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25 July 2016

Esperanto and Fair Communication

On 26 July 1887 the censor’s office in Warsaw approved the publication of a booklet with the title Mezhdunarodnyi iazyk. Predislovie i polnyi uchebnik, translated into English in 1888 as Dr. Esperanto’s International Tongue. Preface and Complete Method (British Library 12902.aa.55.(1.)). Since then Esperanto speakers throughout the world have celebrated 26 July as Esperanto Day. The slogan on this year’s posters is Fair Communication. The marriage between Esperanto and Fair Communication has now lasted for over a century.

Fair Communication Poster for 2016 (Designed by  Peter Oliver)

Many people over the centuries have attempted to create their own language, but their reasons for doing so have not always been the same. In the Middle Ages the motive was religious. The 11th-century abbess Hildegard of Bingen invented her Ignota Lingua to speak with the angels. After the Renaissance, the motive was more likely to be philosophical. A typical example was the language created by Francis Lodwick. In 1652 he published his work The Ground-Work, Or Foundation Laid, (or so intended) For the Framing of a New Perfect Language: And an Vniversall or Common Writing. And presented to the consideration of the Learned.

Lodwick Ground-Work opening
 The beginning of Francis Lodwick’s, The Ground-Work… (London, 1652).  623.g.4.(1.)

At the time of the French Revolution the emphasis was more on languages with a practical application, and that tendency increased during the 19th century, when inventions such as the steam train and the telegraph led to an explosion in fast travel and new ways of communicating. To all this Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, the author of the 1887 booklet, added a social dimension. As a Jew he had experienced ethnic struggles and violence in his native city of Białystok: pogroms by Russians against the Jews, rebellions by Poles against the Russians, nationalistic self-assertion by the Germans and so forth. What a wonderful thing it would be, thought the teenage Zamenhof, if all men could be brothers and stop killing one another! A naïve hope of course, but if you were living now in Syria or Congo, probably that would be your greatest desire as well.

At all events, the ideals of the brotherhood of peoples and a just form of communication survived throughout the last century and are still relevant today. Naturally these ideals have been promoted by Esperanto speakers, but also by others. Let’s take a look at several books published in recent years.

In 1996 Esperanto speakers in collaboration with other organizations inaugurated a series of symposia named after  Inazo Nitobe, one of the Under-Secretaries General of the League of Nations in the 1920s, who proposed that the use of Esperanto should be debated in the General Assembly. His proposal was vetoed by France, who at that time considered itself to be the keeper of the world’s international language. The Nitobe Symposia are outstanding occasions for a meeting between linguists, communications experts, and high-ranking politicians, who have various approaches to the language problem in international organizations and in international life in general. Participants in the first symposia (Prague, 1996), included linguists and translators alongside representatives of the EU, UNESCO and the UN. The proceedings were published under the title: Towards linguistic democracy: proceedings of the Nitobe Symposium of International Organizations, ed. Mark Fettes and Suzanne Bolduc (Rotterdam, 1998; YF.2006.a.31177). The main topic in all contributions was linguistic democracy, not only between nations but also within nations. At that time the struggle of national minorities was a very pressing issue.

Proceedings of the Nitobe Symposia in British Library's Collections

The same topics came up again in the following symposia. For example, the third symposium was entitled: Towards a new international language order (proceedings, edited by Lee Chong-Yeong and Liu Haitao, published Rotterdam, 2004; YF.2006.a.31175). Since the symposium was held in Beijing, and since the Chinese participants tended to emphasise China’s new role as a major power, speakers at the seminar were more interested in international relations rather than linguistic democracy within countries.

An important contributor to these seminars was Robert Phillipson, joint winner of the Linguapax Prize in 2010, and well known as an advocate for linguistic democracy. His book Linguistic Imperialism (Oxford, 1992; 93/06193) received numerous undeserved criticisms from defenders of the status quo. His second book English-Only Europe? Challenging Language Policy (London, 2003; YC.2007.a.282) was translated into Esperanto with the title Ĉu nur-angla Eŭropo? Defio al lingva politiko (Rotterdam, 2004; YF.2006.a.29602; photo below). For years his arguments have been debated in Europe, but his observations have made little headway among European politicians, who prefer to listen to his opponent Philippe Van Parijs. In his book Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World, (Oxford, 2011; YC.2012.a.10920), Van Parijs prefers to support the use of English at the international level with a tax for those who profit from its use. Van Parijs has been another participant at the Nitobe symposia.

