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28 July 2016

Petrus Cuniculus, Noisy-Noisette and Frau Tigge-Winkel: Peter Rabbit’s foreign friends

Of all the fortnightly pieces which Paul Jennings (1918-89) wrote for the Observer between 1949 and 1966, few are funnier than ‘Babel in the Nursery’, collected in Golden Oddlies (London, 1983; X.958/20513). Glancing at the translations of Beatrix Potter’s works listed on the jacket on one of her books, Jennings reflected on the role of translators (‘heroes or fools’) in opening up the ‘transcendentalized English village’ set firmly in the Cumbrian countryside to young readers throughout the world. Even the characters’ names undergo changes which transform their bearers into very different figures: ‘Sophie Canétang , a Stendhal heroine … the awful Mauriac Famille Flopsaut … Noisy-Noisette, the Mata Hari of the twenties, as depicted by Colette … Tom Het Poesje, a kind of Dutch Till Eulenspiegel … Il Coniglio Pierino, the swarthy Sicilian bandit.’

Today, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth, we may well admire the ingenuity of translators in tackling these challenges and giving her works to the children of the world in multilingual versions, many of which appear in the British Library’s catalogues.

Pierre Lapin 12800.a.55
Beatrix Potter, Histoire de Pierre Lapin (London, [1921]) British Library 12800.a.55, Peter Rabbit’s first outing in French

The French translator Victorine Ballon was one of the first to attempt the task of presenting Peter Rabbit in a new guise. Her Histoire de Pierre Lapin was the first of several versions of Potter’s works in French, followed by Histoire de Jeannot Lapin (London, [1921]; 12800.a.56), translated in collaboration with Julienne Profichet, as were Histoire de Poupette-à-l’épingle (London, [1922]; 12800.a.57) and Histoire de Sophie Canétang (London, [1922]; 12800.a.54). While Peter’s cousin Benjamin Bunny was rechristened as the typically French Jeannot, Jemima Puddle-Duck presented more of a problem. Ballon’s clever solution combined ‘caneton’ (duckling) and ‘étang’ (pool), preceded by a first name recalling the French idiom ‘faire sa Sophie’, aptly suggesting the prim old-fashioned airs of Potter’s Jemima.

Tailor of Gloucester French
Beatrix Potter, Le tailleur de Gloucester , translated by Deborah Chataway (London, [1967]) X.998/1267

Young readers in Germany were soon able to enjoy Potter’s tales too with the appearance of Die Geschichte des Peterchen Hase, translated by Clara Röhn and Ethel Talbot Scheffauer (London, [1934]; 12800.a.69.). Before long Peter had been joined by his relatives the Flopsy Bunnies in Die Geschichte der Hasenfamilie Plumps, translated by Hildegarde M. E. Marchant (London, [1948]; 12830.e.15), imagined by Paul Jennings as ‘a lesser version of the Krupp dynasty, an endless succession of stern characters extending the family factories in the Ruhr’. When the same translator set to work on The Tale of Mr. Tod, she found a more straightforward solution, replacing the Cumbrian dialect word for a fox with a name recalling the mediaeval beast epic and Goethe’s Reineke Fuchs in Die Geschichte von Herrn Reineke.

Mr Tod German
Title-page from Beatrix Potter, Die Geschichte von Herrn Reineke (London, 1952) 12830.a.120.

Translations into  Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Swedish also followed, issued, like the French and German ones, by Potter’s London publisher, Frederick Warne. Slavonic languages were slower to follow suit, and none are to be found in the British Library’s holdings, presumably because Warne did not publish any. But alongside the more familiar Western European languages, some surprises can be found. Who, for example, is mevrou Kornelia Kat, sunning herself on the stoep as she waits for her guests to join her for tea? Why, it is none other than Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit, mother of Tom Kitten (now Gertjie Kat – short for Gerhardus) and his sisters Pootjies and Oortjies (Mittens and Moppet), mysteriously transported to the veld in an Afrikaans translation by Louise Promnitz (Cape Town, 1970; X.990/4885). The disobedient kittens come to grief after an encounter with the Puddle-Ducks: ‘meneer Hendrikus Plassie-Eend’, Rebekka and Meraai – Jemima in the South African identity which she retains in her own story, Die Verhaal van Meraai Plassie-Eend, also translated by Promnitz (Cape Town, 1971; X.990/4883). Indeed, some of the earliest translations in the British Library’s collections are those into Afrikaans by Antoinette Elizabeth Carinus-Holzhausen, dating from the 1930s, where Benjamin Bunny features under a new alias in Die Verhaal van Bennie Blinkhaar (Pretoria, 1936; 12800.a.64) and Mrs Tittlemouse in Die Verhaal van Mevrou Piefkyn (Pretoria, [1936]; 12800.a.66). Peter had already pipped them to the post in Die Verhaal van Pieter Konyntjie (London, [1930]; 12800.a.65).

