portuguesa do século XVII: Letras A e B (Lisbon, 1999), RAR 094.209469 LI.

Innocêncio Francisco da Silva, Diccionario bibliographico portuguez, VII (Lisbon, 1872). HLR 011.269

 

23 November 2018

Hold the entire Bible in your head!

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There have been schemes stretching back to Antiquity for making it easier to retain information in our heads. Many memory practitioners recommended word-image association: conjure up an architectural edifice in your mind and place a nugget of knowledge in each niche.

This memory book, however, is entirely verbal.

Martin del Río, Ars biblica, sive herma memorialis sacra, in qua metricè S. Paginæ libri, capita, eorumque medulla memoriae facillimè commendantur ... (Ecija, 1778) RB.23.a 38345

Biblia

This pocket-sized book, recently acquired, enables the reader (presumably a preacher like the author) to memorise the chapters of the Latin Vulgate Bible using one word (or its abbreviation) to summarise each chapter.

For example, the Epistle to the Ephesians (p. 110).

Ch 1 is summarised by “Christum ad dexteram in coelestibus constituens”, which is part of verse 20 “quam operatus est in Christo, suscitans illum a mortuis, et constituens ad dexteram suam in cælestibus” [Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places].
This is boiled down to “Constituens”.

Ch 2 is summarised by “Estis sanctorum cives”, which is part of verse 19” Ergo jam non estis hospites, et advenæ: sed estis cives sanctorum, et domestici Dei” [Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God].
This is boiled down to “Cives”.

Ch 3 is summarised by “genua mea patrem flecto” which is part of verse 14 “Hujus rei gratia flecto genua mea ad Patrem Domini nostri Jesu Christi” [For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ]
This is boiled down to “Flecto”.

Ch 4 is summarised by “dona hominibus Dedit” which is part of verse 8 “Propter quod dicit: Ascendens in altum, captivam duxit captivitatem: dedit dona hominibus” [Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men]
This is boiled down to “Dedit”.

Ch 5 is summarised by “ecclesiae Christus est caput” which is part of verse 23 “quoniam vir caput est mulieris, sicut Christus caput est Ecclesiæ” [For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body]
This is boiled down to “Est caput”.

Ch 6 is summarised by “tenebrarum rectores harum” which is part of verse 12 “quoniam non est nobis colluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem, sed adversus principes, et potestates, adversus mundi rectores tenebrarum harum, contra spiritualia nequitiæ, in cælestibus” [For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places]
This is boiled down to “Harum”.

Put them together and they make an “easily” (he says “most easily”, facillime) memorised hexameter line: “constituens cives flecto dedit est caput harum”.

At least that’s the theory.

Ars Biblica pp110-111 Fr Martín’s summary of the Epistle to the Ephesians, Ars Biblica [pp. 110-111]

Fr Martín gives a chronological survey of earlier publications: Bonaventura in 1270, Petrus Rosenbeimensis [von Rosenheim] in 1450, Matthias Martinius, and “In our century” Leander a S Martino in 1628, et al.

“Alas! No-one cites the first inventor, Alexander de Villadei (of our Order OFM)”, author ca 1240 of some leonine verses, beginning “Sex, prohibet, peccant, Abel, Enoch, et arca fit, intrant.” According to Fr Martín, he was copied word for word by Leander a S Martino, who suppressed Alexander’s name and passed the work off as his own. Our old General Catalogue of Printed Books identifies this rotter: “LEANDER, de Sancto Martino [i.e. John Jones]”.

“Alas how many today wish to becloud the names of their predecessors! I freely admit my debt to others: Render under Caesar, etc.”

He has cleaned up the text of Alexander, bringing it into line with the Tridentine Vulgate of Pope Clement VIII (1592).

