European studies blog

16 posts categorized "Switzerland"

18 August 2021

Bears of Bern – Fictional and Real

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. 

Our current Paddington Bear exhibition made me think of one of his forebears in British children’s literature, Mary Plain. Mary appeared in a series of 14 books by the Welsh author Gwynedd Rae published between 1930 and 1965. Like Paddington, Mary is sufficiently anthropomorphic to talk to and interact with humans. She is taken under the wing of the ‘Owl Man’, named for his round spectacles, and the ‘Fur Coat Lady’, who accompany her on various ‘svisits’ as Mary calls them, in and beyond her native Bern, venturing as far afield as the USA.

Cover of 'Mostly Mary', with a picture of three bears' heads
Cover of the first edition of the Gwynedd Rae’s first Mary Plain book, Mostly Mary (London, 1930) 12803.p.40

In her ‘very important’ introduction to the first book, Rae says that she was inspired by a stay in Bern where she regularly visited the city’s historic bear pit and started to make up stories about its inhabitants. Mary’s original home is in this pit, and the first book presents a pretty accurate map of it at the time when Rae visited. It was Bern’s fourth bear pit, and although it had been developed and extended over the years, it was still an unnatural and inadequate place for bears to be kept.

A sketch-plan of the bear pit in Bern as it was in the 1930s

Plan of the Bear Pit, from Gwynedd Rae, Mostly Mary (London, 1930) 12803.p.40. The names of Rae’s bear characters are given in the sections where they live.

Although Rae portrays the bears’ keeper, Job, as a kind man and gives her anthropomorphised bears an autonomous and happy life within their captive world, she also makes her readers see how they beg for food thrown by visitors, and mentions that the only real tree in the enclosure is given over to the older bears who most need its shade. It’s no wonder that Mary prefers her travels and adventures with her human friends, even if these would be an equally unnatural life for a real bear.

But why was there a bear pit in Bern? The clue is in the city’s name. According to legend, its founder, Duke Berthold V von Zähringen, vowed to name the city after the first animal he successfully killed in a hunt there. This turned out to be a bear, which became the city’s namesake and emblem. (I wonder if Berthold would have been so keen if he’d caught a rabbit?)

The first record of live bears being kept in Bern dates from 1513, when, according to contemporary chronicler Valerius Anselm, Bernese troops brought one back as a trophy from the Battle of Novara, and the bears were soon familiar enough to be the subjects of patriotic local poems.

Title-pages of two 16th-century poems, with woodcuts of bears
Poems in praise of the ‘noble bear of Bern’ printed in the 1540s by Mathias Apiarius. Facsimile editions from Dreißig Volkslieder aus den ersten Pressen der Apiarius (Bern, 1937) Ac.9586.b/4.

The first bear pit was in a central square, called Bärenplatz today, although the name is first recorded in the 19th century when the bears had long since moved. The current site by the River Aare dates back to 1857 and until the early 21st century still consisted of the rather bleak enclosure depicted in Rae’s books.

19th-century engraving of the bear pit in Bern
The bear pit opened in 1857, reproduced as endpapers in Emil Hänni, Ein Leben für die Bären (Bern, [1975])

A memoir by Emil Hänni, the city’s Bear-Keeper from the 1950s to the 1970s, gives an impression of the pits at that time and of the life led by the bears. Although Hänni’s genuine devotion to his charges is obvious, his book is something of a window into another time in terms of attitudes to animal welfare. When he took the job, his only formal experience working with animals was as a sheepdog trainer, and he received only two days’ training from his predecessor. He expresses anger at tourists who throw glass bottles of milk or unsuitable foodstuffs into the pit, but never questions the very fact of them feeding the bears for their own entertainment, or the suitability of the pit for housing large animals. The book ends with the bears returning to the pit following restoration work in 1976, after which Hänni’s son, also called Emil, took over the job.

Two bears in the pit, surrounded by tourists
Bears and spectators during Emil Hänni senior’s time as Bear-Keeper. From Ein Leben für die Bären

Emil junior would be Bern’s last official Bear-Keeper, retiring in 2003. From the 1970s onwards, both animal rights groups and public opinion became increasingly vocal in calling for a more natural environment for the bears. In the mid-1990s major renovations were carried out, providing more shade and water, and covering the concrete base of the pit with a thick floor of sand and gravel, but the pit was still inadequate by modern animal welfare standards. In 2001 a competition was announced to design a more suitable home, and in 2009 the new enclosure opened, housing fewer bears in a larger space. Now known as a park rather than a pit, it comprises a landscaped area along a stretch of the Aare. Part of the old pit is joined to it, the other part has become a shop and exhibition area.

Given their symbolic importance to the people of Bern, it is good to know that bears now have a more suitable home in the city. I hope Gwynedd Rae and Mary Plain would have approved.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections 

More bear-themed posts from the European Studies blog:

British Intellectuals and Russian Bears

‘Ill scratches the bear’, an endangered proverbial species

Paddington exhibition banner

 

16 February 2021

Doughnuts and Fools: Some Carnival Traditions

It’s Shrove Tuesday, and that means pancakes in Britain, but not everywhere! Today we take a look at some Polish and German carnival traditions.

The last days of the Carnival season start in Poland on Fat Thursday (tłusty czwartek). It is widely celebrated by eating traditional doughnuts called pączki. Filled with rose jam or plum preserve, amongst other flavours, they should be light and fluffy. Around the country, people queue up to buy them from their local bakeries. Statistics show that some 100 million doughnuts are sold on this day. Historically, the reason for making them in large quantities was to use up all the leftover ingredients from the Carnival, particularly fat and eggs, before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, where such food was not allowed to be consumed. Pączki are believed to bring good luck for the whole year and the average Pole eats at least two of them on Fat Thursday. A search for ‘Polish Cooking’ in our catalogue will find a number of cookery books which might inspire readers to try and make their own!

A plate of Polish pączki
A plate of pączki (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Fat Thursday is followed five days later by Shrove Tuesday, called Ostatki meaning the last day of Carnival. It is also known as the Herring Night or śledzik, because the most favourite dish to consume that evening is pickled herring. Poles exuberantly celebrate Ostatki by indulging themselves in food, drinks, dance and music. A horse-drawn sleigh ride (kulig) through the snow-covered countryside is a popular way to end the happy Carnival season.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

The Shrovetide carnival has a long history in the German-speaking countries There are three broad regional traditions: the Rhineland Karneval, the Alemannic Fasnacht in south-eastern Germany and Switzerland, and Fasching in Bavaria and Austria (the latter two are sometimes grouped together). Within these there are endless local variations, but all involve a spirit of misrule and anarchy which sometimes sits oddly with British perceptions of orderly Germans!