The French and Italians have also added their voices to the debate. One of these has been the famous French linguist Claude Hagège, recipient of a number of awards and other honours. He defends the French language in the name of linguistic and cultural diversity, for instance in his book Combat pour le français: au nom de la diversité des langues et des cultures (Paris, 2006; YF.2009.a.32989), where he also defends Esperanto as ‘one of the best allies of plurilingualism’. He repeats this assertion in his interview with Esperanto speaker François Lo Jacomo: Esperanto kaj lingva diverseco: intervjuo kun Claude Hagège (Rotterdam, 2006; YF.2008.a.6597).

EsperantoBlogHagegeDSC_2173Books from the British Library's Collections

Italians such as Andrea Chiti Batelli, for many years an important functionary at the European Parliament, have taken the lead in the struggle to restore the standing of the traditional Greek-Latin-Romance culture within Europe. He wrote the booklet Politika hegemonio kaj lingva hegemonio en EÅ­ropo (Rotterdam, 1995; YF.2006.a.29616) together with Pierre Janton.

For Esperanto speakers, 26 July is the occasion for reflecting on these events.

Renato Corsetti (Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics at La Sapienza University in Rome, former president of the World Esperanto Association, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto.)

22 July 2016

Delacroix, Shakespeare and the London Stage in 1825

29 June 1855. Othello. Pleasure sublime and total; the tragic force, the succession of scenes and the gradual build-up of interest fill me with an admiration which will bear fruit in my mind. I saw once again that same Wallack whom I saw in London exactly thirty years ago (and maybe to the day, for I was there in June) in the role of Faust. Seeing that play which, however altered, was extremely well arranged, gave me the idea of doing my lithographs.  Terry who played the devil was perfect.  (Eugène Delacroix, Journal, I, 917-918)

Eugène Delacroix never forgot his experience of the London stage in the summer of 1825.  Seeing James William Wallack in a performance of Othello in Paris in 1855 transported him back 30 years to the many evenings which he had spent at the theatre during his three-month stay. As he indicates in this journal entry, an adaptation of Goethe’s Faust by George Soane and Daniel Terry entitled The Devil and Dr Faustus that he saw at Drury Lane, with Terry playing Mephistopheles and Wallack as Faust, inspired his famous series of 18 lithographs, published as illustrations to Albert Stapfer’s translation of Faust in 1828. The British Library has a fine copy of this important work, considered one of the jewels in the history of the illustrated book.

MH fig. 1 Delacroix Mephistopheles
Eugène Delacroix, ‘Méphistophélès’, lithograph, from Faust. Tragédie de M. de Gœthe (Paris, 1828) British Library 1875.b.9

But Delacroix’s stay in London was especially filled with Shakespeare. His interest in Shakespeare had begun long before, perhaps in connection with his friend Charles-Raymond Soulier, who as the son of émigrés had been raised in London and later gave Delacroix English lessons. In 1819 Delacroix had attempted a translation of Richard III which at the time he considered one of Shakespeare’s best plays for showing ‘the tallent of the author in the living painting and investigation of secret motions of human heart’ (Lettres intimes, 84-85). Given the poor quality of his English, it is fortunate that he gave up translating and read Shakespeare largely in Letourneur’s French translation, published in 1821 (British Library 840.f.2-8). But seeing Shakespeare played live on stage sparked a fascination that would become one of the most prominent elements of Delacroix’s art and thought: dozens of paintings and prints on Shakespearean subjects, and a lifetime of reflecting on what Shakespeare represented for the history of art and aesthetics — for concepts such as realism, the sublime, unity, beauty and naturalness.

The London stage in 1825 was a heady mix of sublimity and melodrama. On the one hand, one could attend a play nearly every evening and see actors who have since entered the annals of Shakespearean performance – Edmund Kean, Wallack, Charles Mayne Young, Daniel Terry. On the other hand, productions often altered the originals, performances were rowdy and the plays were paired with vaudeville-like pastoral ballets, pantomimes and musical farces. 