This is the second edition, the first having been printed in Mexico in 1675.
This sort of memory verse survives almost into our own day: the more elderly among you might remember the Kings and Queens of England in doggerel:

Willy, Willy, Harry, Ste,
Harry, Dick, John, Harry three,
One, two, three Neds, Richard two,
Henries four, five, six – then who?
Edwards four, five, Dick the bad,
Harries twain and Ned the lad,
Mary, Bessie, James the vain,
Charlie, Charlie, James again …

Fr Martín’s book takes us back to a time when the Bible was a vital concern, and when education was synonymous with a knowledge of Latin.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

Further reading

Frances A. Yates, The art of memory (London, 1966) X.529/6232.

Mary J. Carruthers, The book of memory (Cambridge, 1990) YC.1990.b.7100

Juan Velázquez de Acevedo, Fénix de Minerva, o arte de memoria, ed. Fernando Rodríguez de la Flor (Valencia, 2002) YF.2016.a.22418

20 November 2018

The case of the two Simon Kaufmanns

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Kaufmanns BindingUpper cover and spine of Arthur Machen The Heptameron ([privately printed] 1886). C.188.a.398.

Bookbinders, like artists, sometimes signed their work. This usually (but not always) makes life easier for the researcher. The newly acquired and stunning binding pictured above is signed ‘S[imon] Kaufmann’, a name recorded in the standard reference work, Packer’s Bookbinders of Victorian London.

If this represents a typical piece of work from Kaufmann, he was an extremely skilled craftsman. Maybe Kaufmann was of the same opinion because, unusually, he twice added his signature to the binding, once on the upper turn-in and once on the verso of the upper flyleaf!.

Kaufmanns signatures

The two signatures, one in gold and one in black on Kaufmann’s Heptameron binding

The accepted narrative is that Kaufmann, a Soho bookbinder, found later success as a dealer in fancy goods. What, therefore, is the problem?

The Victorian censuses reveal that there were two Simon Kaufmanns living in London during the last half of the 19th century, both working with leather. Both came from Germany. One was probably from Koblenz and the other from Ortenberg. Even their wives had similar names; Eva and Eveline. At the risk of sounding like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, who was the bookbinding Kaufmann?

The spelling of names was not yet standardised in official documents at the time. The same person could be referred to as ‘Kaufman’ ‘Kauffman’ and ‘Kaufmann’ so this does not help us distinguish between our two craftsmen. (The blog will use the form ‘Kaufmann’.) Whatever the spelling, the name is more common in Germany than England, and means ‘merchant’ or ‘trader’. Some Kaufmanns were Jewish and it has been noted that Victorian London attracted German-Jewish antique dealers, toy manufacturers, and fancy goods merchants.

Packer recorded that ‘his’ Kaufmann worked with French bookbinder Lucien Broca in a workshop at 60 Frith St (1876-77). The British Library has a binding signed Broca and Kaufmann. Kaufmann then worked on his own behalf nearby at 42 Dean Street (1878-1882). From 1883 to 1889, Kaufmann’s premises was at 50 Frith Street. In 1890 bookbinder Harry Wood took over the shop. An article on Wood in  The British Book Maker revealed that he bought the business when the owner went abroad but I have not traced any travel documents that support this. Maybe this sale set Kaufmann up in financial terms.

Kaufmanns Broca and K

Binding by Kaufmann and Broca, from Pierre Dufour, pseud. [i.e. Paul Lacroix.] Histoire de la prostitution chez tous les peuples du monde depuis l’antiquité ... jusqu’à nos jours. (Brussels, [1861]) C.115.m.25 .

The 1891 census for Islington revealed a Simon Kaufmann (born in 1856, though sometimes listed as 1857) whose profession was ‘Plush Leather Fancy Goods Maker.’ This has led to the belief that Kaufmann turned from bookbinding to devote himself to the manufacture of decorated boxes, photograph frames, cigar and cigarette cases, watch and jewel cases and writing sets. Thanks to the flourishing of trade in Victorian London, the thriving middle classes had more disposable income and could afford to treat themselves to small luxury products. The firm ‘Simon Kaufmann’ prospered to such an extent that it exhibited at trade fairs in 1922 and 1929 and was still in business in 1942 in the Tottenham Court Road area.

