25 May 2023
This year's Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages will take place on Monday 12 June 2022 in the Eliot Room of the British Library’s Knowledge Centre (formerly Conference Centre). The programme is as follows:
11.00 Registration and coffee
11.30 IAN CHRISTIE-MILLER
Tyndale’s first New Testament fragment
12.15 Lunch (own arrangements)
1.30 EMILY DI DODO (Oxford)
A text in exile: towards a bibliographical history of Las cient novelas de Juan Bocacio
2.15 DAVID SHAW (Canterbury)
The BL’s French post-incunables
3.30 MARJA KINGMA (London)
The Dutch Church Library: a library with nine lives.
4.15 BARRY TAYLOR (London)
Foreign books in Dr Williams’s Library, London.
The Seminar will end at 5.00 pm.
All are welcome and the event is free, but please notify us by email if you are able to attend. If you know of others who might be interested, please pass on the invitation.
A depiction of an early printing shop from Joannes Arnoldus, De chalcographiæ inventione poema encomiasticum (Mainz, 1541) G.9963.
30 December 2022
C is for Czechoslovak Independence Day, which marks the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak State in 1918.
D is for Digitisation, including the 3D digitisation of Marinetti’s Tin Book.
E is for Annie Ernaux, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in October.
Examples of Fraktur letter-forms from Wolfgang Fugger, Ein nützlich und wolgegründt Formular manncherley schöner Schriefften ... (Nuremberg, 1533) C.142.cc.12.
F is for Festive Traditions, from songs to fortune telling.
G is for Guest bloggers, whose contributions we love to receive!
H is for Hryhorii Skovoroda, the Ukrainian philosopher and poet whose anniversary we marked in December.
I is for our series on Iceland and the Library’s Icelandic collections.
J is for Jubilees.
Abetka (Kyïv, 2005). YF.2010.a.18369.
K is for Knowledge systems and the work of Snowchange Cooperative, a Finnish environmental organisation devoted to protecting and restoring the boreal forests and ecosystems through ‘the advancement of indigenous traditions and culture’.
L is for Limburgish, spoken in the South of the Netherlands.
M is for Mystery – some bibliographical sleuthing.
N is for Nordic acquisitions, from Finnish avant-garde poetry to Swedish art books.
O is for Online resources from East View, which are now available remotely.
Giovanni Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig, Manuale tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura di Giovanni Mardersteig. (Verona, 1968) L.R.413.h.17.
Q is for Quebec with a guest appearance by the Americas blog featuring the work of retired French collections curator Des McTernan.
R is for Rare editions of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar.
T is for Translation and our regular posts to mark Women in Translation Month.
Alphabet Anglois, contenant la prononciation des lettres avec les declinaisons et conjugaisons (Rouen, 1639). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)
V is for Victory – a contemporary Italian newspaper report of the Battle of Trafalgar.
W is for Richard Wagner who wrote about a fictional meeting with Beethoven.
X is for... (no, we couldn’t think of anything either!)
Y is for You, our readers. Thank you for following us!
Z is for our former colleague Zuzanna, whom we remembered in February.
Azbuka ōt knigi osmochastnye̡, sirěchʹ grammatikii (Lviv, 1574). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)
01 July 2022
If you’re of a certain vintage you’ll remember the colourful bullfighting posters where you could have your name hand-printed, a souvenir of the modern period of Spanish tourism from the 1960s onwards.
There’s a plentiful literature in Spanish on bullfighting, as you might imagine, including bibliographies (there’s a sample below).
Lorca wrote about it (his lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejias) and Goya and Picasso painted it; and it’s supplied a vast range of metaphors. One might say of a politician: ‘Mr X has made a dextrous pass of the cape’. (In Britain he would have put the ball in the back of the net.) Bullfighters were among the celebrities fêted in Hola.
The BL has recently acquired five posters from 18th-century Madrid.
Bullfighting posters, RB.37.c.85(1-5)
The venue was the Plaza Extramuros de La Puerta de Alcalá, which opened in 1749 and closed in 1874. It was so called because it was outside the city limits.
The fights were in aid of the Reales Hospitales General and de la Pasión.
Each fight featured 18 bulls and the owners and of course bullfighters are named: Antonio Galeano, Juan de Escobar (both of Seville); Juan de Amisas and his son; Sebastián Vicente González, Severino Rodríguez, el famoso Juan Romero, Miguel Gálvez (alias El Lechero), Manuel Alonso (alias Mal Ojo), Bernardo Assensio (alias El Chavó), el indio Mariano Ceballos, ‘natural de Lima, en el reyno del Perú’, Joseph Romero (alias El Niño Bonito).
