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01 December 2015

Two bad boys, seven pranks and one children’s classic

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The British Library is currently marking the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland with an exhibition, but Alice is not the only children’s classic to turn 150 this year. In Germany the focus has been on Wilhelm Busch’s much-loved Max und Moritz. Busch published a number of illustrated, rhymed tales in the course of his career, but this was the most successful and enduring.

The story tells how bad boys Max and Moritz terrorise their small village with seven ‘pranks’. First they kill Widow Bolte’s chickens, and when the widow tries to make the best of things by roasting the birds, the boys’ second prank is to steal them from the oven.

 Witwe Bolte
Widow Bolte mourns her chickens (above) and the boys steal the roasting birds (below). From Wilhelm Busch, Max und Moritz: eine Bubengeschichte in sieben Streichen (Munich, [1930]) British Library 011528.m.97.

  Witwe Bolte cooking

Next they lure the local tailor onto a bridge which they have sawn through so that he falls into the stream:

Schneider Böck


For two such bad boys a teacher is an obvious target, and in the fourth prank they fill schoolmaster Lämpel’s pipe with gunpowder:

Lehrer Lämpel

Prank five is tame by comparison: they put cockchafers in Uncle Fritz’s bed:

Onkel Fritz


Things start to go wrong in prank six, when the boys try to steal from a bakery. They fall into the dough and are baked themselves, but miraculously survive and eat their way out of their crusts:


However, their seventh prank is their last: they cut holes in a farmer’s grain sacks, but the farmer catches them and takes the boys to the mill instead of his spilt grain. There they are ground into meal and eaten by the miller’s geese:

The End

And nobody in the village is sorry.

Busch tells his story in lively and witty verses, accompanied by his own illustrations. Like Heinrich Hoffmann’s earlier Struwwelpeter, the book can be seen as a forerunner of the modern comic strip – something borne out in the case of Max und Moritz by the fact that the early American cartoon strip The Katzenjammer Kids was inspired at least in part by Busch’s story and characters.

After a slow initial reception, Max und Moritz soon became established as a classic in Germany. The stories, and in particularly their illustrations, are still much reproduced and instantly recognisable. There have also been many parodies and imitations of the work, the latter including a ‘Max und Moritz for girls’ by Wilhelm Herbert entitled Maus und Molli, first published in 1925. This has been reissued for the anniversary of the original, attracting a review in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, cleverly written with the same metre and rhymes as Busch’s and Herbert’s stories.

Maus und Molli
An advertisement for Maus und Molli from the 1930 edition of Max und Moritz

An English translation first appeared 1871, and while Max und Moritz never became as popular with British audiences as Struwwelpeter and is currently out of print in the UK, there were a number of English translations, including one by Arundell Esdaile, more famous as a bibliographer, librarian and historian of the British Museum Library (sadly, alone among translators, Esdaile drops the trochaic tetrameter form which gives the original verses much of their vivacity). The British Library also holds two translations into Scots dialects, where the heroes become ‘Dod and Davie’ or ‘Jarm an Jeemsie’.

Esdaile translation cover
The cover of Arundell Esdaile’s English translation (London, [1913]) 11650.i.43.’

Indeed, translations of the book into local dialects and smaller or ancient languages seem surprisingly common. As with several children’s classics (including Struwwelpeter and Alice) there have been various Latin versions. The British Library holds a Yiddish version (Shmul und Shmerke), and a study published in 1997 lists over a hundred versions in various German dialects, although some were published in, and perhaps written for, specific anthologies of such translations. There seem to be plenty of academic linguists who are Busch enthusiasts, most notably Manfred Görlach who edited The True Story of Max und Moritz, a clever pastiche of philological studies which traces the ‘textual tradition’ of the story back to ancient Egypt and includes versions in early languages including Gothic, Anglo-Saxon and Old English.