Kaufmanns AdvertAdvertisement for Simon Kaufmann’s firm from Graces’ Guide to British Industrial History 

Tracing this Kaufmann back in time, the 1881 Clerkenwell census found him at the age of 24 staying with his German cousin Solomon and family at 19, St John Square. Solomon’s occupation was recorded as ‘F[ancy] Box Maker Employing 1 Man 2 Women 1 Boy’-. Simon was listed as ‘box maker’s cutter’, probably working for Solomon. In 1891, Simon, aged 35 and unmarried, was boarding at another house in Islington, but his occupation was the aforementioned ‘Plush Leather Fancy Goods Maker.’ He married someone in the same field, Eva Jane Allen, described in the census as ‘Fancy Dealer’s Shopwoman’. They set up house in Hornsey where they had two children. Kaufmann died in April 1897 leaving his wife well provided for with the sum of £4375 3s 7d. Advertisements in the Islington Gazette (2 Nov 1897 and 18 Sept 1905) requesting ‘experienced girls for covering photo frames etc’ shows that the firm was still in business and hiring staff after Simon’s death. The 1911 census describes Mrs Kaufmann as ‘Owner of Fancy Goods Manufactory’.

The binding acquired by the Library must date from between 1886 (the date of publication of the text) and 1889 when the workshop was sold. This was at a time when Kaufmann was supposedly engaged making boxes. Did Simon have two jobs? It seems unlikely. Bookbinding was a recognised trade that required many years training. Hours were long. Making boxes and establishing a fancy goods business would also have been a full time job.

The 1871 census for the City of London lists a Simon Kaufmann, lodger, born in Ortenberg, Germany in 1845 (though listed elsewhere as 1843 and 1846) who was a bookbinder. In 1881, he was described as a ‘Bookbinder Finisher’ (the craftsman who applied gold tooling and other decoration to a binding). In 1884 Simon married Eveline Selim (b. 1860) and in 1891 he was living with her in ‘Glemosa’ a house in Herne Hill Road, Lambeth, with four children, a nurse, a housemaid and a cook (the latter from Germany).

What was his profession in 1891? The entry reads not ‘binder’ nor ‘finisher’ but ‘Commissioning Agent’ (i.e. a salesman who derives his income from commission). This does not sound like a well-paid job but the fact that the household kept three servants would imply that there was certainly money. Kaufmann died in Camberwell in 1893. Details of a will and probate have proved elusive but his family were well provided for. According to the 1901 and 1911 censuses his widow Eveline was ‘living on her own means’ in Hampstead with servants and a lodger, stockbroker Henri Davids (from Belgium). Two of Kaufmann’s sons were employed as stock-jobbers (perhaps sponsored by Mr Davids).

It is pleasing to note that both Simon Kaufmanns did well. Despite their early deaths (the Kaufmann from Ortenberg at 50  and the other at 43 they secured the future of their families.

 It seems likely that Kaufmann (b. 1856) learnt about the manufacture of small decorative objects through working for his cousin Solomon, and subsequently founded his own fancy goods business. The Kaufmann from Ortenberg was a trained bookbinder, sold his workshop in 1890 and became an ‘agent’ until his death in 1893. He was surely the maker of the bookbinding illustrated above but the nature of his subsequent occupation remains a mystery.