A central organising role is played by the various local Fools’ Guilds (‘Narrenzünfte’) which support and maintain traditional practices, including, especially in the southern regions, the making and wearing of grotesquely carved wooden masks and elaborate costumes. These costumes often represent jesters and fools, but devils, witches, and fantastical figures similar to the ‘Kurents’ of Slovenia’s carnival also feature. Many books are devoted to the history and design of these costumes, and to the traditions of carnival and of the guilds.


Three covers of books about Fasnacht traditions with pictures of masks and costumes
Books in the British Library’s collections about Fasnacht traditions in Southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria, with images traditional costumes and masks

In the 19th-century Rhineland, carnival traditions came to be seen as an opportunity to assert local identity and resistance to first French and then Prussian rule. This gave the festivities a more political edge, reflected today in ‘Rose Monday’ processions with floats featuring caricatures of national and international politicians.

But however earnest the political satire or intense the dedication to maintaining local tradition, carnival is primarily about fun, celebration, and a few days when the world is turned upside down.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator German Collections

05 February 2021

Women's Suffrage in Switzerland

In 1971 Switzerland became one of the last countries in Europe to grant women the vote at national level; only the small neighbouring principality of Liechtenstein was later in doing so, in 1984. It may seem surprising that a country that was an early republic, that became in the 20th century the home of several international and humanitarian organisations, and that is often seen as a model of stability and good social order, should have lagged so far behind in such a key area of human rights.

Switzerland had not been without a women’s rights movement, and there had been formal calls and campaigns for female suffrage from the 1860s onwards. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, writers such as Meta von Salis and Emilie Gourd, to name but two, argued for women’s rights in various spheres, and several women’s organisations were founded. A ‘Swiss Congress for the Interests of Women’ was held in Geneva in 1896, and campaigners also had male allies such as the jurists Louis Bidel and Carl Hilty, who both published articles in favour of women’s right to vote.

Cover of the Proceedings of the 1896 Women’s Congress in Geneva
Proceedings of the 1896 Women’s Congress in Geneva, Bericht über die Verhandlungen des Schweizerischen Kongresses für die Interessen der Frau  = Actes du Congrès suisse des intérêts féminins ... ( Bern, 1897.) 8416.h.26. (Image from Zurich University Library)

A Swiss general strike in November 1918 included women’s suffrage among its demands but was short-lived and came to nothing. Two formal parliamentary motions on the subject in the same year were effectively ignored, and various petitions to Parliament were equally unsuccessful. From 1920 onwards, some Swiss cantons held referendums on allowing women to vote at cantonal level, but none of the motions were passed.

The central role of the popular referendum in Swiss politics offers one clue to why Switzerland took so long to grant women the vote. Major constitutional change, whether at national of cantonal level, can only be brought about by a referendum rather than by parliamentary vote alone as in other European countries. And of course, the voters in these referendums were all men! It was also argued that the constitution defined a Swiss citizen with full rights in clearly masculine terms (‘un suisse’, ‘ein Schweizer’). As early as 1886 Emilie Kempin-Spyri, the first Swiss woman to gain a doctorate in law, had argued that this was a generic masculine rather than being intended specifically to restrict citizenship to males. However, this argument was rejected by the Swiss Federal Court, as it would be again over 40 years later, when put forward by jurist Léonard Jenni.

Cover of a French-language edition of the Swiss Constitution
A 19th-century edition of the Swiss Constitution (Fribourg, 1856) 8073.d.74.

Swiss citizenship also became linked in many people’s minds with the compulsory military service performed by Swiss men. In fact it was an attempt in 1957 to extend this obligation to civil defence work to be undertaken by women that provided part of the impetus for the first national referendum on female suffrage in 1959. Although the civil defence proposal had not been passed, it had opened debate on whether women could be asked to perform national service when they lacked full political rights.

The arguments for and against women’s suffrage in the 1959 referendum, as in earlier cantonal votes, were familiar ones, as reflected in pro- and anti-suffrage posters. Opponents argued that political debate was beyond women’s understanding and too dirty a business for them to sully themselves with, and that political rights would make them neglect domestic and maternal duties or turn them into de-feminised harridans. Supporters countered that women deserved to have their voices heard in a free and modern society, that anti-suffragists were selfish reactionaries seeking to reserve power for themselves, and that a ‘yes’ vote would win male voters the gratitude of women.

Posters showing a baby's pacifier with a fly crawling over it, and a man casting a 'yes' vote for women's suffrage
Posters from the 1950s against and in favour of female suffrage (images from swissinfo.ch)

In 1959 the anti-suffrage voices were more successful, and the motion to grant women the vote was defeated by a two-thirds majority. However, in three Cantons – Vaud, Neuchâtel and Geneva – there was a majority in favour of women’s suffrage, leading all three to give women the vote at local and cantonal level. Other cantons followed suit in the next decade, and by 1970 nine of Switzerland’s 25 cantons had universal local and cantonal suffrage. This development was a factor in the decision to hold a new national referendum, which took place on 7 February 1971 and saw the 1959 result reversed, with a two-thirds majority in favour of women’s right to vote in national elections. By the end of the following year, most cantons had also granted full suffrage at local and cantonal level.

The run-up to the 1971 referendum forms the background to the 2017 Swiss film Die göttliche Ordnung (The Divine Order), in which the women of a Swiss village go on strike from domestic duties to persuade the local men to acknowledge their rights. They succeed, and at the end we see the main protagonist standing proudly beside her husband as he casts his vote for women’s suffrage. However, in the kind of community depicted, the reality would probably have been rather different. Even in 1971 the rural north-eastern cantons voted overwhelmingly ‘no’ to women's suffrage, and two of them held out at cantonal level for almost two more decades. Appenzell Ausserhoden granted women cantonal voting rights only in 1989, and it took a Federal Court ruling the following year to force neighbouring Appenzell Innerrhoden to do the same. Willingly or not, Europe’s last bastion of electoral inequality had finally fallen, and all Swiss women could enjoy equal voting rights.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Further reading:

Marie Boehlen, Eine kleine Geschichte des Frauenstimmrechts in der Schweiz, 2nd ed.. (Zurich, 1955.) 8418.a.2.