The British Library’s collections of playbills and theatrical journals allow us to identify what and whom Delacroix saw. Frequenting the two main theatres of the time – Drury Lane and the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden – he went to openings of Richard III on 20  June, with Kean as Richard and Wallack as Henry, The Tempest on the 22nd with Young in the role of Prospero, Othello on the 25th with Kean as Othello and Wallack as Iago and The Merchant of Venice on 2 July with Kean as Shylock and Wallack as Bassanio.

MH Delacroix playbill Othello
Playbills for the performances that Delacroix saw of Othello (above; Playbills 21, p. 204) and The Merchant of Venice (below; Playbills 100, p. 210)

MH fig. 3 Merchant of Venice playbill

Although he missed Hamlet with Young in the title role on 27 June, the resemblance of Delacroix’s Macbeth, in his 1825 lithograph, to illustrations of Kean in this role suggests that he saw Kean play Macbeth on the 30th.

MH fig. 4 Delacroix Macbeth BM high res

Above: Eugène Delacroix, Macbeth, lithograph, 1825.  © The Trustees of the British Museum (Creative Commons license); Below: C. Williams, Kean as Macbeth, engraving from The Theatrical Inquisitor, 2 January 1815 PP. 5210

MH fig. 5 Kean as Macbeth

Like Byron and Keats, Delacroix was very impressed by the passionate, expressive and sensational Kean, especially in the role of Shylock, which he called ‘admirable’. Contemporary prints show that a drawing of Delacroix’s bearing the date of the performance of The Merchant of Venice (2 July) indeed represents Kean in this role, despite a false annotation, with the elopement of Lorenzo and Jessica suggested in the background.  

MH fig. 6 Delacroix Kean as Shylock RF9214
Eugène Delacroix, Kean as Shylock, graphite on paper, 2 July 1825.  (Musée du Louvre)

Kean was then at the height of his fame, popularity and indeed notoriety. In January he had gone through a very public trial for adultery which had seen him pilloried in the Times for immorality and had inspired riotous reactions – by both opponents and supporters – in the theatres. The irony of his playing the seemingly aggrieved husband Othello provoked especially raucous responses: the Morning Post (29 January 1825) reported ‘Kean forever’ banners in the gallery, groans and hisses in the pit, so much shouting that Wallack (as Iago) could not be heard and so much interruption that many speeches had to be dropped; the manager came onstage to calm the uproar, and Kean himself offered to withdraw (to cries of ‘No!, No!’).

By the time of Delacroix’s visit the scandal had abated somewhat, but Kean continued to have a highly emotional relationship with his audience: the Richard III that Delacroix attended was the Kean’s first appearance after a long absence and the papers report the rapturous applause and cries of appreciation that, in the curtain calls, kept him from being heard. Of his Othello on the 25th the Theatrical Observer gushed, ‘There is a grandeur of conception, a boldness of execution, and an overpowering reality of tenderness which we are quite unable to withstand’ (27 June). Kean’s acting itself had an electrifying, terror-inspiring quality such as Delacroix had never previously seen. 

MH fig. 7 Kean as Shylock BM
Henry Meyer after Walter Henry Watts, Kean in the character of Shylock, mezzotint, 1814.  © The Trustees of the British Museum (Creative Commons license)

The London plays seem to have led Delacroix immediately to some first attempts at Shakespearean subjects: in addition to the Shylock drawing and the Macbeth lithograph, he painted a Desdemona and Emilia based on Othello.

In the following years, he painted over 30 works on episodes from Shakespeare, notably from Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Macbeth.  He also produced an important series of lithographs from Hamlet (1843) of which the British Library has a full set of the second edition (Paris, 1864; 1872.c.28). 

Michèle Hannoosh, University of Michigan


Eugène Delacroix, Lettres intimes, ed. Alfred Dupont (Paris, 1995). YA.1995.a.23416

Eugène Delacroix, Journal, ed. Michèle Hannoosh (Paris, 2009). YF 2009.a.27250


20 July 2016

‘The best of these was Derzhavin…’: Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin (1743-1816)

In 1924, introducing the first Oxford Book of Russian Verse (Oxford, 1924; 011586.f.70), the British travel writer, wit and man of letters Maurice Baring noted that the first author represented in it was Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin. Like Baring, Derzhavin had had a distinguished military career (he had won renown while serving in Catherine the Great’s army during the Pugachev rebellion), but was also a man of wide cultural interests, well-read and fluent in French. It was this which caused Baring to describe him as ‘a master of the French classical manner, in whose work the elements of real poetical beauty entitle him to be called the first Russian poet’. True, poets had begun to emerge in Russia as French literary influences spread during the reign of the enlightened Empress, but none equalled his gifts, leading Baring to remark that ‘the best of these was Derzhavin’. In selecting and editing the poems for the first anthology to make Russian verse available in the original to a wider public, Baring considered that Derzhavin represented the true beginning of the country’s poetic tradition.