P.J.M. Marks, Printed Heritage Collections

Book dealer Sophie Schneideman located the binding. Sophie Schneideman Rare Books, 331 Portobello Road. W10 5SA London. sophie@ssrbook

References/Further reading:

Maurice Packer, Bookbinders of Victorian London (London, 1991) 667.u.117

Todd M Endelman “Settlement in Victorian England” in Second Chance: Two Centuries of German-Speaking Jews in the United Kingdom, Schriftenreihe wissenschaftlicher Abhandlungen des Leo Baeck Instituts ; 48 (Tübingen,1991) p. 42. Ac.2276/3 [Bd.48]

The British Book Maker (London, 1891-94, ) P.P.6479.ab

UK Census search online via Find My Past 

Blog post by Laurence Worm on Broca and Kaufmann. 

05 November 2018

The case of the two Simon Kaufmanns

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Upper cover and spine of the gold-tooled blue calfskin binding of Arthur Machen, 'The Heptameron' (1886)
Upper cover and spine of Arthur Machen, The Heptameron ([Privately printed],  1886) C.188.a.398

Bookbinders, like artists, sometimes signed their work. This usually (but not always) makes life easier for the researcher. The newly acquired and stunning binding pictured above is signed ‘S[imon] Kaufmann’, a name recorded in the standard reference work,Packer’s Bookbinders of Victorian London

If this represents a typical piece of work from Kaufmann, he was an extremely skilled craftsman. Maybe Kaufmann was of the same opinion because, unusually, he twice added his signature to the binding, once on the upper turn-in and once on the verso of the upper flyleaf!.

Detail of the endpapers of 'The Heptameron' showing the two signatures of the binder Simon Kaufmann
Kaufmann’s two signatures on the binding of The Heptameron

The accepted narrative is that Kaufmann, a Soho bookbinder, found later success as a dealer in fancy goods. What, therefore, is the problem?

The Victorian censuses reveal that there were two Simon Kaufmanns living in London during the last half of the 19th century, both working with leather. Both came from Germany. One was probably from Koblenz and the other from Ortenberg. Even their wives had similar names; Eva and Eveline. At the risk of sounding like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, who was the bookbinding Kaufmann?

The spelling of names was not yet standardised in official documents at the time. The same person could be referred to as ‘Kaufman’ ‘Kauffman’ and ‘Kaufmann’ so this does not help us distinguish between our two craftsmen. (The blog will use the form ‘Kaufmann’.) Whatever the spelling, the name is more common in Germany than England, and means ‘merchant’ or ‘trader’. Some Kaufmanns were Jewish and it has been noted that Victorian London attracted German-Jewish antique dealers, toy manufacturers, and fancy goods merchants.

Packer recorded that ‘his’ Kaufmann worked with French bookbinder Lucien Broca in a workshop at 60 Frith St (1876-77). The British Library has a binding signed Broca and Kaufmann (‘Pierre Dufour’, Histoire de la prostitution chez tous les peuples du monde depuis l’antiquité ... jusqu’à nos jours, Brussels, [1861]; C.115.m.25). Kaufmann then worked on his own behalf nearby at 42 Dean Street (1878-1882). From 1883 to 1889, Kaufmann’s premises was at 50 Frith Street. In 1890 bookbinder Harry Wood took over the shop. An article on Wood in The British Book-Maker revealed that he bought the business when the owner went abroad but I have not traced any travel documents that support this. Maybe this sale set Kaufmann up in financial terms.

The 1891 census for Islington revealed a Simon Kaufmann (born in 1856, though sometimes listed as 1857) whose profession was ‘Plush Leather Fancy Goods Maker.’ This has led to the belief that Kaufmann turned from bookbinding to devote himself to the manufacture of decorated boxes, photograph frames, cigar and cigarette cases, watch and jewel cases and writing sets. Thanks to the flourishing of trade in Victorian London, the thriving middle classes had more disposable income and could afford to treat themselves to small luxury products. The firm ‘Simon Kaufmann’ prospered to such an extent that it exhibited at trade fairs in 1922 and 1929 and was still in business in 1942 in the Tottenham Court Road area.