Beatrix Potter Afrikaans
Tom Kitten and Jemima Puddle-Duck in Afrikaans

Closer to home, Welsh-speaking children were able to read the adventures of Jemima Puddle-Duck as Hanes Dili Minllyn, translated by ‘M.E.’ (London, [1925]; 12800.a.61), followed by those of Peter Rabbit, Hanes Pwtan y Wningen (London, [1932]; 12800.a.62), an anonymous translation, and those of his cousin Benjamin Bunny, Hanes Benda Bynni (London, 1930; X.990/5922) by K. Olwen Rees, as well as Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (Hanes Meistres Tigi-Dwt; London, [1932]; 12800.a.63). More recently, just over a century after his first appearance in 1902, Peter Rabbit addressed the world in Scots, courtesy of Lynne McGeachie’s The Tale of Peter Kinnen (London, 2004; YK.2006.a.4550), in which the murderous ‘Maister McGreegor’ finally gets to speak in his own ‘Scots tung’ as he pursues the intruder with a rake, ‘waggin a scartle an roarin oot, “Stop briganner!”’ For those of a scholarly bent, there are even three Latin translations, Fabula Petro Cuniculo (London, 1962; 012845.g.28) by E. Walker and Fabula de Jemima Anate-Aquatica (London, 1965; 12846.t.15) by Jonathan Musgrave, and an anonymous Fabula de Domino Ieremia Piscatore (London, 1978; X.990/10193), where the characters speak in effortlessly Ciceronian language (even Dominus McGregor as he chases Peter with cries of ‘Cessa, fur!’).

Beatrix Potter Scots Welsh Latin
Some of Potter’s characters in (l.-r.) Scots, Welsh and Latin

Though her marriage to William Heelis was childless, Beatrix Potter had a great love of her many young friends and correspondents (several of the books began as illustrated letters), and would no doubt have been delighted that her work was available to readers throughout the world. She never condescended in her use of language or compromised in the artistic quality of her illustrations for children’s books (C.S. Lewis, for example, in his autobiography Surprised by Joy ([London], 1959;, recalled those to The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (London, 1903; Cup.402.a.5) as epitomizing the essence of autumn for him as a boy). On her 150th birthday, she would surely have wished to celebrate the efforts of those who had helped her creations to travel, like Pigling Bland, ‘over the hills and far away’.

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

27 July 2016

Facsimile editions of works by Taras Shevchenko with artistic designs of Volodymyr Yurchyshyn

2016 marks the 155th anniversary of the death of the outstanding Ukrainian writer and artist Taras Shevchenko. The writer’s works published during his life became rare even by the middle of the 19th century, which led to the reproduction of Shevchenko’s original editions as photographic reprints.

Taras Shevchenko. Self-portrait.1847
Shevchenko's self-portrait from 1847 (From Encyclopedia of the life and works of Taras Shevchenko

One of the main sources for the study of Shevchenko’s life and artistic heritage are his manuscript books. Almost all of them, the manuscript series Try lita (‘Three years’), Mala knyzhka (‘The Small Book’), Bil'sha knyzhka (‘The Larger Book’), Shchodennyk (’The Diary’), novels, autograph copies of some poems, letters, and albums, are now kept in the Department of Manuscripts and Textual Criticism of the Shevchenko Institute of Literature of the National Academy of Science of Ukraine. This material is completely inaccessible for a wide audience. That is why the photographic reproductions of the original material have such enormous importance, allowing many people to study Shevchenko's writings, his editorial work, sketches in the margins of his manuscripts, and so on.

In 1963 for the 150th anniversary of Shevchenko’s birth there was published a facsimile of his ‘Small Book’ (the so-called ‘top-boot booklet’) – a manuscript collection of his poems written during the first four years of his exile (1847-1850). Later editions followed in 1984 and 1989, issued by the publishing house Naukova Dumka  in an edition of 50,000 copies. Their introduction was written by the well-known Ukrainian philologist, literary historian, and director of the Shevchenko Institute of Literature Evhen Shabliovs'kyi. The excellent artistic design of these editions was created by the artist Volodymyr Yurchyshyn. The book and the separate introduction to it appeared in a slip-case decorated by red and black floral ornaments and thorns characteristic of his works.


Mala Knyzhka. Facsimile edition of 1989.  YA.1992.a.4330


The original edition of Kobzar (1840) from the collection of the Shevchenko Institute of Literature of the National Academy of Science of Ukraine was used for the 1974 reprint by the Dnipro publishing house. This book was published in an edition of 25,000 copies. The introduction was written by Vasyl' Borodin. The facsimile and the separate booklet containing the introduction in a slip-case (picture below) were also designed by Yurchyshyn, with black, red and white lace-like patterns created by lines, dots and ornaments. The artist used other colours as well in a delicate graphic style.

