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Exploring Europe at the British Library


Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

16 April 2014

Crime Scene Investigation: Dateline Seville 1776

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The success of the US TV show ‘Crime Scene Investigation’, telling the exploits of a super-cool team of forensic scientists, has had the happy consequence of encouraging applications to study science at university. On the down side, juries in America are now asked to state whether they watch the series, as it has led to unrealistically high expectations of what information CSI technology can actually retrieve.

In modern Spain, the Civil Guard, once described by Lorca as having souls of patent leather (to match their helmets: ‘Con el alma de charol vienen por la carretera …’, Romance de la Guardia Civil), has moved with the democratic and technocratic times, and CSI is handled by a department of the Civil Guard, the Servicio de Criminalística.

In earlier days, when CSI was in its infancy, the best an officer investigating (for example) a case of lycanthropy could hope for was that the werewolf, once returned to human form, would retain injuries sustained while in canine state.

By the eighteenth century, science had moved on, as witness this item:

Discurso medico de las señales que distinguen al Hombre verdadero Ahogado del Sumergido en las Aguas despues de muerto; y modo mas verosimil de encontrar el motivo de su muerte. Con algunas advertencias en favor de los que pueden ser socorridos: sacadas de los mejores Autores. Por D. Christoval Nieto de Piña  ... (Seville, 1776.)  [Medical discourse on the signs which distinguish the true drowned man from the man submerged in water after death; and the most convincing method of finding the cause of death. With some notes in the cause of those who can be revived, taken out of the best authors.] British Library shelfmark RB.23.a.34568.

You probably don’t need telling that the key is the presence or absence of water in the lungs.

Nieto de Piña (1717-post 1790), of the Royal Medical Society of Seville, is known for opposing the new science of inoculation, advocating isolation hospitals instead. He also wrote in 1788 an article on the dangers of keeping liquours in lead containers. And another of his publications was again on a forensic topic: Instruccion medica para discernir, si el feto muerto, lo ha sido dentro, o fuera, del utero (Seville, 1781) [Medical instruction to determine whether a dead foetus has died in or out of the womb].

And finally. Please note: the ‘blood stain’ on the wrapper of our copy, affecting the title page, was there when we bought it. But we’re working on it ...

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies

Discurso medico open (BT)
Nieto de Piña's Discurso medico... With bloodstain?


14 April 2014

ELN and the red shoes

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In a guest post for European Literature Night 2014, ELN’S presenter and chair of the judges, the journalist Rosie Goldsmith, recalls its birth 6 years ago.

It’s not that I’m possessive or anything but I do feel a sense of ownership – and motherly pride! - as far as European Literature Night  is concerned. I was there at its birth, witnessed its first faltering baby steps and am now watching it walk tall.  From the day it was born, in May 2009 in the Conference Centre of the British Library, ELN has been an unmissable annual event and has nurtured a community of people who love good European literature in English. ELN is today a focal point for writers, translators, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and cultural organizations who know that without ELN we would be missing out on some of the best writing from our European continent. (Yes, the UK is part of Europe!)

Dear ELN, you know how parents often embarrass their children by saying, ‘I remember when you were born…’? Well, here goes:

‘Dear ELN, you’ve had a big devoted family with you from the day you were born. There’s your godfather Jeremy O’Sullivan, Cultural Attaché European Commission Representation in the UK; godmother Janet Zmroczek, Head of European Studies at the British Library, and Jon Fawcett, BL’s Senior Events Officer (the world’s best ever time-keeper); ELN London’s founding father, the Director of the Czech Centre Ladislav Pflimpfl (winner of the best un-prononceable ELN name), and from the start, always there to hold your hand, Renata Clark of the Czech Centre and all your very generous uncles and aunts from the British Council and Arts Council England. Without them you wouldn’t be who you are today.

‘Dear ELN, I can’t quite remember how I got involved – something to do with the BBC and red shoes? - but I was thrust out on stage every year to interview all your famous friends. Then, as news of your good behaviour spread, we enlisted the expertise of Daniel Hahn from the British Centre for Literary Translation and Rachel Cooke of The Observer newspaper (to assist with your development) and Sarah Sanders and Sharmilla Beezmohun of Speaking Volumes Live Literature Productions to – how shall I put it? – knock you into shape. Your family has grown.  Your admirers have grown. You are a 6 year old prodigy. Today everybody wants to know you, to be in your gang.’

