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24 October 2014

Person from a portrait: Ira Frederick Aldridge, the first black Othello

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Growing in a provincial town in Soviet Ukraine in the 1960s, when the world was less globalised and foreign students were present only in main universities, I had very little opportunity to meet a black person in flesh.  The first black person that I, aged 5, became aware of  was ... Ira Frederick Aldridge! The portrait of a very sympathetic man, with big eyes and moustaches, adorned every book about the national poet of Ukraine, Taras Shevchenko (my parents had a very good library of Ukrainian literature). It was painted  in black and white Italian pencil and finished by Shevchenko on 25 December 1858 (see the  portrait below  from Wikimedia Commons).


 On 10 November 1858 Aldridge played Othello in one of St Petersburg’s theatres for the first time, and Taras Shevchenko, keen reader of Shakespeare and an ardent theatregoer, was in the audience, together with his Russian friends (the family of Count Fyodor Tolstoy and others). He was very excited by the acting and reduced to tears. 

Ira Aldridge as Othello, frontispiece from Leben und Künstler-Laufbahn des Neger Ira Aldridge (Berlin, 1853; 10881.a.1)

On November 12 Shevchenko met Aldridge personally in the house of Count Tolstoy where Shevchenko was a frequent guest. They became great friends (Aldridge called Shevchenko “an artist” finding difficult to pronounce the Ukrainian surname). Two young daughters of Count Tolstoy, Katya and Olya, often served as interpreters for them. On 6 December Shevchenko sent a letter to his Russian actor-friend (a former serf, like Shevchenko himself) Mikhail Shchepkin, full of admiration about the talent of Aldridge, “who does miracles on the stage”. “He shows live Shakespeare”, wrote Shevchenko.  Friend of Shevchenko artist Mikhail Mikeshin made a satirical sketch of  Shevchenko in awe before Aldrigde and Shevchenko himself added “My mute awe before Ira Aldridge” (picture below).


In 1913 Leonid Pasternak made his drawing of Aldridge and Shevchenko which is reproduced in books about them. The original is kept in the Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum in Moscow.

In 1861-1866 Aldridge visited many places in Ukraine: Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, Zhytomyr, and Elisavetgrad. He learned Russian and German and successfully performed using these languages too. His performances attracted large audiences everywhere. The well-known Ukrainian dramatist Ivan Karpenko-Karyi walked miles from the village of Bobryntsi to Elisavetgrad to see his performance.

The biography of this extraordinary African-American actor (especially famous in Shakespearean roles) is fascinating and continues to attract well-deserved attention. His bicentenary in 2007 was celebrated in many countries and the proceedings of a seminar about him were published in Germany in 2009: Ira Aldridge 1807-1867. The Great Shakespearean Tragedian on the Bicentennial Anniversary of his Birth (Frankfurt am Main, 2009; YD.2009.a.9405).

In 2012, Red Velvet, a play by Lolita Chakrabarti about Aldridge and his taking the role of Othello (published as a book; London, 2014;  YK.2013.a.13939) was premiered at the Tricycle Theatre in London, with Aldridge played by Adrian Lester. (The play returned in 2014; see excerptss here). More and more people are now discovering  Aldridge's extraordinary life  (see a blog on the website of U.S. Embassy in Kyiv from February 2013  here).

The British Library holds books about Aldridge in various languages. The oldest English booklets date from the 19th century, when young Ira, after leaving New York, was acting in Dublin, Edinburgh, Bath, and London: John Cole, A Critique on the Performance of Othello by F. W. K. [or rather, Ira] Aldridge, the African Roscius (Scarborough, 1831; British Library 11794.g.29) and A brief memoir and theatrical career of Ira Aldridge, the African tragedian. (London, ca. 1855; 1608/4459 - picture below).


The 20th- and 21st-century biographies and critical studies about Aldridge include: Herbert Marshall, Ira Aldridge : the Negro tragedian  (London, 1958; 11799.e.34); Owen Mortimer, Speak of me as I am: the story of Ira Aldridge (Wangaratta, 1995; YA.1996.a.22306); Ira Aldridge: the African Roscius, edited by Bernth Lindfors (Rochester, N.Y., 2007; v.28 8001.250050); Martin Hoyles, Ira Aldridge: celebrated 19th century actor (London, 2008; YD.2007.a.8267); Bernth Lindfors, Ira Aldridge: The Early Years, 1807-1833 (Rochester, NY, 2011; YC.2012.a.22286) and the same author’s three-volume Ira Aldridge (Rochester, NY, 2011-2013; 8001.250050)  

Herbert Marshall’s book was translated into Ukrainian during Soviet times by the Mystetstvo (Art) publishing house (Aira Oldridzh: nehrytianskyi trahik (Kyiv, 1966) X.898/2832). Ukrainian authors mainly explored the friendship of Taras Shevchenko and Ira Aldridge, as in Ivan Kulinych’s Poet i trahik (Kyiv, 1964; X.908/1462) where the author collected memoirs of witnesses of this great friendship.