274.Футляр, фронтиспіс і титул

Volodymyr Yurchyshyn (1934-2010) was an eminent Ukrainian graphic artist, creator of scripts, master of book design, Honoured Artist of Ukraine (1990), winner of the Shevchenko National Prize (1990) for the artistic design of The Primary Chronicle (1989).

Photo of Volodymyr Yurchyshyn by H. Potiahailo (From the Yurchyshyn family archive.  Reproduced with kind permission of the family).

A deep knowledge of Ukraine’s past and of folk art, a mastery of graphic techniques, the skilful creation of fonts and ornaments – these are the qualities of Yurchyshyn’s heritage which add his name to the the greatest followers of Heorhii Narbut, Vasyl Krychevsky, and Olena Kulchytska.  These famous predecessors of Yurchyshyn created a new Ukrainian style of art in the first half of the 20th century; Yurchyshyn himself, whose artistic activity covered the period 1960-2010s, created contemporary Ukrainian book design.

Yurchyshyn always worked with the book as a unit, creating not separate elements, but a harmoniously unified design of the whole book. The elements of the book (slip-case, dust-jacket, cover, title-page, section-titles etc.) and its design (type, ornaments and illustrations) are always skilfully unified in his work into one complete artistic object – the book.

The largest collection of the artist's works and documents in Ukraine is now preserved in the Museum of the Book and Printing of Ukraine  in Kyiv. In 2015 the Museum organized an exhibition entitled ‘Volodymyr Yurchyshyn. Book Art. Selected Works’ to mark the 80th anniversary of the artist’s birth. The exhibition, accompanied by a catalogue in Ukrainian and English, was the first comprehensive presentation of the heritage of this master.  Among many other original works by Yurchyshyn included in the exhibition was the sketch for the slipcase for Shevchenko’s Mala knyzhka: Avtohrafy poezii Shevchenka 1847–1850 rr. (Кyiv, 1984 (paper, indian ink, gouache, quill pen, brush. Drawing. – 40×48,7сm.). The Museum collection also includes the facsimile of Shevchenko’s Kobzar (1840), published in 1974.

Volodymyr Iurchyshyn. Mystestvo knyhy = Volodymyr Yurchyshyn. Book art (Kyiv, 2015). YF.2015.b.1834 

These facsimile editions give us the chance to study some of the manuscripts and the artistic heritage of Shevchenko, revealing to us the hidden secrets of his creations, and Yurchyshyn’s masterly artistic designs bring to these editions the true aesthetics of the Book.

Nataliia Globa, Leading Research Assistant of the Museum of the Book and Printing of Ukraine.

References/further reading:

Pokazhchyk vydan' Shevchenkovykh tvoriv: pershodruky i okremi vydannia ta spys literatury pro nykh. Zibrav i vporiad. V. Doroshenko. 2-e vydannia, perehlianute i znachno dopodnene. (Chicago, 1961).

T.H. Shevchenko: bibliohrafichnyi pokazhchyk (1965-1988). Uklad.: L.V. Beliaeva, N.M. Myslovych. (Kyiv, 1989). 2725.e.1288.

Vydannia tvoriv Tarasa Shevchenka ta hrafichnoi Shevchenkiany: kataloh. Muzei knyhy i drukarstva Ukrainy. Uporiad. M.A. Korniichuk, H.V. Karpinchuk, N.V. Globa, L.P. Poriis'ka. Peredmova M.A. Korniichuk, L.P. Poriis'ka. (Kyiv, 2011).

Vydannia tvoriv Shevchenka u fondakh Shevchenkivs'koho natsional'noho zapovidnyka: kataloh. Upodiadnyky, O.O. Solopchenko, L.H. Silenko. Avtor proektu ta peredmovy I.D. Likhovyi. (Kyiv, 2004). YF.2005.a.29902.

Volodymyr Iurchyshyn. Mystetstvo knyhy. Vybrane. Z kolektsii Museiu knyhy i drukarstva Ukrainy = Volodymyr Yurchyshyn. Book art. Selected works from the collection of the Museum of the Book and Printing of Ukraine. Uporiadnyky katalohu: Viktoriia Belyba, Nataliia Hloba, Anna Dovbush, Halyna Emets', Hanna Sokyrina. Vstupna stattia: Ihor Dudnyk, Valentyna Bochkovsʹka. (Kyiv, 2015) YF.2015.b.1834.

Hloba Nataliia Volodymyrivna, ‘Faksymil'ni vydannia tvoriv T.H. Shevchenka u kolektsii MHDU.’Ukrains'ka pysemnist' ta mova v manuskryptakh i drukarstvi: materialy 1-i 1 2-i nauk.-prakt. konf. do Dnia ukrains'koi pysemnosti ta movy. (Kyiv, 2012).

Hloba N.V. ‘Fototypichni, faksymil'ni ta repryntni vydannia tvoriv T. Shevchenka.’Ukrains'ka literatura v zahal'noosvitnii shkoli, 2011, vol. 2, pp. 41-43.


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 Eŭropo (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.)