Verena Bodmer-Gessner, Bibliographie zur Geschichte der Schweizer Frau im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert ... 2nd ed. (Zurich, 1968.) 2745.g.5.

Frauengeschichte(n) : Dokumente aus zwei Jahrhunderten zur Situation der Frauen in der Schweiz (Zürich, 1986.) YA.1990.b.7138

Louis Adolphe Bridel, Le Mouvement féministe et le droit des femmes (Geneva, 1893) 8416.h.21.(3.)

Carl Hilty, De senectute. Frauenstimmrecht (Bern, 1900.) YA.1993.a.25223

Werner Kaegi, Der Anspruch der Schweizerfrau auf politische Gleichberechtigung. Gutachten ... ( Zurich, [1956]) 8418.fff.2. (French edition, tr. Bernard Hofstetter, Le Droit de la femme suisse à l'égalité politique … ( Geneva, 1956.) 8418.ff.39.)

Iris von Roten, Frauenstimmrechtsbrevier. Vom schweizerischen Patentmittel gegen das Frauenstimmrecht, den Mitteln gegen das Patentmittel, und wie es mit oder ohne doch noch kommt (Basel, [1959]) 8298.a.25.

Nehmen Sie Platz, Madame : die politische Repräsentation der Frauen in der Schweiz (Bern], 1990.) YA.1994.b.533

Frauen und Politik = Femmes et politiques (Bern, 1994) 34 1073.498000

Sibylle Hardmeier, Frühe Frauenstimmrechts-Bewegung in der Schweiz (1890- 1930): Argumente, Strategien, Netzwerk und Gegenbewegung (Zürich, 1997.) YA.2002.a.1466

Daniele Lenzin, Die Sache der Frauen: OFRA und die Frauenbewegung in der Schweiz (Zürich, 2000) YA.2002.a.18725

Beatrix Mesmer, Staatsbürgerinnen ohne Stimmrecht : die Politik der schweizerischen Frauenverbände 1914-1971 ( Zürich, 2007.)

Susanna Woodtli, Gleichberechtigung: der Kampf um die politischen Rechte der Frau in der Schweiz. (Frauenfeld, [1975]) X:100/15476

Der Kampf um gleiche Rechte (Basel, 2009.) YF.2010.a.9729

Schulz, Kristina. Frauenbewegung, die Schweiz seit 1968 : Analysen, Dokumente, Archive (Baden, [2014]) YF.2015.a.8530

Fabienne Amlinger, Im Vorzimmer der Macht? : die Frauenorganisationen der SPS, FDP und CVP, 1971-1995 (Zürich, [2017]) YF.2019.a.23260

Claire Torracinta-Pache, Le pouvoir est pour demain : les femmes dans la politique suisse ([Lausanne], 1984.) YA.1986.a.9986

Doris Stump, Sie töten uns, nicht unsere Ideen: Meta von Salis-Marschlins, 1855-1929, Schweizer Schriftstellerin und Frauenrechtskämpferin (Thalwil/Zürich, 1986.) YA.1988.a.7520

Doris Brodbeck, Hunger nach Gerechtigkeit : Helene von Mülinen (1850-1924), eine Wegbereiterin der Frauenemanzipation ( Zurich, 2000) YA.2001.a.23815

Marianne Jehle-Wildberger, “Wo bleibt die Rechtsgleichheit?” Dora Rittmeyer-Iselin (1902-1974) und ihr Einsatz für Flüchtlinge und Frauen (Zürich; St. Gallen, [2018]) YF.2020.a.10618

Marianne Delfosse, Emilie Kempin-Spyri (1853-1901): das Wirken der ersten Schweizer Juristin : unter besonderer Berücksichtigung ihres Einsatzes für die Rechte der Frau im schweizerischen und deutschen Privatrecht (Zürich, c1994.) YA.1996.a.20102

12 November 2020

PhD Placement Opportunity - Interrogating German Collections

Applications are now open for an exciting new PhD placement working with the German collections at the British Library. Under the title Interrogating German Collections, current PhD students are invited to spend three months (or part-time equivalent) challenging the conventional history of knowledge of German-speaking regions, and to explore under-represented perspectives. Co-supervised with Expanding German Studies, a group seeking to expand and diversify the German Studies curriculum across the UK, the placement offers an opportunity to understand how German culture has constructed categories of racial difference, and how the voices of racialised others (including Jewish, Eastern European, Black, East Asian, Turkish and Middle Eastern people) have been represented within the discipline. The British Library’s German Printed Collections are of worldwide importance and will serve as a comprehensive source.

Covers of four German books
A selection of books by German authors who feature on the Expanding German Studies interactive bibliography

While the student will be expected to propose a specific focus, the placement will involve researching the collections, writing blog posts on items and on methodologies around collecting and curation, improving catalogue records, presenting to different departments on the results. The student will also have the opportunity to work with Expanding German Studies on teaching resources, and on preparing translations of neglected works for German Studies undergraduates, among other potential outputs.

This placement project offers an opportunity for a PhD student to put their research and critical thinking skills into practice at a major cultural institution through a topic that will be crucial to every aspect of the Library and to the cultural sector more widely in the coming years.

Further information on eligibility, conditions and how to apply is available on the British Library website. The deadline for applications is 18 December 2020.

For informal enquiries, please contact Pardaad.Chamsaz@bl.uk, Susan.Reed@bl.uk, Nicola.Thomas@bristol.ac.uk

24 January 2018

The Adventures of ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’

Of the comparatively few German-language children’s books that have become enduring classics in the English-speaking world, two are by Swiss authors: Johanna Spyri’s Heidi, and The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss, who died 200 years ago this month.

Title-page of 'Der Schweizerische Robinson' with a frontispiece showing a man and boy walking through a forest
Title-page of the first edition of  Der schweizersiche Robinson (Zürich, 1812) C.108.aaaa.7

Like many famous children’s books, The Swiss Family Robinson originated as a tale told aloud to real children – Wyss’s four sons. He wanted both to entertain and to inform the boys, and also to depict their different characters (and hint at ways in which these could be improved). Indeed, his own title for the story was ‘Characteristics of my children. In a Robinsonade’. He did not intend the story for publication, but in 1812 one of the now adult sons, Johann Rudolf, edited the manuscript and published it as Der schweizersiche Robinson, oder, Der schiffbrüchige Schweizer-Prediger und seine Familie (‘The Swiss Robinson, or the Shipwrecked Swiss Preacher and his Family’). This was the first of many changes that Johann David’s original work would undergo.