Some of the bulls will be ‘embolados’ (with mufflers on their horns).
Performances begin at 10 am and 4 pm.
Spectators sitting in the sun will have government permission to turn down one side of the brim of their hats to shade their eyes; this is not permitted to those seated in the shade. This may have been a reaction to the recent Esquilache riots of March 1766. Charles III’s minister Esquilache had wanted to ban garments which were effective as disguises and for concealing weapons: long capes and broad-brimmed hats. But these were typical Spanish wear, and the natives took against it.
The Esquilache Riots, from José Amador de los Ríos, Historia de la villa y corte de Madrid. (Madrid, 1861-64). 1852.c.20.
Equally interesting is the evidence of what we now call the custodial history of these posters. Posters are ephemera, material intended to be discarded when done with, and therefore rare (see Foster).
These posters are in excellent condition. There’s no glue, showing they were never pasted on a wall. They’ve been folded vertically down the middle, indicating they’ve been kept in an album. On the back are numbers: these I think contemporary with the posters. They’re at the top right nowadays but in the past when folded were on the first ‘page’. (You can see also that the continental 7 hasn’t always had a bar across it.)
On the fifth poster we also see the name ‘Dn Mariano Pizi’ (? or possibly Pizarro). (My thanks to BBM and FGB.) It’s probably not a signature as it lacks the flamboyant ‘rúbrica’ with which Spaniards scribbled over their names (and still do). Perhaps it’s the name of a customer.
So the evidence suggests that someone – Don Mariano? – was collecting bullfighting posters new and keeping them in an album.
And who was Don Mariano? Mariano Pizzi y Frangeschi was professor of Arabic at the Reales Colegios de Madrid. There are various of his works – including an Arabic grammar in verse (Add. MS. 10436, 10437) – in our Manuscript Collections, dated 1764, 1776 and 1782. So we can place him in Madrid around 1769.
He published Tratado de las aguas medicinales de Salam-Bir, que comunmente llaman de Sacedon, escrito en lengua arabe por Agmer-Ben-Ab-Dala, medico en Toledo, en el año de mil cinquenta y quatro ; traducido al idioma castellano e ilustrado con varias notas. This however turned out to be not a translation from the Arabic but a fake written by Pizzi himself (see Bravo).
Title page of Tratado de las aguas medicinales de Salam-Bir (Madrid, 1761) 14535.b.23. (Image shown from a copy in the Wellcome Collection Library)
Furthermore, I was delighted to read in Dowling:
[The famous author] Don Nicolás Fernández de Moratín presided over a group [tertulia] which included the most stimulating intellectuals of the reign of Carlos III, and his son Leandro tells us that the only statute which governed the informal gathering limited conversation to four vital subjects, namely, the theater, bull-fighting, love, and poetry.
Moratín père wrote a poem on the bullfight, Fiesta de toros en Madrid. Dowling again:
The story that went around literary circles in Madrid was that the professor of Arabic in the Estudios Reales, that picturesque fraud Don Mariano Pizzi, had given Don Nicolás a translation from the Arabic on which the poet based his poem.
Further proof that these posters belonged to Pizzi, a man with tastes high and low.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
Graciano Díaz Arquer, Libros y folletos de toros (Madrid, 1931) 011899.d.35
Biblioteca Nacional (Spain), La fiesta nacional: ensayo de bibliografía taurina (Madrid, 1973) 2725.e.1742
José Sánchez de Neira, El toreo: gran diccionario tauromáquico nueva ed. corregida por el autor (Madrid, 1896-97) 7906.i.27
Luis Carmena y Millán, Bibliografía de la tauromaquia (Madrid, 1883)
Luis Carmena y Millán, Tauromaquia: apuntes bibliográficos (Madrid, 1888)
Luis Carmena y Millán, Catálogo de la biblioteca taurina de L. Carmena y Millán (Madrid, 1903)
Biblioteca Nacional (Lisboa), Bibliografia tauromáquica : impressos e manuscritos (Lisbon, 1927; reprinted [1982?]) YA.1986.b.1293
Anales taurinos (Madrid, 1900-). Includes portraits and advertisements. Discontinued. P.P.1863
Manuel Fernández y González,. Las glorias del toreo ... Cuadros biográficos, lances y desgracias de los diestros más célebres ... Artículos sobre costumbres de los pueblos aficionados á esta clase de espectáculos. (Madrid, 1879). Our copy was destroyed in WWII (D-7911.c/11), but there is a digitised copy at the Biblioteca Digital de Castilla y León.