Advertisement for manicure cases, photograph frames and other goods from the firm of Kaufmann
Advertisement for Simon Kaufmann’s firm from Graces’ Guide to British Industrial History 

Tracing this Kaufmann back in time, the 1881 Clerkenwell census found him at the age of 24 staying with his German cousin Solomon and family at 19, St John Square. Solomon’s occupation was recorded as ‘F[ancy] Box Maker Employing 1 Man 2 Women 1 Boy’-. Simon was listed as ‘box maker’s cutter’, probably working for Solomon. In 1891, Simon, aged 35 and unmarried, was boarding at another house in Islington, but his occupation was the aforementioned ‘Plush Leather Fancy Goods Maker.’ He married someone in the same field, Eva Jane Allen, described in the census as ‘Fancy Dealer’s Shopwoman’. They set up house in Hornsey where they had two children. Kaufmann died in April 1897 leaving his wife well provided for with the sum of £4375 3s 7d. Advertisements in the Islington Gazette (2 Nov 1897 and 18 Sept 1905) requesting ‘experienced girls for covering photo frames etc’ shows that the firm was still in business and hiring staff after Simon’s death. The 1911 census describes Mrs Kaufmann as ‘Owner of Fancy Goods Manufactory’.

The binding acquired by the Library must date from between 1886 (the date of publication of the text) and 1889 when the workshop was sold. This was at a time when Kaufmann was supposedly engaged making boxes. Did Simon have two jobs? It seems unlikely. Bookbinding was a recognised trade that required many years training. Hours were long. Making boxes and establishing a fancy goods business would also have been a full time job.

The 1871 census for the City of London lists a Simon Kaufmann, lodger, born in Ortenberg, Germany in 1845 (though listed elsewhere as 1843 and 1846) who was a bookbinder. In 1881, he was described as a ‘Bookbinder Finisher’ (the craftsman who applied gold tooling and other decoration to a binding). In 1884 Simon married Eveline Selim (b. 1860) and in 1891 he was living with her in ‘Glemosa’ a house in Herne Hill Road, Lambeth, with four children, a nurse, a housemaid and a cook (the latter from Germany).

What was his profession in 1891? The entry reads not ‘binder’ nor ‘finisher’ but ‘Commissioning Agent’ (i.e. a salesman who derives his income from commission). This does not sound like a well-paid job but the fact that the household kept three servants would imply that there was certainly money. Kaufmann died in Camberwell in 1893. Details of a will and probate have proved elusive but his family were well provided for. According to the 1901 and 1911 censuses his widow Eveline was ‘living on her own means’ in Hampstead with servants and a lodger, stockbroker Henri Davids (from Belgium). Two of Kaufmann’s sons were employed as stock-jobbers (perhaps sponsored by Mr Davids).

It is pleasing to note that both Simon Kaufmanns did well. Despite their early deaths (the Kaufmann from Ortenberg at 50  and the other at 43), they secured the future of their families.

 It seems likely that Kaufmann (b. 1856) learnt about the manufacture of small decorative objects through working for his cousin Solomon, and subsequently founded his own fancy goods business. The Kaufmann from Ortenberg was a trained bookbinder, sold his workshop in 1890 and became an ‘agent’ until his death in 1893. He was surely the maker of the bookbinding illustrated above but the nature of his subsequent occupation remains a mystery.

P.J.M. Marks, Printed Heritage Collections

References/Further reading:

Maurice Packer, Bookbinders of Victorian London (London, 1991) 667.u.117

Todd M Endelman “Settlement in Victorian England” in Second Chance: Two Centuries of German-Speaking Jews in the United Kingdom, Schriftenreihe wissenschaftlicher Abhandlungen des Leo Baeck Instituts ; 48 (Tübingen,1991) Ac.2276/3 [Bd.48]

The British Book Maker (London, 1891-94, ) P.P.6479.ab

Cenus search online via Find My Past 

Blog post by of Laurence Worm on Broca and Kaufmann https://ashrarebooks.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/a-binding-by-lucien-broca/

Book dealer Sophie Schneideman located the binding. Sophie Schneideman Rare Books, 331 Portobello Road. W10 5SA London. sophie@ssrbook

12 October 2018

A long-lived Spanish book and a short-lived English king

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Mexia tp C.20.e.15Title-page of Pedro Mexia, Silva de varia lection ... (Valladolid, 1551) C.20.e.15.