Illustration showing the family praying as their ship is dashed against rocks
Shipwreck! The family commend themselves to God in the storm. Illustration from the first French translation Le Robinson Suisse (2nd edition; Paris, 1816) 122835.c.21.

The book tells how the shipwrecked family of the title survive and create a new home on a desert island, involving many adventures and discoveries. Wyss describes in great detail how they salvage material from the wreck, build shelters and other amenities, and find (and later cultivate) food, all intended as a lesson in practical skills for young readers. Natural history lessons also have their place, with long discussions and lectures on the flora and fauna of the island, which is surprisingly varied: the place is home to an unlikely international menagerie of animals, including jackals, porcupines, buffalo, ostriches, tigers, kangaroos, walrus and even a duck-billed platypus. Most of these creatures are either domesticated or shot by the family.

Illustration of a boy with a gun taking aim at a kangaroo
Shooting a kangaroo (clearly based on George Stubbs’s 1772 painting of ‘The Kongouro from New Holland’) from the first English edition The Family Robinson Crusoe (London, 1814) C.117.b.78. 

Less exciting and exotic are the lessons in morality and piety. The father in the story frequently reminds his sons to say their prayers, whether of supplication or thanks, and to be honest and hardworking. 

Illustration of the family holding a religious service
The father leads his family in Sunday worship, from The Family Robinson Crusoe

Despite its didacticism, the story is engaging and some of the passages of dialogue between the boys and their parents – such as a discussion of names for different sites around the island – seem to carry an echo of the way the Wyss boys might indeed have talked and joked together. The book certainly appealed to young readers and enjoyed great success.

Title-page of an early French edition with a frontispiece showing a woman reading to children
Title-page of  Le Robinson Suisse. The frontispiece shows the translator reading the book to her grandsons and great-nephews, to whom she dedicated the translation.

Translations soon followed and further altered the original tale. The first English and French translations (1814 and 1813 respectively) both made some changes to the sequence of events and chapter numbering, but the French translator, Isabelle de Montolieu, went further still. When, over a decade after the first German edition, a promised continuation had not yet appeared, she wrote her own, based on brief notes provided by Johann Rudolf Wyss and published in 1824. Wyss’s own last two volumes appeared in 1826-7, but Montolieu’s continuation served as a basis for several other translations, including the most successful 19th-century English version, ascribed to the bestselling children’s author W.H.G. Kingston but actually the work of his wife Agnes.

A map of the family's imaginary island
Map of the island, from an 1826 edition of Le Robinson Suisse. 12807.bbb.26

Other changes were made to the book as time went on. Chapters were merged, split or rearranged, new adventures and characters were added, and the conclusion varied in different versions and translations. Names were often changed in translation, with different translators into the same language sometimes using different variants. There have been many retellings and abridgments, picture-book and comic-strip versions, and even a Swiss Family Robinson in Words of One Syllable (London, 1869; 12808.g.20). Modern editions jettison most of the religious and moral lectures, and I suspect that, in the 21st century, the family’s trigger-happy attitude to the animals they encounter may also be played down.

Decorative bookbinding with a picture of two boys, a dog and a platypus
Cover of an 1889 English edition  (012803.f.40). 

Cinema and TV have also played a role in changing the story. A 1960 Disney film added pirates and a love triangle involving the older boys and a female castaway to the story. A 1980s Japanese animated series had as its main protagonist a newly-invented daughter of the family. In both of these versions Robinson is the family’s actual surname, a false assumption no doubt made by many English readers over the years. Robinson is not, of course, a Swiss surname, and in the original no family name is given (although Montolieu, in a short play appended to her translation, calls them ‘Bonval’). ‘Robinson’ in Wyss’s title simply refers to the fact that the preacher and his family were Crusoe-like castaways.

For most readers –in any language – in the two centuries since in its publication, the Swiss Family Robinson that they encountered has most likely been at several removes from the work of either Johann David or Johann Rudolf Wyss. But, despite all the accretions and alterations, the core of the original tale has survived and continues to appeal to young readers, unlike most other didactic Robinsonades of the period. A tribute, perhaps, to Johann David’s skills as a father and a storyteller.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator, Germanic Collections

References/further reading:

Entry for ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’ in Daniel Hahn, ed. Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature (Oxford, 2015) YC.2015.a.15862

Hannelore Kortenbruck-Hoeijmans, Johann David Wyss’ “Schweizerischer Robinson”: Dokument pädagogisch-literarischen Zeitgeistes an der Schwelle zum 19. Jahrhundert. Schriftenreihe der Deutschen Akademie für Kinder- und Jugendliteratur Volkach; Bd. 23 (Baltmannsweiler, 1999) YA.2002.a.4961

J. Hillis Miller, ‘Reading. The Swiss Family Robinson as Virtual Reality’, in Karín Lesnik-Oberstein (ed.) Children's literature: new approaches (Basingstoke, 2004) pp. 78-92. YC.2006.a.4061 

John Seelye, Introduction to Johann David Wyss, The Swiss Family Robinson. Penguin Classics (London, 2007) H.2008/132

01 August 2017

Reforming Switzerland

With 1 August being Swiss National Day and 2017 marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it seems like an good moment to look at the Reformation in Switzerland. The country boasts two of the early centres of European Protestantism, Zurich and Geneva, and the latter city is still in some ways synonymous with Protestantism.

Zurich was the first Swiss city to introduce the Reformation, under the guidance of Huldrych Zwingli, preacher and later canon at the Grossmünster, one of Zurich’s most important churches. From his first appointment in 1519 Zwingli began to introduce reformist ideas, influenced by both Luther and Erasmus, into his sermons and practice.

Reformation Zwingli portrait
Huldrych Zwingli, from Theodore de Bèze, Icones, id est veræ imagines virorum doctrina simul et pietate illustrium ... ([Geneva], 1580). 611.e.3.

