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28 August 2015

Poet in a landscape: the drawings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was born on 28 August 1749, is best known as Germany’s ‘national poet’, but he was a man of many parts. Among his various talents and interests, he was a keen amateur artist. Some 2,600 of his drawings survive, many from his Italian journey in the late 1780s. Goethe himself claimed that that he realised during these travels in Italy that he had ‘no talent for visual art’, but he continued to draw throughout his life, especially landscapes.

The British Library’s Stefan Zweig collection includes three such drawings. The first, Zweig MS 154 (below), depicts the Kammerberg near Eger (modern-day Cheb): there is a rocky hillside with a winding path leading up to a small building, perhaps an observatory, which stands on its summit.  Towards the bottom right hand corner two sketchily drawn figures can be seen, apparently working at the edge of a quarry sketched in such a way as to indicate the geological features of the terrain.


The drawing was made during Goethe’s first visit to the Eger region in 1808, an area that he visited 19 times in all.  Having a lifelong interest in geology and geological formations, he was particularly moved to investigate the historical origins of the Kammerberg (now known to be an extinct prehistoric volcano), tending at first to subscribe to the Vulcanist theory that the source of rocks was igneous, but later lending his support to the Neptunist theory of aqueous origins.  He spent his time there collecting samples, making close observations, writing descriptions and making drawings. 

The other two drawings, Zweig MS 217, are mounted back to back in a frame. One depicts castle ruins in a hilly setting with the sharp bend of a river in the foreground;  the other, slightly smaller, shows a river with partially wooded banks winding through an undulating landscape. These views have never been formally identified, but it seems very likely that they are taken from the countryside near Jena, a town for which Goethe had a special affection, regarding it almost as his second home. After his first visit in 1775 he became a frequent visitor, and over the course of his life the sum total of time that he spent there amounted to something like five years. 


The river landscape in the smaller drawing (above) seems to bear quite a strong resemblance to the valley of the Saale, while the ruined castle in the larger drawing (below) may perhaps be the Lobdeburg, a 12th-century fortress above Jena whose medieval owners were credited with founding the town, and which fell into decay around the end of the 16th century. For many years Goethe was accustomed to stay with his friends, the Ziegesar family, in Drackendorf, an area of Jena just below the Lobdeburg, and the ruins were a favourite destination for walks with the young daughter of the house, Sylvie von Ziegesar, one walk in particular delighting him so much that he celebrated by composing the poem ‘Bergschloss’  in 1802.


The dimensions of the two landscapes suggest that one or both of the drawings could have been intended for an album, perhaps Goethe’s  ‘Rotes Reisebüchlein’, an album made in 1808 for 18-year old Wilhelmine Herzlieb, one of the many young women who attracted him and on whom he is said to have modelled the character of Ottilie in his novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften.  

These represent three of the seven Goethe drawings owned by Zweig at various stages of his collecting career, and are the only three of the seven known to be in a public collection. Thanks to the recent digitisation of the literary manuscripts from the Zweig collection, they will soon be available to view via the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts catalogue.

Pamela Porter, Former Curator of Manuscripts

26 August 2015

Mystic musings and Thomas Cook: Esper Ukhtomskii in the Orient

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August 26th is the anniversary of the birth of Esper Esperovich Ukhtomskii, Russian orientalist scholar, collector, journalist and poet. His most famous and lasting work is Puteshevestvie na vostok Ego Imperatorskogo Vysochestva Gosudaria Naslednika Tsesarevicha, 1890-1891, highly competently translated into English as Travels in the East of Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia when Cesarewitch, 1890-1891.

Portentous title apart, the book is readable and beautifully written, a cross between a lush evocation of tropical travel and a manifesto for his pupil, the young Nicholas II. Ukhtomskii accompanied Nicholas on his educational “grand tour” as an informal tutor, and the book expounded both foreign and domestic policy. Ukhtomskii was as convinced as Nicholas was that Russia could only thrive under the Tsar’s autocratic rule, and both men believed that this gave their country a mystical link to Asia. “[Russians have] a totally different character from the spirit of the average modern European, stifled as it is by rational materialism,” Ukhtomskii writes. “Countless times has Asia flooded Russia with her hordes, crushed her with her attack, transforming her into something akin to Persia and Turkestan, India and China. To the present day, beyond the Caspian, the Altai Mountains and Lake Baikal, we cannot find a clearly defined border … beyond which our rightful land ceases to be.”

PamiatPamiat Azova, the Russian cruiser which carried the imperial party from destination to destination

His “Asianist” views coloured his perception of every country they visited. The party passed through Greece before setting sail for North Africa, and Ukhtomskii was notably unimpressed by the remains of classical civilization: “our imagination still sleeps. It does not see the majesty of bygone days, nor has the dry list of ancient names anything to say to it.” His ennui was probably at least in part because he did not think that Russia had any classical roots.