John Gough Nichols in his Literary Remains of King Edward VI (London, 1857; C.101.c.2.) gives a small ‘catalogue of such of the books in the Royal Library now preserved in the British Museum’ (pp. cccxxv-cccxxxviii), including:

SILUA DE VARIA LECTION, cōpuesta por el magnifico cauallero Pedro Mexia nueuamēte agora en el año de mil y quienientos [sic] et cinquenta y vno. Valladolid, 1551,
On the last leaf are these lines, written in a very neat Italian hand:
Il pouero s’affatica molto in cercar quel che gli manca. Et il ricco in conseruare quello che egli ha. Et il virtuoso in domander [sic] quel che gli bisogna.
[Google now identifies these line as coming from Doni’s Zucca (1551)]

Mexia inscription The manuscript inscription from the last leaf of Silva de varia lection ...

Nicols continues:

These lines resemble so much King Edward’s best hand that they may have been regarded as his. On the sides of the book are impressed these arms, in colours – Gules, on a chevron between three fleurs-de-lis or as many hurts, which render it a doubtful whether this was really one of the King’s books.

In the British Museum Library’s main catalogue of printed books (known as ‘GK’) this hardened to: “On the verso of the last leaf is written an Italian proverb, most probably in the handwriting of Edward VI., to whom the volume belonged.”

If Nichols was sceptical, T.A. Birrell was even more so: as he points out, the ‘E VI’ on the spine need mean no more than that the book was printed in his reign (p. 13).

And what could be less revealing of identity than a fine Italic hand?

The Tudors were all good linguists. Edward’s Greek and Latin were excellent, possibly better than his French: “conversing with him in Latin, Edward asked [Hieronymus] Cardano about his recent book which had been dedicated to him. There then ensued a debate upon the nature of comets, during which Cardano considered Edward ‘spoke Latin as politely and fluently as I did’” (Skidmore, p. 240).

I’ve no evidence of his knowledge of Spanish. There are no manuscript annotations in (t)his copy of Mexia, before you ask.

Whether this copy was Edward’s or not, it was a much-read book in its time throughout Europe. It’s a compendium of miscellaneous, curious knowledge, some of it useful and some of it useless (if knowledge is ever useless). Subjects include: did early men live longer than the moderns? The history of the Turks (a hot topic in 1540); the history of the Amazons; why a small head and broad chest is a bad sign; do mermen exist? Who was the first person to tame a lion? And many many more.

It attracted the attention of the Inquisition, who demanded the chapter on Pope Joan (I, ix) to be expurgated.

Mexia IndexThe entry for Silva de varia lection from the Novus index librorum prohibitorum et expurgatorum, issued by Cardinal Antonio Zapata (Seville, 1632) 617.l.27., p. 829 

Inquisition notwithstanding, Mexia was a best seller in Spanish (27 editions from 1540 to 1673), Italian (23 from 1544 to 1682), French (36 from 1552 to 1675), English (six from 1571 to 1651) and Dutch (four from 1588 to 1617).

What to me is interesting is not only the number of editions but that Mexia fell from favour in the 1670s and had disappeared by the 1680s.

Birrell charmingly calls it a “bedside book”, and although I don’t actually keep it by my pillow, I can attest from personal experience that it’s certainly good to dip into.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References

T. A. Birrell, English Monarchs and Their Books from Henry VII to Charles II, The Panizzi Lectures 1986 (London, 1987) 2719.e.1586

Chris Skidmore, Edward VI, the Lost King of England (London, 2007) YC.2007.a.8001