On ephemera in the BL:
Ann-Marie Foster, ‘‘I am sending herewith’ – First World War Ephemera at the British Library’, Electronic British Library Journal 2017 article 3
Julián Bravo, ‘El apócrifo manuscrito árabe sobre Sacedon’
John C. Dowling, ‘The Taurine Works of Nicolás Ferndez de Moratín’, The South Central Bulletin, 22 (1962), 31-34. 8350.250000
23 March 2022
Martín Sarmiento, Disertacion sobre las virtudes maravillosas y uso de la planta llamada carqueyxa, conocida en Galicia por este nombre, y en otras provincias de [sic] reyno por una voz análoga á la misma pronunciacion, Escrita por … en el año de 1749, y reimpresa y aumentada por D. Josef Felix Maceda (Segovia: Antonio Espinosa, 1787). RB.23.a.39569
There’s a lot to unpack about this small recent acquisition: ‘Martín Sarmiento’, ‘carqueyxa’, ‘Galicia’.
Carqueyxa is in English common broom (genista tridentata), used in folk medicine and modern homeopathy as a medicine. As Sarmiento explains, taken as a syrup it purifies the blood; in a bath it eases rheumatism. He describes cases of patients in the region of Segovia who had read a previous edition of his work (he calls it a pamphlet, pliego) and used broom with success. (One thinks of the ‘unsolicited testimonials’ which purveyors of medicines boasted in the 20th century.) Don Miguel Dovalin (his name suggests he was a Galician) was forbidden chocolate owing to stomach problems. After drinking broom tea, he was able to eat chocolate freely. (I sense a business opportunity). And many more…
Drawing of common broom (genista tridentata) in Adam Lonicer, Kreuterbůch (Frankfurt am Main, 1564). 447.i.6.
But Sarmiento was no snake-oil merchant: his book is scientific and non-commercial.
Galicia in North-Western Spain was the author’s homeland and it came to loom large in his Weltanschauung. He was actually born in Leon in 1695, as Pedro Joseph García Balboa. Educated in Galicia, in 1710 he moved to Madrid and entered the Benedictine order, where he became a friend of Feijoo: Martin was the patron saint of his monastery and Sarmiento his mother’s family. (I do wonder if the name of ‘vine shoot’ was attractive to him because of his interest in the soil.)
He fulfilled the duties of a man of God which he combined with a life of erudition, discovering manuscripts, botanising and, from 1745 on – already in his fifties --, travelling in his homeland, where he studied its language, archeology and natural history. It was a turning-point: he realised ‘he knew more about China than his own land’.
Portrait of Sarmiento by Francisco Muntaner. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Like other scholars of the time, he published very little in print (his only publication in his lifetime was his defence of Feijoo, the Demostración crítico-apologética del Theatro Crítico Universal) but a lot in manuscript. He counted 10,400 pages of manuscript in 1767. Men of erudition gathered in his cell on Sunday mornings. He wrote reports to government on cultural projects such as a new royal library and the decoration of the royal palace. And the foundation of the Botanical Gardens of Madrid. Like Feijoo he was up to date with the latest European journals. He died in 1772.
Galician now has co-officiality with Castilian in Galicia. The language of the Spanish troubadours (and not just those born in Galicia), in Sarmiento’s time its glory days were well past and it had to wait for the 19th-century Rexurdimento. Sarmiento was an enthusiastic writer on the language and its etymologies (note the -ei- in carqueyxa) but he had no option but to write up his research in Castilian. But in Galician verse he did write one thing, the Coloquio de 24 gallegos rústicos, which he modestly described as an exercise to ‘bring together many Galician words and write them with their true orthography’.
Like the ethnobotanists of today, early botanists learned much of their subject conversing with peasants, and when writing his broom book Sarmiento had the pleasure of combining language and lore.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance collections
Ramón Mariño Paz, ‘Unha biobibliografía do padre Martín Sarmiento (1695-1772)’, in A lingua galega, historia e actualidade. Actas do I Congreso Internacional (Santiago de Compostela: Consello da Cultura Galega / Instituto da Lingua Galega, 2004), pp. 385-99.
24 September 2021
To coincide with the British Library's exhibition Paddington: The Story of a Bear, we've put together a series of blog posts about a few other bears (fictional and real) from the collections.
Eleanor O’Kane in her collection of medieval Spanish proverbs musters 21 dogs, 19 wolves, nine lions and one lonely bear.