Translations of Max und Moritz into Yiddish, Latin and Scots dialect

Max und Moritz may not mean much to a British audience in its centenary year, but it is certainly not forgotten in Germany, and for the curious Anglophone reader, it is worth taking a look at a translation to find out why the Germans still enjoy this tale of boys behiving badly.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/further reading

Wilhelm Busch, Max und Moritz polyglott (Munich, 1994) YA.1998.a.2931. [The original text with English, French, Spanish, Italian and Latin translations]

Wilhlem Busch, Dod and Davie, translated by J.K. Annand (Edinburgh, 1986) YC.1986.a.409.

Wilhlem Busch, Jarm an Jeemsie. A tale o twa reebalds in seven pairts, owreset ta Shetlandic bi Derick Herning (Lerwick, 1984) YK.1994.a.1497

Wilhelm Busch, Max und Moritz auf jiddisch : eine Bubengeschichte in sieben Streichen = Shmul un Shmerke : a Mayse mit Vayse-Khevrenikes in Zibn Shpitslekh, ibergezetst fun daytsh durkh Shmoyl Naydorf un Leye Robinson ; aroysgegebn fun Walter Sauer. (Nidderau, 2000) YF.2009.a.21510

Manfred Görlach, Max und Moritz in aller Munde: Wandlungen eines Kinderbuches : eine Ausstellung in der Universitäts- und Stadtbibliothek Köln, 27. Juni-30. September 1997 (Cologne, 1997) YA.2000.a.19624

The true story of Max and Moritz: ancient and medieval texts before W. Busch, very critically edited by Manfred Görlach ; with contributions by Walter Arndt ... [et al.] (Cologne, 1997) YA.2002.a.4065.

27 November 2015

A tale of two Françoises: Madame de Maintenon (1635-1719)

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When little Françoise d’Aubigné came into the world on 27 November 1635, her future seemed unlikely to be dazzling. True, her paternal grandfather was the distinguished Huguenot poet and patriot Agrippa d’Aubigné, but his son Constant had proved a sore disappointment, and had ended up in prison for conspiring against Cardinal Richelieu. He had married the prison governor’s daughter Jeanne de Cardilhac with suspicious haste; Françoise was their last child, following two older brothers. At the time of her birth Constant was still in prison at Niort, and according to some sources she was actually born within the prison walls.

Even after Constant’s release in 1639, his profligacy made the family’s fortunes unstable, and in an attempt to restore them he swept his wife and children off to Martinique, hoping for a lucrative position in France’s Caribbean colonies. The venture foundered, their house burnt down, and Jeanne returned to France with her children in 1647 in such poverty that the two youngest were reduced to begging.  Shortly afterwards Constant died, and Françoise and her brothers Constant and Charles were taken into the home of their Huguenot aunt and uncle Louise and Benjamin de la Villette. This happy interlude ended abruptly when the family of Françoise’s godmother Suzanne de Neuillant insisted that she should be raised in the Catholic faith of her baptism and educated in a convent.

However, Madame de Neuillant introduced Françoise to a wider social circle in Paris and brokered a marriage for her with the celebrated author and satirist Paul Scarron. The bride was 15 and her bridegroom 25 years older, but despite this, and the fact that he was grotesquely crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, their shared literary interests made for a stable marriage in which she nursed him until his death in 1652. His pension was continued by Anne of Austria, enabling Françoise to remain in the intellectual world of Paris, but when Louis XIV rescinded it in 1666 she was preparing to set out for Lisbon in the retinue of the new Queen of Portugal when she was saved by an unlikely new friendship.

  Maintenon, Pierre Mignard portrait (1694)Portrait of Françoise d'Aubigné, marquise de Maintenon (1698), by Pierre Mignard (From Wikimedia Commons)

Françoise Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart, marquise of Montespan, had been a lady-in-waiting before catching the eye of Louis XIV and displacing Louise de la Vallière as his official mistress. She had dropped her homely Christian name in favour of the more ambitious Athénaïs as a member of the intellectual précieuses, and in these circles met Françoise, took a liking to her, and persuaded Louis to restore her pension. As the relationship with the king bore fruit,  ‘la veuve Scarron’ was appointed to care for the growing brood of illegitimate royal children in a house in the Rue de Vaugirard. Discretion was taken to such extremes that even essential workmen were rarely admitted, and the practical Françoise found herself hanging pictures and curtains and even turning her hand to plumbing when a leak threatened to flood the house.