In British-run Egypt, he sat on the deck of their Nile cruiser dreaming of “hundreds of ships, bearing to Thebes the treasures of the south and of the east” - only to be rudely interrupted by “the unsightly outline of one of [Thomas] Cook’s narrow two-storied steamers, bearing a party of foreign tourists, who with feverish haste attempt to ‘do’ Upper Egypt.” Herein lies an irony, for Ukhtomskii’s own lush writings are quite similar to the guidebooks that the other foreign tourists consulted as they swarmed the decks of Cook’s steamers and rode donkeys into the desert in search of ruined temples. All are preoccupied with oldness and exoticism, with colours and smells; all talk nostalgically, as visitors have done since the dawn of time, of the days when sites were less crowded and true travellers not forced to share their holidays with groups of ignorant trippers!

PyramidNicholas’s party climb the pyramids at Giza, where, like many less exalted tourists, they scratched their names

In India, where he was closely watched by a British agent, Ukhtomskii dismissed “the supposed brotherhood between the Anglo-Saxon and the Aryan race of India,” as “no more than a sentimental fiction,” before claiming that Russia’s village communes were remarkably like India’s. Yet, just like other mystically-inclined Europeans of his age, he revelled in the mythology of Rajputana, "a civilization which has survived many and many a revolution, retaining the purity of its blood and of its spirit....That real, almost prehistoric India, of which each one of us has had his unconscious daydreams as he read extracts from Ramayana and Mahabharata.”

AlwarThe princely city of Alwar, Rajasthan

As the convoy of ships bearing the imperial party steamed on across the Indian Ocean, he immersed himself in the scenery. “The nights! What words can describe the phosphorescent glow on the stormy horizon. The silver crests of the waves rise with a measured motion out of the impenetrable gloom beneath it; furrows of sparks spread, like a diamond fan, in the wake of the frigate. The whole of the Milky Way seems to be reflected in the mysterious blue depths beneath us and above us, while in the distance the lightnings blaze and flash.”

MathuraThe ancient Indian city of Mathura, birthplace of Krishna

Ukhtomksii most enjoyed the countries which were not under colonial rule, notably Siam. In China, he was saddened by the degeneration of the great civilization, but heartened to think that the Mongols provided a cultural and religious link between Russia and China. Here, he decided (in this nation whose territory happened to be useful to her trans-Siberian railway project!), Russia would play her vital role as the empire which straddled eastern and western civilizations. “Who and what can save China from dismemberment and the foreign yoke? Russia alone, I am inclined to think.”

His view of Japan was less benevolent, and more nuanced than his opinion of some other eastern nations. He found it a country with “a very peculiar past and a very problematic future…a rooted tendency to exalt in their most secret thoughts and feelings their ancient world, while carrying the imitation of contemporary Europe and America to the greatest extremes…despising the stranger in their hearts yet submissively learning of him.”  Nicholas followed an eastward-focused foreign policy in the early part of his reign which would culminate in a disastrous war with this nascent modern power.

SailorsOne of the less formal illustrations: Pamiat Azova’s sailors take a rest from tropical heat 

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager, Metadata Creation Programmes

References/further reading

Ukhtomskii, E. E. Puteshevestvie na vostok Ego Imperatorskogo Vysochestva Gosudaria Naslednika Tsesarevicha, 1890-1891 (St Petersburg, 1893-6). Two copies at 1790.a.11 and X 691

Ukhtomskii, E. E. Travels in the East of Nicholas II., Emperor of Russia, when Cesarewitch, 1890-1891, translated by R. Goodlet (London: 1896-1900).Two copies at Tab.439.a.7. and Wf1/0786


24 August 2015

“No longer a borderland”

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The last chapter of the second edition of Anna Reid’s famous book Borderland. A Journey through the history of Ukraine has the following paragraph:

“The biggest change since I lived in Ukraine is that it now feels like a real country. Though plenty of people would have got cross if you had said so, it used to have something of a make-believe, provisional air. With nearly quarter of a century and two patriotic revolutions under its belt, that has all gone. Ukraine is no longer a borderland. It is its own place and here to stay”.

I would be one of those people who would get cross – as for me,  a Ukrainian, my beloved native country was always a very real one (so real that it is physically painful) and never ever a “Borderland”. The same feeling was shared by Ukrainian chroniclers and historians thorough centuries, yet their works, due to lack of translations and financial reasons, were not widely known. The works of the eminent Ukrainian historian Mykhailo Hrushevsky  are now  available in English translation. The British Library holds his monumental multi-volume work Istoriia Ukrainy-Rusi (History of Ukraine-Rus’; Edmonton, 1997-;  ZD.9.a.1557) translated and published by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies.