The Library holds the Russian original of a book by theatre historian and critic Sergey Durylin (1886-1954) about the life of Aldridge (Moscow-Leningrad, 1940; 11797.a.32) and its recent translation into English by Alexei Lalo (Trenton, 2014; awaiting shelfmark). A Hungarian-language book was published in Romania in 1969 (Ernő Igeti, Az idegen csillag. Ira Aldridge regényes élete (Bucharest, 1969)  X.989/6820).

This well-travelled and much-loved actor (he also played in Germany, Hungary and Serbia) died while on tour in Poland on 7 August 1867. His plans to return to his native USA after the end of the Civil War there (he was also an outspoken abolitionist) were never realised. Aldridge was given a state funeral in Poland and his tomb is in the Old Cemetery in Łódź.

 Tomb of Ira Aldridge (picture by Jan W. Raczkowski from Wikimedia Commons)

Every October, during Black History Month it is heart-warming to pay tribute to this great life which touched the lives and imagination of other people in many countries and cultures. Taras Shevchenko, whose bicentenary we celebrate this year, was one of them.

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Ukrainian Studies

22 October 2014

Two Languages, One Nation?

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I’ve no need, or desire, to give you here potted histories of the vicissitudes of the Catalan language and its literature, with their controversial political aspects and problems of definition, as they’re well covered by Wikipedia. In anticipation of the conference  Language and the Making of Nations  to be held at the British Library on 14 November, I thought it would be more interesting to look at a few examples of the happy relationship between Spanish (alias Castilian) and Catalan as reflected in BL collections.

Nobody nowadays is monolingual in Catalan, although it is of course perfectly possible for people outside Spain to be bilingual in, say, Catalan and German.

Bilingualism may well be more common than monolingualism, although bilingualism doesn’t necessarily mean equality of status for both languages or that both are used in all contexts.  For centuries educated people were as fluent in the Latin they learned at school as in the vernacular they imbibed with their mother’s – or even their wetnurse’s – milk.  But of course Latin and the vernacular had different spheres of activity.

Spanish was spoken at the Catalan court from the 15th century onwards, when poets composed in both languages; and linguisticians study the dialect of Spanish now spoken in Catalonia (see Sinner, below).

1. The oldest Catalan-Spanish dictionary in the British Library appears to be:

Joaquin Esteve, Joseph Belvitges and Antonio Juglà y Font,  Diccionario Catalan-Castellano-Latino (Barcelona: en la oficina de Tecla Pla viuda, 1803-05). British Lbibrary 828.h.19.

Catalan DiccionarioThese three gentlemen have all the qualifications one could wish for (wouldn’t you like to have doctor utriusque iuris on your c.v.?). Their audience is Catalans who need to express themselves in Spanish in ‘tribunals, academies and pulpits’ not only in Spain as a whole but also ‘without leaving their houses’.


Pedro Martyr Anglès, OP, Prontuario orthologi-graphico trilingue. En que se enseña á pronunciar, escribir, y letrear correctamente en latin, castellano, y catalan: con una idiagraphia, ò arte de escribir en secreto ... (Barcelona: Mariano Soldvila, [1743]).  1568/2820.

Catalan Prontuario Orthologi-GraphicoWriting in the medium of Spanish (after all, he says, the grammar of Greek, Hebrew  and oriental languages are expounded in Latin), Anglès treats Spanish and Catalan on equal terms, though both have to cede prestige to Latin.

3.  Last but not least, the popular drama of  19th-century Barcelona and Valencia abounds in short pieces (sainetes/sainets, entremeses/entremesos) described on the title page as ‘pieza bilingüe’.  So far as I can determine, the linguistic divisions are drawn accurately: characters speak Catalan among themselves, and when joined by a Spanish speaker pass into Spanish as a matter of courtesy.

Don M. P., El memorialista. O Lo que vale un buen hombre, pieza bilingüe en un acto y en verso (Barcelona: Juan Llorens, 1859).  11726.g.11 (35)

Catalan Memorialista

Gregori is a letter-writer and matchmaker, who matches Doña Clara and Don Eugenio; Pauleta is a maid. The characters mostly  speak in Catalan. Doña Clara is a fine lady, who speaks only Spanish; when addressing her, Don Eugenio speaks good Spanish and wins her hand; Gregori speaks to her in humorously bad Spanish. Although there is a class division by language, the atmosphere is more one of One Nation.