Derzhavin Portrait
Title-page with portrait from G.R. Derzhavin Sochineniia (St Petersburg, 1851)

Although Derzhavin’s family claimed descent from Morza Bagrim, a member of the Golden Horde  who settled in Moscow in the 15th century, accepted baptism and became a vassal of Grand Prince Vasilii II, his own circumstances were comparatively humble. He was born in Kazan on 14 July 1743 to a father who was little more than a modest country landowner, and who died before Gavrila grew up. Educated at the Kazan gymnasium, he served as a private in the army but rose through the ranks to achieve a still more distinguished career in the civil service, appointed as Governor of Olonets and of Tambov, personal secretary to Catherine the Great, and finally Minister of Justice (1802) in the government of Alexander I.

Derzhavin Sochineniya 1509-3064
Title page from an early edition of Derzhavin’s works (St Petersburg, 1808) 1509/3064

When dismissed from this post the following year (he opposed the new Tsar’s liberal views), he was able to retire to his estate at Zvanka near Novgorod and devote himself to literature. He also had an establishment on the banks of the Fontanka in St. Petersburg where he hosted meetings of the Lovers of the Russian Word (Beseda liubitelei russkogo slova), a conservative literary society which met from 1811 and (ironically in view of major influences on Derzhavin’s work) attempted to cleanse the Russian language of Gallicisms and promote folk traditions and Old Church Slavonic as a more acceptable foundation for national culture.

Derzhavin Irod 1609-4532.
Title page of Derzhavin’s play Irod i Mariamna (St. Petersburg, 1809) 1609/4532

The reasons for the society’s opposition to French influences were entirely comprehensible in view of the turbulent political climate of the times; indeed, one of Derzhavin’s most celebrated odes was a ‘lyric-epic hymn’ on the driving of the French from Russia in 1812 (St. Petersburg, 1813; 1601/452. (2.)). However, the influence of the classical drama of Racine and Corneille persisted in his five-act tragedy Irod i  Mariamna (‘Herod and Mariamne’) , although the Anacreontic verses which he had penned earlier, are part of a tradition found in other areas of European literature, notably in German, at that time.

  Derzhavin Anacreontics 1160.k.11
Title-page of Derzhavin’s anacreontic poems, Anakreonticheskiia piesni (St Petersburg, 1804; 1160.k.11)

Derzhavin’s work was soon translated; in 1793 August von Kotzebue  published a German translation of his poems in Leipzig (, and the British Library also holds a Latin version of his hymn to the Deity: De Deo. Carmen Rossiacum illustris Derzavini Latinis elegis explicuit Stanislaus Czerski (Vilnius, 1819; 11426.ccc.17. (6.)). It also possesses a translation of the same ode ‘translated from the Russian of Derzhazin [sic]’. It appears in an album compiled by Sir John Bowring, a scholar and diplomat with an interest in Slavonic languages and literature, and is described as ‘Printed for Mr. W. Stokes, teacher of memory. For the use of his pupils’.

Derzhavin Ode 1872.a.1
Derzhavin, Ode to the Deity, translated by Sir John Bowring (London, [1861]) 1872.a.1(77)

Derzhavin’s own memory, though honoured in his native country, has not fared so well outside it. After his death on 20 July 1816, the literary society which he had done so much to foster was dissolved, although it was resuscitated in the 1850s, and for modern readers Opinion, the anti-Semitic tract which he wrote when commissioned by Tsar Paul to investigate famines in Belorussia, makes unpalatable reading with its proposals to deny autonomy to Jewish communities in the Russian empire and enforce their resettlement in colonies on the Black Sea. As an innovator, though, his use of broken rhythms would prove to be a powerful influence on subsequent writers of Russian verse, and he did much to promote awareness of the potential of the Russian language as a rich literary medium and ensure its place in the world of European literature, despite his prophetic view that although French was a language of harmony, Russian was one of conflict.

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