Felipe Maldonado in his compilation of printed Spanish proverb books of the early modern period has captured 23 dogs, 14 wolves, two lions and no bears
The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs has tamed 176 dogs, 40 wolves, nine lions and a magnificent 23 bears.
Now, I’ve not been very careful with my sums, and the actual data can be misleading, but it’s very interesting to me that the order of the beasts is the same in all three sources.
Bear with bees and bee hives, Harley 3448, f.10v
You might recognize some English bears:
Like a bear to an honey-pot
As cross as a bear with a sore head
To sell the bear’s skin before one has caught the bear
Call the bear ‘uncle’ till you are safe across the bridge (‘an excellent Turkish proverb’, according to the Times Weekly of 1912)
But what of their solitary Spanish cousin?
The proverb occurs in the Poema de Alfonso Onceno (Epic of Alfonso XI). He reigned 1312-50, and the Poema was probably written by some tame court poet for propaganda purposes. It was never finished, which suggests that the poet wrote until the patronage was cut off at the king’s death.
First page of ‘Poema de Alfonso Onceno’. Source: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes
Picture the scene: the year is 1350. Alfonso (Castile) is fighting Yusuf I (Granada) allied with Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Othman (Morocco) for Gibraltar. The siege was dragging on, and the Granadan and Moroccan leaders were considering a settlement involving the surrender of castles and tribute. We are at their council of war:
Este rey luego provemos
Que dexe aquesta guerra
Mensageros le enbiemos,
Que salga de nuestra tierra.
E diga que le daremos
Buenos castillos fronteros.
La costa la pagaremos
En doblas e en dineros …
E de fanbre muy cuytados
Ayna se bençeran
E nos seremos honrrados.
Fablo el rey de Granada
E dixo: ‘Mal rasca el oso’ (Janer stanzas 2372-77)
Let us test this king immediately
To abandon this war;
Let us send him messengers
That he leave our land;
And tell him we will give him
Good frontier castles.
We will pay him tribute
In doubloons and dinars.
They are impoverished
And stricken with hunger;
They will be soon defeated
And we will be honoured.
The king of Granada spoke
And said: ‘Ill scratches the bear’.
Translated by Barry Taylor
He continues at length, and Yusuf I and Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Othman change tack.
I’m sure ‘Ill scratches the bear’ refers to a bear scratching his back on a tree. I suppose it means something like ‘You’re barking up the wrong tree’.
As I say, it’s unique in Old Spanish. It could conceivably reflect an Arabic proverb. And it needn’t be an existing proverb but a newly minted coinage.
But all bears are precious, especially to the paremiologist.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
Eleanor S. O’Kane, Refranes y frases proverbiales españolas de la Edad Media (Madrid, 1959) X.900/4431.
Felipe C. R. Maldonado, Refranero clásico español (Madrid, 1970) X19/7679
F. P. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (Oxford 1970) X.981/1907.
‘Poema de Alfonso Onceno’, ed. F. Janer in Poetas castellanos anteriores al s. XV (Madrid, 1864) 12232.f.1/57. Available online
More bear-themed posts from the European Studies blog:
31 August 2021
As we come to the end of Women in Translation Month 2021, this blog post brings together three books by women authors in translation from across Europe.
Mercè Rodoreda, In Diamond Square, translated by Peter Bush (London, ). ELD.DS.1778
Chosen by Geoff West, Former Curator Hispanic Studies
Written when its author was still living in exile, Mercè Rodoreda’s novel tells the story of a young woman in working-class Barcelona from the early 1930s to the aftermath of Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War. At a dance in the Square, the impressionable Natàlia meets a confident young man, Quimet, and soon falls under his spell. He insists that she will be his wife within a year and on giving her the nickname ‘Pidgey’. Inevitably they do marry, and they have two children. However, Quimet now earns little as a carpenter and decides to rear pigeons in their flat. Natàlia takes on work as a cleaner in a middle-class household, adding to the burden of her own housework.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Quimet goes off to fight on the Republican side and is killed. The full impact of the conflict is now conveyed as food and fuel run short. Natàlia loses her job and sends her son away to a camp for refugee boys to ensure he will be fed. After being forced to sell all her possessions to survive, she finally contemplates suicide for herself and her children. However, a providential conversation with a local grocer, who offers her work, saves her. The pair get married and Natàlia achieves an accommodation with the possibilities offered by her new existence.
Rodoreda’s first-person narrative effectively conveys the experiences and reactions of a woman initially unprepared for marriage in a male-dominated society. It also graphically documents the resilience required of ordinary people during war. The final chapters articulate the trauma of coming to terms with the past.