But the decisive move, seen as the real start of Zurich’s Reformation, came in March 1522 when Zwingli attended a meal in the house of the printer Christoph Froschauer during which sausages were served. This may sound trivial to modern minds, but the ‘Zürcher Wurstessen’ was no ordinary sausage supper. It took place during the fasting season of Lent when the Church required its members to abstain from eating meat. By condoning the breaking of this fast, Zwingli was openly challenging the Church’s authority. He wrote a defence of the action and general condemnation of fasting, claiming it had no scriptural authority, and followed this up in with an attack on clerical celibacy.

Erkiesen und Freyheit 3905.d.131
An edition of Huldrych Zwingli’s condemnation of religious fasting, Von Erkiesen und Freyhait der Speisen ... ([Zurich, 1522]). 3905.d.131.

 The Reformation progressed in Zurich, but not without controversy. Zwingli was opposed not only by the traditional Church authorities but by more radical reformers who believed he was too compromising in his stance. Zwingli also disagreed with Luther on key points, notably the Real Presence of Christ in the eucharist. A debate between Luther, Zwingli and their respective supporters in 1529 failed to resolve their differences.

Meanwhile, although some Swiss cities and cantons followed Zurich’s reforming lead, others banded together to defend their traditional faith, leading to the first of several confessional conflicts over the coming centuries. Zwingli himself was killed in one of these wars in 1531.

Five years later a young French theologian, Jean Calvin, settled in Geneva. Following a conversion to the reformed faith, Calvin had published Institutio Christianae Religionis (Institutes of the Chrisitan Religion) as an expression of his own faith and an interpretation of reformed religion for new believers, which he would revise and enlarge throughout his life.

Reformation Calvin Institutio
The first edition of Calvin’s Institutio Christianae Religionis (Basel, 1536). C.53.aa.16.

Calvin and his associates began to introduce their brand of religious reform to Geneva. After initial difficulties Calvin was gradually able to develop the city into a centre of Protestantism. It became a magnet for scholars and also a refuge for reformers persecuted in their own countries. Among the latter was William Whittingham, whose English translation of the Bible, known as the ‘Geneva Bible’, became standard in contemporary Protestant Britain and remained popular among noncoformists even after the publication of the King James Bible.

Reformation Calvin portrait
Jean Calvin, From Bèze, Icones...

Another refugee, the Scottish reformer John Knox, described Geneva as ‘the most perfect school of Christ that ever was … since the days of the Apostles’, but not everyone was so impressed. Voltaire would later complain that, by closing down the convents, Calvin and his associates had managed to ‘turn all society into a convent’ and that ‘for more than two hundred years there was not a single musical instrument allowed in the city of Geneva’. Calvin’s Geneva still has a reputation as a rigidly puritanical society run as a near-theocracy, where popular pleasures were banned and moral standards strictly enforced.

Yet like that other European stronghold of Calvinism, the Netherlands, Geneva also developed a reputation in the following centuries for tolerance and would offer refuge to figures such as Voltaire himself, as well as remaining a home of strict Protestant observance. Today the city actually has a higher proportion of Catholic than Protestant residents, but still celebrates its history as ‘the Rome of Protestantism’.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

07 July 2017

To the Finland Station in a not-so-sealed Train

In the weeks following Russia’s February Revolution in 1917, an increasingly frustrated Lenin was stuck in Zurich, forced to follow events from afar. Like other Russian political exiles, he had found neutral Switzerland a convenient haven when war broke out in 1914, but now it was more like a cage. Not only could he play no active part in events back in Russia, but he had no chance to influence or control them as he desired, and meanwhile the new Provisional Government was taking a course that seemed too moderate to Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks

The problem for the Russian revolutionaries in Switzerland was of course the ongoing war. The logical route home led through enemy German territory. Another option would be to travel via Russia’s allies France and Britain, but the two countries’ governments would hardly offer safe passage to people they considered dangerous agitators. In her memoirs, Lenin’s wife recalls him ‘building the most improbable plans’ – flying back to Russia by plane, or using the passports of foreigners from a neutral country.

In the end, the German route offered the most realistic hope. The German government had already flirted with the idea of funding Russian revolutionaries in the hope of destabilising Russia and bringing about her withdrawal from the war. It was possible that they might now be brought to see Lenin’s return as a means to this end. 

Platten
Fritz Platten, reproduced in Willi Gautschi, Lenin als Emingrant in der Schweiz (Cologne, 1973). X.809/19902. 

Swiss socialist Robert Grimm approached the German Ambassador to Switzerland to open negotiations, but it was Grimm’s compatriot Fritz Platten, who brokered the final agreement to allow Lenin and others exiles to travel by train through Germany to neutral Sweden. Platten was also given official responsibility for the party and helped to draw up a document to be signed by all the travellers, declaring among other things that they accepted the risk of imprisonment for treason on their return to Russia.

Reise Lenins facsim
Facsimile of the document signed by Lenin and his companions, reproduced in Fritz Platten, Die Reise Lenins durch Deutschland im plombierten Wagen (Berlin, 1924) 9456.i.18. 

At last, on 9 April 1917, Lenin and 31 other exiles embarked on a train at Zurich station. This has gone down in history as the ‘sealed train’, and and its journey became part of the mythology of the Russian Revolution, helped not least by Platten’s own account, published in 1924.

Reise Lenins 9456i18
Front cover of Platten's Die Reise Lenins...

In fact the ‘seal’ was more symbolic and legal than physical: one of Lenin’s conditions had been that the train should have extra-territorial status, so that it could not be boarded by anyone hoping to arrest the travellers. The Russians were forbidden from leaving the train, and a chalk line on the floor marked a boundary, which only Platten was allowed to cross, between them and their German guards. But the doors and windows could be opened. Various members of the party later recalled Germans coming to speak to them and to offer food or beer through the windows, and at another point in the journey a group of German socialists even came on board hoping to speak to their Russian counterparts.

To a certain extent, however, Lenin sealed himself off, settling in a separate compartment and working on what became known as the ‘April Theses’. He was impatient to reach Russia and irritated by the high spirits of his fellow travellers who could be heard chatting, joking and singing next door. Even when the party had reached neutral Sweden and were travelling more conventionally and able to communicate with the outside world, Lenin devoted most of his time to working, networking and planning his next moves.

A final challenge came on the Finnish border, where the travellers were interrogated and searched at a British military checkpoint, before eventually being allowed to continue. At last, on 16 April, they arrived (on an ordinary train) at the Finland Station in St Petersburg, where Lenin proclaimed to a welcoming crowd the ‘worldwide Socialist revolution’ which he believed was just beginning.