                        Hrushevskyi, Mykhailo. Istoriia Ukrainy-Rusy. Tom 1. (Lviv, 1898) Ac.763

For many outsiders the history of Ukraine often appeared merely as an appendix to greater imperial histories or later that of the USSR (often misnamed “Russia”). No wonder that when in 1991 Ukraine emerged as an independent state it came as a shock to some Western scholars. The British historian Andrew Wilson published a book with the telling title The Ukrainians: unexpected nation, which has now been translated into Ukrainian. The observations of travellers and discoverers of Ukraine are very revealing and helpful. Yet Ukraine, which is celebrating its 24th anniversary of its independence in 1991 today, remains Terra Incognita for many people, although a lot was written about its rich history over the centuries in many countries and in various languages and collected in libraries throughout the world.  Type the word “Ukraine” in our catalogue  – and a surprising variety of items will present itself for your research: old maps, books  and pamphlets, musical scores and oral history, journals and newspapers,  microfilms and microfiches,  electronic resources and archived websites.

For many years map enthusiasts delighted to look at the famous 17th-century maps by Sir Guillaume de Beauplan  held in our Map Collections (Maps 39780.(1.); Maps 39780.(2.); Maps K.Top.110.73.) and read his  Description d’Ukranie, qui sont plusieurs provinces du Royaume de Pologne; contenuës depuis les confins de la Moscovie jusques aux limites de la Transilvanie; ensemble leurs moeurs, façons de vivre, & de faire la guerre (Rouen, 1660; 1056. l.14.(3)) or its translations into English, Russian and Ukrainian.

BeauplanUkraineGeneral Depiction of the Empty Plains (in Common Parlance, Ukraine) Together with its Neighboring Provinces created 1648 by Beauplan (image from Wikimedia Commons)

 The medieval state of Kievan Rus, Ukraine as part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Cossack state, gradual absorption by the Russian empire, bloody 20th century with two world wars, Holodomor, Holocaust, Stalinist persecutions etc. – all these subjects have been studied by numerous historians, especially in  the last two decades.  Ukraine’s rich history – “one of the bloodiest histories in the world” (in the words of Anna Reid) – inspired many poets, philosophers, writers and composers.  Just check the entries about Ivan Mazeppa in our catalogue. Works by Byron, Victor Hugo, Aleksandr Pushkin, Juliusz Slowacki, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and others who were inspired by some aspects of Mazeppa’s life (or rather legends about him) are an integral part of our collections.

The British Library holds various materials about state-building in Ukraine. Amongst rare editions we have the text of the first Ukrainian Constitution 1710 Pacta  Constitutiones Legum Libertatumque Exercitus Zaporoviensis (Lausanne, 1916; 9454.h.8; pictured above) and books about its author Pylyp Orlyk, 19th-century Geneva editions by political thinker Mykhailo Drahomanov, an early translation of Hrushevsky into English (The Historical Evolution of the Ukrainian Problem, translated by George Raffalovich and published in London in 1915; 9455.bbb.32; pictured below), various publications by the League of Liberation of Ukraine, some of them digitised for Europeana 1914-1918, interwar periodicals (in print and/or on microfilms) published  outside Soviet Ukraine etc.


The most recent history of Ukraine (the Orange Revolution in 2004, Maidan in 2013-2014, the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas) are also represented in numerous articles, books and photo albums published in and outside Ukraine. As Ukraine celebrated its “fragile independence” (the title of a charity photo exhibition soon to be opened in London) it is worth remembering its powerful national anthem Shche ne vmerla Ukraina (Ukraine has not yet died, nor her glory, nor her freedom) and following the developments in Ukraine more closely than ever before. “Ukraine is no longer a borderland. It is its own place, and here to stay”. And ready to be studied more deeply by the younger generation of scholars.

NezalezhnaUkrainaDSC_6812Periodical Nezalezhna Ukraina (Independent Ukraine) Issue 1 November 1928. Published in Geneva by Ukrainskyi Revoliutsiinyi Komitet.  P.P.3554.nx

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Ukrainian studies 

References and further reading

Applebaum, Anne. Between East and West: across the borderlands of Europe (London, 1995). YC.1996.a.2541

IAkovenko, Natalia. Narys istoriï serednʹovichnoï ta rannʹomodernoï Ukraïny (Outline history of medieval and early modern Ukraine) (Kyïv, 2006) YF.2008.a.9009

Polonska-Vasylenko, Natalia. Two conceptions of the history of Ukraine and Russia. London, 1968 X.709/3687

Plokhy, Serhii. Ukraine and Russia: representations of the past (Toronto, c2008). m08/.19199

Plokhy, Serhii. The origins of the Slavic nations: premodern identities in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. (Cambridge, 2006). YC.2007.a.12739 and m06/.33417

Reid, Anna. Borderland. A Journey through the History of Ukraine. (London, 2015). Online resource ELD.DS.12324

Snyder, Timothy. The reconstruction of nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999. (New Haven, Conn.; c2003). YC.2005.a.5172 and m03/22676

Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin. (London, 2010).  YC.2011.a.10280

Yekelchyk, Serhy. Ukraine : birth of a Modern Nation. (New York-Oxford, 2007) YK.2008.a.13391 and m07/.24664

Wilson, Andrew. The Ukrainians: unexpected nation (3rd edition;   New Haven, Conn.; 2009) YC.2010.a.15137