First published in 1962, La plaça del Diamant has now been translated into English three times and into more than twenty other languages. It remains one of the most successful works of Catalan fiction.
Mercè Rodoreda, La plaça del Diamant (Barcelona, 1962) 11303.n.12
Mercè Rodoreda, The Pigeon Girl, trans. Eda O’Shiel (London, 1967) X.909/10529
Mercè Rodoreda, The Time of the Doves, trans. David H. Rosenthal (New York, 1980)
Christine Brückner, Desdemona – if you had only spoken! Eleven uncensored speeches of eleven incensed women, translated by Eleanor Bron (London, 1992) YK.1993.a.5906
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Romance Collections
The prolific and successful German writer Christine Brückner published this collection of dramatic monologues in 1983, giving voices to well-known fictional and historical women, from Clytemnestra to Gudrun Ensslin. Some, like Katharina Luther, address their husbands. Others speak to other women, including Brückner herself criticising the overly-idealistic utopianism of 19th-century reformer Malwida von Meysenbug. In the title monologue, Desdemona’s willingness to confront Othello’s suspicions changes her fate: he listens and they reconcile. In other stories, the women reflect on their lives and situations, speaking as much to themselves as to any imagined interlocutor.
In the introduction to her English translation, the actor Eleanor Bron explains how “during the interval of a dreary play” in Hamburg she saw photographs from a production of the pieces and was immediately intrigued. She bought Brückner’s book and resolved to resurrect the German she had studied at university to prepare a translation, an experience she describes both entertainingly and insightfully.
Daniela Hodrová, Prague. I See a City. Translated by David Short; Foreword by Rajendra Chitnis. 2nd rev. ed. (Folkestone, 2015). Awaiting shelfmark.
Chosen by Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections
Have you ever been to Prague? If you have visited this wonderful city, you have probably noticed that Prague radiates some magical gleam that is not always easy to catch. Prague has its own unique charm and opens up to those who care to enquire about its history and character. While wandering through the streets of Prague, which guidebook did you have in your hands: Lonely Planet, Eyewitness Travel, or Rough Guides? Maybe, next time you can take Prague. I See a City by Daniela Hodrová.
Born in 1946 in Prague, Hodrová is one of the most distinct and original authors in contemporary Czech literature. Being a literary scholar by training and working as a researcher, she is very aware of rich literary traditions and techniques, as well as theoretical issues of aesthetics, theology and philosophy. Prague. I See a City is a very stylish and moving description of the city through a woman’s eyes. The author takes her readers through the city of her life. It is full of love and dreams, sounds of music and every-day scenes. Written straight after the November 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia (translated into English in 2011), the book is a poetic meditation on the history of the country and how this is reflected in a woman's life and in the city itself: “City of torment! City of puppets! City of Monsters! In all likelihood I am partly to blame for your awakening, I have brought you to life with words.”
16 July 2021
In the past authors were commonly men of means, churchmen or the servants of great houses. In times nearer our own they’ve had to turn to working in offices.
Poet Laureate Simon Armitage worked in the probation service, and describes how when looking over his papers, now in the Brotherton Library in the University of Leeds, he found drafts he’d written on the back of probation service stationery.
Spain’s greatest Romantic poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836-70) lived and wrote the life romantic. He took a copyist’s job in the Dirección de Bienes Nacionales. When the boss went on a parish visit he found Bécquer drawing.
‘What’s this?’ he asked.
Without looking up, and assuming he was talking to one of his comrades, Bécquer said, ‘It’s Ophelia, scattering her garland. And the man is her grave-digger.’
He was sacked on the spot. (López Núñez, pp. 28-29)
J.-K. Huysmans was a junior clerk in the French Ministry of the Interior for 32 years, writing reports for the Sureté Générale:
On the stroke of eleven, he arrived at the offices of the Sureté Générale in the Rue des Saussaies. Here he spent the next six hours, copying out official letters, adding up columns of figures, and – like so many other young writers employed in various French ministries – working on his own books and articles. (Baldick, p. 66)
Statue of Fernando Pessoa, by sculptor Lagoa Henriques, outside Café A Brasileira in Lisbon, Portugal. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Fernando Pessoa too lived the life of the pen-pusher, living in digs and eating in cafés. His command of English, nurtured during his boyhood in South Africa, qualified him well for commercial correspondence. (He presented his English poems, with his compliments, to five libraries in Britain, including the then British Museum Library (C.127.c.30).)