Ok, the red shoes; the BBC: an explanation. I’d been a presenter and producer on BBC Radio 4 for 20 years. I love the BBC, I really do (travelled the world; presented flagship programmes like Front Row, Open Book, Crossing Continents and A World In Your Ear), but I wanted more. Maybe it was greed? Global domination? I was angry. Angry about the neglect of foreign fiction in the UK. I’d already reported on revolutions across Germany and Eastern Europe. It was clear to me that we needed another revolution, to improve the standing of quality international fiction in the UK. Also, at the BBC, I had a serious problem: I love red shoes and red lipstick and they just didn’t work on radio (I tried). So, ELN and the British Library gave me a home. 
Rosie's Chairing Essentials
ELN chairing essentials: red shoes and handbag

2009, Year One, was a blur. Did I interview ten authors without a break? Was it eight? Was that possible? Were there ten readings? I recall that the French spoke in French (in spite of strict instructions) and the Romanians read out a whole 25-minute short story (although, read by the brilliant Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca and written by Nobel Prize-touted Mircea Cărtărescu, we forgave them). ‘Marathon’ was the word. Poor Jon Fawcett was having kittens.

But call me ‘bohemian’ (please do!), I still love the literary-salon-like marathon-madness of European Literature Night. And for this our 6th year, if I say so myself, we happy band of judges have chosen six truly major league literary players from across the continent. To be on stage interviewing stars like Julia Franck (Germany), Antoine Laurain (France), Diego Marani (Italy), Witold Szablowski (Poland), Jonas T. Bengtsson (Denmark) and Dimitri Verhulst (Belgium) is my idea of literary heaven.

As chair of the ELN judges, event presenter and curator (until Sarah and Sharmilla came along and rescued me), I’m extremely aware of how important ELN is, but also how we need to continue to support our precious prodigy. Sadly, there’s still huge ignorance and hostility towards international arts and literature in the playground of our national life.

2014 will be an ELN-year-to-remember. Each of our fabulous authors is famous ‘back home’ and I vow will wow Britain too - or I’ll eat my red shoes!

You can find more blog posts by Rosie Goldsmith about European literature at

Euro Lit Night 2013 interview
Rosie Goldsmith interviewing Catalan author Jordi Punti at European Literature Night 2013

11 April 2014

‘Schirmer’s Children’: a German theatre troop

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 On 30 September 1806 the German printer Johann Benjamin Gottlieb Vogel (d. 1832) in Poland Street, Oxford Street, printed a ‘Plan for a subscription for a choice manuscript collection of music: containing the most celebrated compositions of the first masters on the continent, arranged and partly originally composed for the piano-forte or the harp, by Mr. Wœlfl’. Behind this initiative stood one Friedrich Schirmer, who, we are informed, ‘intends, before his return to Germany, a periodical publication of a choice manuscript collection of the best modern German music’.

Schirmer's MS collection
The first issue of Schirmer’s choice manuscript collection of music (London, 1806) British Library f.65.s.

Only two issues of the arrangements by Joseph Wölfl (1773-1812) saw the light of day, but Schirmer had already made his mark the previous year: as the Plan points out, he was ‘late proprietor and manager of the German Theatre in London’ - surely the first such initiative in the British capital.

Schirmer, who had arrived in England in 1804, had obtained a licence to present a season of ‘musical and dramatical interludes in the German language’ under the name ‘German Theatre’ to start on 22 June 1805 at the Sans Souci Theatre off Leicester Fields. The core of Schirmer’s troupe comprised members of his own family, including his wife, daughter and son. Shortly after the opening, ‘Schirmer’s Children’ (‘die Schirmerschen Kinder’) gave a command performance for the court at Windsor (Frogmore), where they performed the operetta Unschuld und Liebe, oder das geraubte Lämmchen (‘Innocence and love, or the stolen lamb’) with music apparently adapted from a score by Johann Adam Hiller (1728-1804). They were, by all accounts, a success.

The opening of a German-speaking theatre in London is the subject of a number of rather breathless reports by the London-based German journalist J. C. Hüttner. English reviews of their performances suggested that all but Schirmer’s daughter were talented singers. A review of the comic opera Die drei Freier (‘The three suitors’) remarked that Miss Schirmer has a ‘good figure, but sings ill [...] the rest all sang well & they keep time most inimitably’. Schirmer’s season continued for about a year, a not unrespectable period for a foreign-language music theatre troop with a limited repertoire.

Most of the pieces performed by Schirmer’s Children were printed for sale during the performances, though very few copies have survived. We are lucky to have a copy in the British Library of The three suitors, or like loves like. A musical farce, in one act (some of it on blue paper). This was printed by Vogel ‘and sold at the playhouse, Leicester Place, Leicester Square’ in 1805.

Drei Freier
Die drei Freier ; oder, Gleich und Gleich gesellt sich gern ... = The three suitors, or, Like loves Like. ... 
(London, 1805). 1343.d.10.

Graham Jefcoate, Nijmegen/Chiang Mai


J. C. Hüttner, London und Paris, (Weimar, 1798- ) vol. 16, 1805, pp. 3-12. P.P.4689.

Michael Kassler, The music trade in Georgian England.  (Aldershot, 2011), pp 460, 485.   YC.2011.a.10792

Frederick Burwick, Playing to the crowd: London popular theatre, 1780-1830. (Basingstoke, 2011), p. 21.  YC.2012.a.21614