481px-Locomotive_293
Finnish Locomotive 293, which undertook the last leg of Lenin’s journey. It was presented to Russia by Finland and is now preserved at the Finland Station in St Petersburg. (Photo © by James G. Howes, 1998, from  Wikimedia Commons)

Platten, who had been so vital to the journey, was no longer with the group, having been turned back at the Finnish border. He did later enter Russia, eventually settling permanently there, and in 1918 he provided another and even greater service to Lenin. They were travelling in a car together when a would-be assassin opened fire. Platten pushed Lenin down, sustaining a minor injury himself and probably saving the Bolshevik leader’s life. Despite his services to the Revolution, he later fell victim to Stalin’s purges, and was shot on 22 April 1942 – ironically, the anniversary of Lenin’s birth.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/further reading:

Nadezhda Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin. Translated by Bernard Isaacs (Moscow, 1959) 010600.c.43. (Also available online at: http://www.marxistsfr.org/archive/krupskaya/works/rol/index.htm)

Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train (London, 2016) Awaiting pressmark

Helen Rappaport, Conspirator: Lenin in Exile (London, 2009) YC.2010.a.13366

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. As part of the accompanying programme of events, on the evening of 25 July Historian Catherine Merridale and writer Viv Groskop will be in conversation about Lenin’s journey back to Russia. Details can be found here.

15 May 2017

Not Lenin and Trotsky - a Mystery Solved?

Last year we published a blog post asking for information on two photographs by the American photographer Donald C. Thompson, widely published as images of Lenin and Trotsky in the English-speaking world but, with the benefit of hindsight, clearly not pictures of the two revolutionary leaders. We knew for certain who they were not, but struggled to find out who they were and what they were doing.

After some digging, Katya Rogatchevskaia (Lead Curator of East European Collections and of the exhibition, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths) managed to find the photographs reproduced in Russian and French publications. The elusive revolutionaries were found in a Russian ‘album of current events’ for the years 1914 to 1917 Voina i Revolutsiia (‘War and Revolution’).

LeninTrotsky War and Revolution

Donald Thompson’s photographs as published in Voina i Revolutsiia ([Petrograd, 1918?]) British Library X.802/4756.

The top-left photograph identifies the speaker as ‘German agent’ Robert Grimm, leaving the other man unidentified. The bottom photograph identifies the figures as ‘internationalists’, including Christian Rakovsky, Grimm, and Angelica Balabanova. They are shown laying wreaths at the Field of Mars in St. Petersburg (then Petrograd), where victims of the February Revolution were buried on 23 May 1917. This fits perfectly with Thompson’s story about when and where he took the photographs of ‘Lenin and Trotsky’, even if the figures are not right.

Robert Grimm (1881-1958) was a Swiss socialist, and a chief organiser of the anti-war Zimmerwald movement during the First World War. He was allowed into Russia after the fall of the first Provisional Government, led by Lvov, in May 1917, and became active in the anti-war movement. Grimm was embroiled in scandal while trying to gauge the German response to the Soviet desire for peace, which was interpreted as trying to get Russia to pull out of the war unilaterally and seen as a betrayal of the Allied cause – hence, Voina i Revolutsiia describes him as a ‘German agent’. This was by no means the end of his political career, however. Grimm led the Swiss General Strike of November 1918, and in 1946 became President of the Swiss National Council.

LeninTrotsky Grimm

Robert Grimm (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

Angelica Balabanova (1878-1965) was another Zimmerwald activist of mixed Russian, Jewish, and Italian heritage. She joined the Bolsheviks and in 1919 became the secretary of the Communist International (Comintern), but grew critical of the authoritarian Bolshevik style of socialism and returned to Italy.

At first I was uncertain about the identification of Christian Rakovsky (1873-1941), even though he was a known friend and collaborator of Grimm and Balabanova – I had only ever seen pictures of him clean-shaven and looking much younger than the figure in the photograph. However, it would make sense for him to be present alongside his Zimmerwald comrades. Rakovsky was a Bulgarian revolutionary who was also involved in the Zimmerwald movement, who had been freed from imprisonment in May 1917 – explaining, possibly, his haggard appearance in the photographs later in that month.

LeninTrotsky Rakovsky
Christian Rakovsky in military uniform after the Bolshevik revolution (image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Other photographs and images do show him sporting a beard, like this piece of anti-Bolshevik and anti-Semitic propaganda, with leading revolutionaries (including Alexander Kerensky alongside the Bolsheviks as part of a putative Jewish conspiracy against the Russian state) engaged in a ritual murder, evoking the history of the ‘blood libel’ myth

LeninTrotsky International

 White movement propaganda poster showing Rakovsky with a beard, kneeling in the centre beneath Lenin, from Wikimedia Commons.

Rakovsky joined the Bolsheviks at the end of 1917 and took a number of leading roles, including as the leader of a failed Communist revolution in the Kingdom of Rumania and then the first head of government for the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. His fate was less happy than Grimm’s – Rakovsky aligned with Trotsky and developed a critique of Stalinist ‘bureaucratic centralism’ in the Soviet Union. He became a high-profile victim of the Moscow Trials in 1938, confessing to spurious charges of espionage on behalf of the British, German and Japanese imperialists during the show trials, and was executed in 1941.

So, the two pictures of ‘Lenin and Trotsky’ may actually be of three people – Grimm, Rakovsky, and another. One possible, though uncertain, identity of this ‘third man’ comes from the French source. The images also appear in the Histoire des Soviets series (Paris, 1922-3; 1854.g.15.).This album was edited by Jacques Makowsky (1894-1981), a Jewish master-printer to Tsar Nicholas II who fled Russia for France after the Revolution.

With the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 Makowsky was forced to flee once more to America, where his wife and he became famous for cross-breeding the Rock Cornish game hen – ‘a succulent bird with all-white meat, large enough for a single serving’. There is a compilation of this beautifully printed and illustrated series on YouTube here, with one of the photographs in question visible at 0:21.

LeninTrotsky Histoire

 One of the covers of the Histoire des Soviets series (Paris, 1922-3) 1854.g.15.