However, not only constant child-bearing but an excessive fondness for the pleasures of the table (both feasting and gaming) and the bottle would prove the downfall of Athénaïs. Jean Teulé’s lively novel Le Montespan (English translation Monsieur Montespan: London, 2010; H.2012/.5122) vividly depicts her taste for fine clothing, her audacious hairstyle, and her capricious nature, which the king found increasingly wearing. Allegations that she was involved in the Affair of the Poisons  did nothing to help her cause, and in 1691 she retired to a convent.

Meanwhile Françoise had become governess to the royal children at Saint-Germain following their legitimation in 1673, and was rewarded by the king with the wherewithal to buy an estate at Maintenon the following year. In 1675 she was granted the title of Marquise de Maintenon, by which she is generally known. Louis appreciated her serene and steadfast temperament, and by the late 1670s had grown to enjoy her witty and well-informed conversation more and more. His Queen, Marie-Thérèse, also benefited from the calmer atmosphere at court following Madame de Montespan’s departure in 1680.

Inevitably detractors were eager to attach scandal to the Marquise’s name, and anonymous satires appeared, including La Cassette ouverte de l’illustre Criole, ou les Amours de Madame de Maintenon (1694; 1480.a.6.(1.), possibly by Pierre Le Noble, and Scarron aparu à Madame de Maintenon et les reproches qu’il lui fait sur ses amours avec Louis le Grand, in which the ghost of Scarron materializes to upbraid his widow for her unseemly familiarity with the king.

Maintenon Scarron aparu
Scarron aparu à Madame de Maintenon et les reproches qu’il lui fait sur ses amours avec Louis le Grand (Cologne, 1694) 8005.a.37.

By this time, though, Louis had legitimized not only his children but his relationship with their former governess. Not long after the death of the Queen in 1683, he married Madame de Maintenon in a private ceremony conducted at midnight by the Archbishop of Paris. Their unequal rank meant that the marriage could only be morganatic and was never officially announced, but it provided both, now well into their forties, with an emotional security and true companionship hitherto lacking in their lives. Her lack of a formal position as queen made her more approachable, and she exerted a considerable and largely benign influence on Louis, who admired her good judgment and shared her religious as well as her cultural interests. Among devotional works dedicated to her, the British Library holds the anonymous Réflections sur quelques parolles de Jésus-Christ.

Maintenon, Reflections
Réflections sur quelques parolles de Jésus-Christ... (Paris, 167?)  RB.23.a.36014

Notable among her enterprises was the school for impoverished girls of noble birth which Madame de Maintenon founded at Saint-Cyr. Planning a theatrical performance by the pupils, she commissioned Jean Racine to write two plays on edifying themes, Esther and Athalie, for them with great success, though not surprisingly there were those who insinuated that the first suggested the rivalry between Mesdames de Maintenon and Montespan in the virtuous Esther’s displacement of the scheming Queen Vashti. Her experience as a royal governess equipped her ideally for her work with her young protégées, who regarded her with great affection. When Louis died in 1715, she retired to Saint-Cyr, where she died in 1719 and was buried in its chapel. In an age whose pursuit of celebrity cults rivals that of the 21st century, her discretion, resourcefulness, wit and tact prevailed over more obvious attractions, and have much to teach us today.

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

25 November 2015

Wojtek, the soldier bear from the Polish Army

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On 7th November an unusual ceremony took place in Edinburgh: a monument to a soldier bear was unveiled to hundreds of people gathered in the middle of town. The statue had been commissioned by the Wojtek Memorial Trust, an organisation set up in 2008 by Aileen Orr. She is also the author of the book Wojtek the Bear: Polish war hero (Edinburgh, 2010; British Library YC.2011.a.10359), which makes a good read.