A case even nearer home was Sir Henry Thomas. He took a PhD. in French at Birmingham and was recruited to the BML in 1903 and put to cataloguing its early Spanish books. He served the BML in peace and war, giving a radio talk on Cervantes contra Hitler in 1943 (012301.m.49).
Portrait of Sir Henry Thomas by Walter Stoneman, 1938. © National Portrait Gallery, London
He was also a literary scholar of accomplishment, author of Spanish and Portuguese Romances of Chivalry (1920), still used today. Margaret Drabble in her life of Angus Wilson rather dismissively says:
Henry Thomas, Hispanologist, bachelor and bibliographer, was Deputy Keeper: he was a devoted pilgrim on the road to Santiago de Compostela, and wrote about miracles, translated his own work into Spanish, and was suspected of being very pro-Franco. (p. 80)
He studied early English translations of Góngora, and was himself a published translator. His Star of Seville (La estrella de Sevilla), from the Spanish of Lope de Vega (or at least attributed to him) came out in 1935.
Title page of The Star of Seville (Newtown: Gregynog Press, 1935) C.102.e.16.
And here I can put on record that I’ve seen the rough draft which he wrote on the back of the eggshell-blue title slips which were used for cataloguing in the BML.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
Simon Armitage, ‘Writing was just for fun then’, Guardian, 19 Sept 2020
Juan López Núñez, Bécquer: biografía anécdótica (Madrid, 1916) 10632.p.28
Robert Baldick, The Life of J.-K. Huysmans (Oxford, 1955) 010665.f.94
R. W. Howes, ‘Fernando Pessoa, Poet, Publisher, and Translator’, British Library Journal, 9: 2, 1983, pp. 161-70 http://www.bl.uk/eblj/1983articles/pdf/article12.pdf
Victor Scholderer, ‘Henry Thomas, 1878-1952’, Proceedings of The British Academy, 40 (1954), 241-46.
Margaret Drabble, Angus Wilson: A Biography (London, 1996) YC.1997.a.399
14 December 2020
‘If we should not judge books by their cover, can we judge people by their clothes?’ In anticipation of the fashion competition due to be launched by the British Library and British Fashion Council in the New Year, here are some thoughts on the importance of fashion. For those looking for the inspiration, it can be found anywhere: mythology, paintings, even literature.
In mythology, Strife threw an apple marked ‘To the fairest’ among three goddesses: Juno (queen of the divinities), Pallas Minerva (goddess of war and learning) and Venus (goddess of love). To settle the matter they went to the shepherd Paris, who reasonably said he couldn’t judge their beauty with their clothes on.
For the artists of the Renaissance such as Rubens, this was an excellent excuse for studies in the nude.
The Judgement of Paris by Peter Paul Rubens
But not everyone thought like Rubens. One contemporary critic said that Rubens had made the goddesses ‘too naked’.
Among the poets, Ovid has no description of the goddesses. Fifteen hundred or so years later the Valencian poet Joan Roís de Corella wrote his version of the Judgment of Paris. Corella (or doubtless his sources) tells it as follows.
Paris says, ‘It will not be possible for me to judge this case unless I can contemplate your persons without any veil …’
First up is Pallas Minerva, who says,
‘As the ambition of vanity of human praise has captured us and made us subject to the judgment of this young man, we are obliged to obey the laws which he as judge determines.’
And, while talking, she began to untie the belt of a skirt of dark red damask, whose decoration was picked out with great skill in emeralds, which, mixed with sapphires, dazzling human sight, transported her from this world. And the skirt was sprinkled with foliage of green and fertile olive; the olives, covered with black and green enamels, which invited the viewers to stretch out their hands to take the fruit of the painted tree. And on her shoes, of purple satin, were embroidered sharp-flowered thistles, which made show of true spikes, so that you would not dare to pick the raised olives from the broad skirt. And a motto in golden letters among the thorns clearly read, ‘Open your eyes to the harm which can ensue.’ And the excellent queen bore on her bosom a gleaming carbuncle which hung from her neck on a cord of golden thread, so fine that human sight could grasp only its colour and not its quantity.
The other goddesses follow suit. Juno feels that as queen of Olympus she shouldn’t have to demean herself before younger women: but she still wants to be the fairest. Venus locks eyes with Paris as she drops her cloak. You’ll remember that Venus cheated by promising Paris Helen of Troy. And that led to the Trojan War.