We get our third name from here: Mikhail Martinov  (1882-1919). Martinov was a Bolshevik revolutionary who had been elected chairman of the particularly left-wing Kronstadt Soviet. Not long after these photographs were taken Martinov was elected to the commission charged with planning the armed demonstration of workers, soldiers and sailors which developed into the violent July Days. Martinov himself met a violent end just two years later, killed in a counter-revolutionary uprising at Krasnaia Gorka during the advance of the White General Yudenich’s army towards Petrograd.

We can’t be certain that the Histoire is correct on this point, as although it correctly says that Grimm was in the photographs, it mistakenly identifies the wrong figure as him. As for Martinov, I know of no other photographs with which to compare, but it is perfectly feasible that he would have been present at this event. Much of the mystery has been solved, but this point still remains to be verified or supported with other evidence.

Mike Carey, CDA Student, British Library and University of Nottingham

Further Reading

Christo Boyadjieff, Racovski: The Vanquished Socialist (Rio de Janeiro, 1984) YA.1991.a.16859

Israel Getzler, Kronstadt 1917-1921: The Fate of a Soviet Democracy (London, 1983) X.529/54596

R. Craig Nation, War on War: Lenin, the Zimmerwald Left, and the Origins of Communist Internationalism (London, 1989) YC.1992.b.4587

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website. 

27 February 2017

An irony-free zone: early French translations of Jane Austen

The British Library holds a world-class collection of Jane Austen material. The Library’s manuscript materials include, for instance, a collection of comments about Mansfield Park by family, friends and acquaintances compiled by Austen soon after publication. The Library possesses at least one copy of each of the first English printed editions of her work, and also holds the first full French translations of Sense and Sensibility (1815), Mansfield Park (1816), Pride and Prejudice (1822), and Northanger Abbey (1824), as well as the first translation into German of Persuasion (1822).

Both Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park were first translated into French in a much abridged form in four instalments in the Swiss periodical Bibliothèque britannique (1813, 1815). (Unfortunately, the Library’s copy of this periodical, which disseminated British culture in continental Europe during the Napoleonic wars, was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.) By 1824, all of six of Austen’s major novels were available in French.

There are no known French reviews of these early translations, but the translators’ prefaces to the novels, the way in which they were translated and the changes that were made to the text can provide a great deal of information about the tastes and expectations of her readership and the reception of her novels in France and Switzerland in the early 19th century.

Title page of Raison et Sensibilité
Title-page of Raison et Sensibilité ou les Deux Manières d’aimer ‘traduit librement de l’anglais’ (Paris, 1815) British Library RB.23.a.30556

In 1815, Isabelle de Montolieu, a well-known and successful Swiss novelist, published her ‘free translation’ of Sense and Sensibility as Raison et Sensibilité ou les Deux Manières d’aimerThe Library’s copy includes the translator’s preface: Montolieu expresses her preference for this ‘new genre’ of English novel which has superseded that of ‘terreur’ and is confident that her French readers will enjoy a bit of ‘light literature’, ‘devoid of any political allusions’ after the troubled times they have lived through. 

Opening of the translator's preface to Raison et Sensibilité
The opening of Montolieu’s preface to Raison et Sensibilité

She presents her translation as ‘reasonably faithful until the end, where I have allowed myself, as is my custom, a few slight changes which I have deemed necessary’. She changes some forenames: Elinor Dashwood remains Elinor, but her sisters Marianne and Margaret become Maria and Emma. She alters and moralises the ending: Marianne rejects the reprobate Willoughby, now a widower, and he, seeing the error of his ways, marries Caroline (Eliza in the original) whom he had earlier seduced and abandoned. Madame Smith, who has taken in Caroline, is ‘delighted to save a soul from eternal damnation’. Montolieu, catering for a readership still in thrall to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Nouvelle Héloïse, produced a didactic and sentimental version of Austen’s novel. At this time, too, her fame far eclipsed Austen’s and so it’s no surprise that the publisher reissued this translation in 1828, with added illustrations, in an edition of Montolieu’s works .

Title page of Le Parc de Mansfeld
Title-page of Le Parc de Mansfield ou les Trois Cousines (Paris, 1816) C.194.a.1345.

The title page of Le Parc de Mansfield ou les Trois Cousines, states that the novel is ‘par l’auteur de Raison et Sensibilité, ou Les deux manières d’aimer’, thus trading implicitly on the cachet of Montolieu. The translator, bashfully named as M. Henri V ******N., was Henri Villemain or Vilmain, a prolific translator and also a novelist in his own right.

Title-page of Orgueil et Prévention
Title-page of Orgueil et Prévention (Paris, 1822) C.194.a.1254.

The Library holds one of the two early French translations of Pride and Prejudice, Orgueil et Prévention, also described as ‘par l’auteur de Raison et Sensibilité’, translated by ‘Mlle É…….***.’ This translator has been identified as Eloïse Perks, who, in her short preface, presents herself as a ‘jeune étrangère’ (young foreigner), and a novice writer imitating the ‘elegant pen’ and the ‘ good model’ of Montolieu, and adds that the translation of Raison et Sensibilité ‘eut en France le plus grand succès’. Perks also adds a few brief explanatory notes on English customs, food and place names, e.g. on mince pies (I, p.82) or the English Sunday (I, p. 94), and says that she intends to translate the as yet untranslated novels: this didn’t happen, so either her version wasn’t a success, or she was pipped at the post by other translators.

Title-page of L'Abbaye de Northanger with a frontispiece showing Catherine opening a wooden chest
Title-page and frontispiece of L’Abbaye de Northanger (Paris, 1824) 12808.u.39.

The last novel to be translated was the posthumous Northanger Abbey, translated as L’Abbaye de Northanger by Mme Hyacinthe de F****, i.e. Hyacinthe de Ferrières, who was also a novelist. The author’s name is given on the title page, but Frenchified as Jeanne Austen. Henry Austen’s ‘Biographical Notice’ is included, though without the Postscript, and with some omissions and curious errors: notably, John for (Samuel) Johnson, Arbley for Arblay (Fanny Burney), and, significantly, the translator omits the sentence ending: ‘she partook largely in all the best gifts of the comic muse’. Despite this, it must be admitted that Henry’s notice on his deceased sister does emphasise her piety and decorum.

The British Library’s copy includes the engraved frontispiece illustrating and telescoping the episode where the heroine first sees the large chest in her room and then tries to open it when she is interrupted (the figure at the door). Our copy, in three volumes, bears the stamp of the ‘cabinet de lecture’ (circulating library) of G. Dufour et Cie in Amsterdam. It has a British Museum stamp dated 16 September 1876, and is housed in modern box with the label ‘Conserved under the Adopt a Book  Appeal [by] The Jane Austen Society of North America’. The other early translations into French and German that the Library holds were, by contrast, all acquired relatively recently.