The story of the brave soldier bear started in Persia (today’s Iran) in 1942. Found in the mountains as an orphaned cub, he was sold to Polish soldiers for a few cans of corned beef. The Polish Army, newly formed in the USSR under General Władysław Anders, was on its way through Persia to Palestine.  Corporal Piotr Prendysz was appointed as the cub’s guardian, and the bear was given the name Wojtek (Voytek) meaning “joyful warrior”. The legend has it that Wojtek was enlisted as a soldier with the rank of Private and his pay was double food rations. In fact, he was adopted by the soldiers of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the 2nd Polish Corps and became their mascot.

Wojtek 1
Wojtek in Iraq, 1942. Courtesy of the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum.

Initially Wojtek was fed with diluted condensed milk via an old vodka bottle. He quickly grew huge, weighing 250 kg and measuring almost two metres in length. He loved beer and cigarettes, eating instead of smoking the latter.  His favourite game was wrestling with his fellow soldiers, but due to his gentle nature he never hurt anybody.  He liked human company so much that at night he often slipped into tents and slept beside his mates’ beds. Wojtek soon became the soldiers’ best friend. Although he settled well into army routine his record of acts of mischief was steadily growing.  In a large Allied forces’ military camp in Iraq Wojtek stole a washing line of women soldiers’ underwear to the horror of the terrified women.  On Christmas Eve after a traditional Polish feast he made his way to the camp food store. In search of his favourite jams and fruits he devastated the place. Spilled cooking-oil was mixed with flour, grain and other foods on the floor.  However, in June 1943, in an attempt to commit another crime, he captured an Arab spy. Wojtek was barred from taking his much-loved showers due to the shortage of water, a precious commodity in the Middle East. The door of the bath house was locked but he would hang around outside.  On this day he spotted the unlocked shower door, and upon entering he found a man hiding in the showers whose screams alerted the camp guards.

Wojtek 2
Wojtek wrestling his comrade. Courtesy of the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum

In 1944 the Polish Corps was transferred from Egypt to Italy to fight in the Italian campaign with the British forces. To embark on the ship Wojtek needed a special permit. Convinced by the argument that he contributed hugely to strengthening the fighting spirit of the soldiers, the British authorities approved his travel warrant just in time for him to join the Company on their voyage to Italy. However, the height of his fame came during the Battle of Monte Cassino in May 1944. Wojtek helped his comrades carry artillery shells to the front line. He watched what the soldiers were doing and stood upright with his front paws outstretched, indicating his intentions.  He carried the large boxes of ammunition from the supply lorries to the artillery positions even under heavy cannon fire.  After the battle Wojtek featured on the 22nd Company logo showing a bear carrying a shell. The Company fought in the battle of Bologna in April 1945, the last combat in the Italian campaign.  A year later they finally sailed for Glasgow and this time Wojtek was officially on the passenger list.

Wojtek 3
A happy Wojtek, Italy, October 1944. Courtesy of the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum

Wojtek had spent one year at Winfield Camp in Scotland together with his mates before the company was demobbed, and was  then transferred to Edinburgh Zoo in 1947. Though he was the main attraction for numerous visitors to the zoo he greatly missed his comrades in arms and always reacted joyfully to the Polish language. He died there peacefully in November 1963.

  Wojtek 4Wojtek’ statue in the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum. Courtesy of the PISM.

Magda Szkuta, Curator East & SE European Collections

References/Further reading

Wieslaw A. Lasocki, Wojtek spod Monte Cassino (London, 1968). X.631/769

Geoffrey Morgan and W.A. Lasocki, Soldier Bear (London, 1970). X.809/8265

Krystyna Mikula-Deegan, Private Wojtek – soldier bear (Kibworth, 2011). H.201/6712

Wojtek album (London, 2013) LC.37.a.1031