Detail of a miniature of the Judgement of Paris, between Athena, Juno and Venus, in Christine de Pizan ‘L’Épître Othéa’. Harley 4431, f. 128v
So it’s clear that although Paris thought the goddesses’ beauty was in their bodies, for Corella their clothes were much more worthy of attention. I think this isn’t unusual in medieval texts, probably because the medievals thought clothes could bear social or symbolic meaning which bodies couldn’t. Corella says nothing about the body, he says little about the cut of the clothes (which by the way are medieval rather than classical), he says little about the cloth that makes the clothes, but says a lot about the metals and jewels which adorn them, and even endows each garment with a verbal message picked out in gold.
So that’s the importance of fashion.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
Joan Roís de Corella, Proses mitològiques, ed. J. L. Martos (Alacant, 2001) YA.2002.a.20285
Marisa Astor Landete, Valencia en los siglos XIV y XV: indumentaria e imagen (Valencia, 1999) YA.2002.a.17891
Isidra Maranges i Prat, La indumentària civil catalana, segles XIII-XV (Barcelona, 1991) Ac.138.dc.
Fashion competition details will be available in January, via this link, which also has information about previous years’ competitions and related activities.
05 November 2020
Frederick William Cosens (1819-89) began his working life aged 17 when he joined the sherry firm of Pinto Pérez in London as an invoice clerk. It was the start of a highly successful business career. In 1848, he set up his own sherry export-import company, based in London and with bodegas in Jerez and Puerto de Santa María. Then, in 1862, he entered the port wine business in partnership with the London-based firm Da Silva. In 1877, Silva & Cosens merged with the prestigious Dow & Co. Cosens’ income allowed him to build up substantial collections of fine art, printed books and manuscripts. At his death, these were auctioned at five sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s.
Sotheby’s catalogue of Cosens’ printed books highlighted ‘Spanish and Portuguese literature, and numerous publications relating to Cervantes, Calderón, Lope de Vega… standard works by English and foreign writers…’. He also owned books on Spanish painting, Peninsular history, travel accounts and an extensive collection of Spanish chapbooks. Arguably, drama held the greatest attraction for him, notably Shakespeare and the Spanish theatre of the Golden Age. Dickens, Cervantes and Galdós were among his favourite novelists. He also contributed articles and reviews to the Athenaeum and Notes and Queries on a range of Spanish topics, plus not a few on Shakespeare.
Frederick Cosens’ bookplate. The plate appears in many of Cosens' books acquired by the BL.
Cosens was also active as a translator. He produced English versions of two 17th-century Spanish plays on the legend of Romeo and Juliet: Lope de Vega’s Castelvines y Monteses and Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla’s Los bandos de Verona. These were privately published in 1869 and 1874 respectively. His treatment of the two plays was very different. Cosens translated the whole of Lope’s play into English verse, while of Los bandos he put into verse only ‘such portions … as bear some reference to Shakespeare’s tragedy’. He regarded Lope’s play as superior to Rojas Zorrilla’s and provided only necessary linking passages in prose in the latter.
English translations of the two Spanish plays were among Cosens’ manuscripts auctioned at Sotheby’s in July 1890. The manuscript of Castelvines is held by the library of the University of Pennsylvania, while that of Los bandos is in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. The latter is written in an even copperplate hand and is evidently the fair copy of a close literal translation in prose. The published version, however, is very different, both in the summary passages in prose, and also in the selected passages of verse. The style of the latter is highly poetic.
Title page of the Sotheby sale catalogue of Cosens’ manuscripts (1890) SC.Sotheby
Cosens’ library also contained copies of translations into English prose of other Spanish literary works. These included poems by Lope de Vega, Spanish ballads, Gonzalo de Berceo’s life of Santo Domingo de Silos and the medieval Spanish epic, the Poema de Mio Cid. The evidence of the literal prose translation of Los bandos suggests that it was the first step in a process that ended with the published text. Except for a version of a tale from Juan Manuel’s Conde Lucanor, Cosens published no other translations, although he evidently did intend to publish a version of the Poema de Mio Cid, but stopped when John Ormsby’s was published in 1879. His interest in the medieval narrative works has rarely been commented upon and the location of the translation of Berceo’s Vida de Santo Domingo is – as far as I know – unknown. There also remains the question whether Cosens himself was responsible for the prose translations or whether he employed someone to produce them as the basis of potential literary versions.