Cumulatively, these translations enable us to study how Jane Austen was interpreted in early French culture and how they convey the spirit of the original text. This early French Jane Austen is a somewhat formulaic novelist of sensibility devoid of her trademark sense of irony and social satire.

Teresa Vernon, Lead Curator, Romance Collections.

References/Further Reading

The Reception of Jane Austen in Europe, edited by Brian Southam and A.A. Mandel (London, 2014). YC.2016.a.4133

Lucile Trunel, Les éditions françaises de Jane Austen 1815-2007. L’apport de l’histoire éditoriale à la compréhension de la réception de l’auteur en France (Paris, 2010). YF.2014.a.5858

Valérie Cossy, Jane Austen in Switzerland: a study of the early French translations (Geneva, 2006). YD.2006.a.4670

 

22 September 2016

‘The greatest German storyteller’? Johann Peter Hebel

In the English-speaking world, the Swiss-born author Johann Peter Hebel is less well known that he deserves to be – possibly through confusion with his near-namesake, the poet and dramatist Friedrich Hebbel. Their fields of activity, however, were very different, for besides his poems and stories Hebel was also a pioneering supporter of a Swiss-German dialect which defeated even Goethe.

Portrait of Hebel sitting under a tree
Portrait of Hebel by Hans Bendel from Zwölf Allemannische Gedichte (Winterthur, 1849) 11527.g.12.

Tragedy struck the Hebel family in the first year of his life, when his father and baby sister Susanne succumbed to typhus. His parents had been working in Basel at the time of his birth, and with his mother Ursula he spent part of the year there and the rest in her native village of Hausen im Wiesental,  where he began his education, continuing his studies in Basel and at the grammar school in Schopfheim. When he was thirteen, his mother fell seriously ill, and with the local magistrate he hurried to Basel to bring her back by ox-wagon to Hausen, only to see her die on the journey.

With the help of sponsors Hebel was admitted to the Gymnasium illustre in Karlsruhe, graduating in 1778. Like Hegel, Hölderlin and Schelling, he studied theology but turned to teaching when he was unable to obtain a parish. Among the subjects which he taught were botany and natural history; he amassed a considerable collection of plants, and was also an honorary member of the Jena mineralogical society. His modest ambition to live out his days as a country pastor was never fulfilled; instead he became director of the Karlsruhe Gymnasium, and spent the rest of his life there. However, in 1819 he was appointed prelate of the Lutheran churches in Baden, and thus a member of the upper chamber of the local assembly. This allowed him to support social and educational enterprises such as the establishment of institutions for the deaf, dumb and blind and better training for Roman Catholic priests. He remained actively involved in this work until his death from cancer on 22 September 1826.

Alongside these duties, however, Hebel maintained a rich creative life. Devoted to the language as well as the nature of the country where he had grown up, he composed, on returning from a visit there in 1799, a collection of 32 poems in the local dialect, the Allemannische Gedichte (‘for friends of rural nature and customs’). No Basel publisher, however, would risk publishing a book in such an obscure tongue as Alemannic, and it was not until 1803 that it came out anonymously in Karlsruhe. The British Library possesses a copy of this first edition.

Title-page of 'Alemannische Gedichte' Title-page of the first edition of Hebel’s  Allemannische Gedichte (Karlsruhe, 1803) 11525.e.18 

One of the most famous poems in this volume is ‘Die Vergänglichkeit’ (‘Transience’), a dialogue between a father and his young son as they travel through the evening landscape by cart, passing the exact spot at which Hebel’s own mother had died before his eyes. The sensitive evocation of human emotions and picturesque landscapes brought the poems such success that a second edition followed in 1804, this time under Hebel’s own name.

His interest in education led to two more of his most famous productions, the ‘calendar stories’ which he wrote as editor of the Rheinländischer Hausfreund, at the rate of 30 per year, and a collection of Bible stories for use for pupils aged 10-14 in Protestant schools, the Biblische Geschichten (Stuttgart/Tübingen, 1824; 1011.d.8), whose lively narrative style made them so popular that a version for Catholic schools was published the following year (3126.aa.8). The British Library also holds a first edition of the Schatzkästlein des rheinischen Hausfreundes (Tübingen, 1811; 12315.d.19), a treasury of stories from the Rheinländischer Hausfreund which remain enduring favourites among German readers, including one of his most famous stories, Unverhofftes Wiedersehen (‘Unexpected Reunion’), an eerie tale set in the Swedish mining district of Falun which also inspired E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Die Bergwerke zu Falun.

The wit, humour and keen observation which characterize Hebel’s writings attracted many illustrators. Especially charming are the lithographs based on pen and ink drawings by Hans Bendel for a revised version of the Allemannische Gedichte (Winterthur, 1849; 11527.g.12) containing settings of five of the poems with piano accompaniment. Equally appealing are the Dreißig Umrisse zu J. P. Hebel’s allemannischen Gedichten, 30 sketches by Julius Nisle. Both evoke a vanished world in which the dignitaries of Schopfheim, the rustic lovers Hans and Verene,  beggars, ghosts and tipsy peasants are portrayed in loving detail, every feature of the  landscape and local costume faithfully depicted, yet without sentimentality.

Picture of a man encountering an angelIllustrations by Julius Nisle from Dreißig Umrisse zu J. P. Hebel’s allemanischen Gedichten (Stuttgart, 1845) 506.aa.7

A tavern scene with drinkers round a table

These qualities also won Hebel many admirers, including Tolstoy, the Brothers Grimm, Goethe (who found him a ‘splendid man’ and tried, not very successfully, to write a poem in Alemannic), and Hermann Hesse, who considered him the greatest German storyteller, on a par with Gottfried Keller  and with a surer touch and more powerful effect than Goethe himself.

Paradoxically, while his fellow-poet Eduard Mörike chafed at the restrictions of life as a country parson, this represented an ideal which Hebel was never to attain. Yet, as he himself acknowledged, an invisible hand seemed to lead him far beyond his humble aspirations, and his importance to literature as well as to education and the humanities is marked by the decision of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland to commemorate him in its calendar on 22 September, the day of his death 130 years ago.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Engagement  

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