Cosens’ interest in Spanish literature and art began most probably in Spain in the course of his business career. His collection of Spanish books had begun by 1854 when he sent a list of some 500 books to the Orientalist and scholar, Pascual de Gayangos, who later would catalogue the Spanish-language manuscripts of the British Museum Library. Gayangos commented that Cosens subsequently acquired many more excellent books. Some of these could be those that he purchased at important auction sales, e.g. those of Lord Stuart de Rothesay (1855) and Richard Ford (1861). Gayangos’s role in Cosens’ development should not be underestimated. He continued to advise and assist him in the acquisition of Spanish books, as he did with notable Hispanic scholars including Stirling-Maxwell, Ticknor and William H. Prescott. It was Gayangos who, together with his son-in-law, J.F. Riaño, selected and had transcribed for Cosens documents from the archive of the Conde de Gondomar, Spanish Ambassador to London (1613-18, 1619-22), held at the Archivo General de Simancas.
When Cosens’ library was sold at Sotheby’s in 1890, Gayangos purchased a number of the Spanish manuscripts and considerably more of the printed books. These were acquired for the Spanish national library following Gayangos’ own death in 1897. The British Museum purchased 37 printed books in Spanish, the majority published in the 19th century. Henry Spencer Ashbee purchased 15 items related to Cervantes, all of which came to the British Museum Library with his bequest of 1900. Just one Spanish manuscript – an account of the reign of Felipe V - was purchased, although the transcriptions of Gondomar’s papers were acquired for the Public Record Office.
Geoff West, formerly Lead Curator Hispanic Collections
Santiago Santiño, Pascual de Gayangos. Erudición y cosmopolitismo en la España del siglo XIX (Pamplona, 2018) YF.2018.a.9696
Barry Taylor & Geoffrey West, ‘The Cervantes Collection of Henry Spencer Ashbee in the British Library’, in Studies in Spanish Literature in Honor of Daniel Eisenberg, ed. Tom Lathrop (Newark, DE, 2009), pp. 337-61. YD.2009.a.4481
Geoff West, ‘The Acquisition of Spanish Chapbooks by the British Museum Library in the Nineteenth Century: Owners, Dealers and Donors’, in El libro español en Londres..., ed. Nicolás Bas Martín y Barry Taylor (Valencia, 2016), pp. 61-80. YF.2017.a.19281
30 October 2020
When we think of early modern Spain as a mediator between East and West it’s normally with reference to Muslim-Christian relations.
But Juan González de Mendoza (1545-1618) was responsible for supplying Europe with information about the Far East. Like many an early modern travel writer, he was a member of a religious order (in his case the Augustinians) engaged in missionary work. And like some travel writers (Marco Polo, anyone?) he never went to the country involved.
He was selected by Philip II for an ambassadorial mission to China. He set off from Spain in 1580, and got as far as Mexico with the intention of proceeding via the Philippines to China. The journey was aborted by unrest in the Philippines and González de Mendoza returned to Spain in 1583 and thence to Rome, where Pope Gregory XIII commissioned his account of China, published in Rome in Spanish in 1585.
He therefore based his book on other travellers’s accounts, including that of the Francisan friar Martín Ignacio.
Title-page of La historia de las cosas más notables, ritos y costumbres del gran reyno de China (Valencia, 1585), 1434.a.19
La historia de las cosas más notables, ritos y costumbres del gran reyno de China describes the geography, produce, religion, politics and maritime activities of the Chinese. Christian missions are to the fore, a typical emphasis from a cleric of his time.
After the appearance of the Spanish edition of 1585, it was quickly translated into Italian in 1586 (146.a.16), French in 1588 (1313.c.3), English in 1588 (583.c.21), German from the Italian in 1589 (583.c.24(2)), and Latin from the German in 1589 (804.a.43(1)).
The speed of translation demonstrates the hunger in Europe for news of China.
Curiously, Hakluyt didn’t include it his Voyages as he avoided reprinting already known works and Robert Parkes’s English version had been issued in 1588 (Quinn, I, 215).
Charles Boxer praises González de Mendoza to the skies:
One of the outstanding ‘best-sellers’ of the sixteenth century … It is probably no exaggeration to say that Mendoza’s book had been read by the majority of well-educated Europeans at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Its influence was naturally enormous, and it is not surprising to find that men like Francis Bacon and Sir Walter Raleigh derived their notions of China and the Chinese primarily, if not exclusively, from this work’ (Boxer, p. xvii).
So here is a field of knowledge to which Spain’s contribution was hugely influential in its time, shaping western views of China for decades to come.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
C. R. Boxer, South China in the Sixteenth Century (London, 1953) Ac.6172/148.
Frances Wood, Did Marco Polo Go to China? (London, 1995) YC.1996.a.647
David B. Quinn, The Hakluyt Handbook (London, 1974) HLR 910.92
Diccionario biográfico español (Madrid, 2009- ) HLR 920.046
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