The conclusion is suitably bilingual:

Don Gregori: Long live Gregori (CATALAN)
Doña Clara, Don Eugenio and Pauleta: Let him live long (SPANISH)
Doña Clara, Don Eugenio: For he is a good man  (SPANISH)
Pauleta: For he is a good man (CATALAN)


Carsten Sinner, El castellano de Cataluña : Estudio empírico de aspectos léxicos, morfosintácticos, pragmáticos y metalingüísticos, Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie, 320. (Tübingen, 2004).[320]

Pedro-Manuel Cátedra (ed.),  Poemas castellanos de cancioneros bilingües y otros manuscritos Barceloneses (Exeter, 1983). X.0909/545(34)

Maurizio Fabbri, A Bibliography of Hispanic dictionaries: Catalan, Galician, Spanish, Spanish in Latin America and the Philippines Appendix: A bibliography of Basque dictionaries (Imola, 1979).  X.950/20122

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies

20 October 2014

Ukrainian printing in the Russian empire

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As a result of the Union of Lublin in 1569, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was formed, and Kiev (Kyiv) with other Ukrainian territories were transferred to the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland. Lviv and its neighbouring territories had already been part of the Polish Crown from the 14th century. A series of uprisings, the most successful one being under the command of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, resulted in the creation of a Cossack state. Between 1654 and 1667 a series of treaties between the newly formed Cossack Hetmanate, the Russian Empire and  the Kingdom of Poland led to the agreement, according to which part of Ukraine on the left bank of the river Dnieper became part of the Russian Empire with the administrative status of ‘Hetmanate’. Although Lviv was also stormed and taken by the Khmelnytsky army, the city and the rest of the Western Ukrainian territories remained under Polish rule until the First Partition of Poland in 1772, when Lviv became the capital of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria within the Austrian empire.

Eastern territories of Ukraine became part of the Russian Empire and Ukrainian presses became subject to Russian Imperial censorship carried out by the Holy Synod, although it took some time to tighten restrictions.

The output of the Kiev Monastery of the Caves press apart from liturgical literature traditionally included sermons, poems, original works on philosophy and theology. In the mid-17th century, the press was managed by Innokentii Gizel’ (1620-1688), a prominent scholar and public figure. He was an author of a  Synopsis, the first popular history of the East Slavonic nations.

Image 1-Synopsis

Noah's Ark – illustration from Synopsis, Kiev, 1681 (the British Library holds a facsimile edition (Cologne, 1983) at shelfmark X.0900/189(17)

Another prominent clergyman, Lazar Baranovych,  initiated the opening of a new printing house in Novgorod-Siverskii (1674), which was later relocated to Chernihiv (1680). The British Library holds the 1691 Chernihiv edition of Runo oroshennoe by Dimitry of Rostov  – a book of miracles performed by the icon of the Mother of God of Chernihiv (picture below).

Image 2 - Runo oroshennoe
British Library C.192.a.222

In Western Ukraine, the press at the Uniate Monastery in Pochaiv (in operation between 1730-1918), became the most productive. This press published books in Church Slavonic, Ukrainian, Russian, Greek, Latin and Polish, serving Orthodox Christians, the Uniates, and Catholics. It specialised in liturgical books and literature related to the Holy icon of Mary, Mother of God of the Pochaiv Monastery. The British Library has several Pochaiv editions, including two of the 18th century.

Image 3 - Irmologion
An Irmologion – a  book of texts for liturgical singing – published in Pochaiv in 1794 (474.d.10)

The Pochaiv Monastery press competed with the Lviv Brotherhood press and until the first Partition of Poland tried to transfer exclusive rights to print liturgical books from Lviv to Pochaiv. In 1772 the Lviv Brotherhood press won the court case, but it was no longer relevant, as Lviv became part of Austria, and Pochaiv remained in Poland. Ironically, the Partition of Poland helped to boost printing activities in Pochaiv, as before 1772 the Pochaiv Press could not publish certain liturgical books that the Lviv Press had exclusive rights for. As a result of the next Partition of Poland Pochaiv ended up in the Russian Empire, and of course, the press had difficulties with printing and distribution of Uniate editions, although it escaped such strict control as publishers in the territories of the Hetmanate. At the end of the 18th century, the press signed contracts with Old Believers to produce their books. The Russian officials soon found out about these contracts, and the press was almost closed. In 1830-31 the monks supported the Polish uprising, printing leaflets and pamphlets for the Poles. As a result, the monastery was transferred to the Orthodox Church, and printing which by the mid-19th century became the main source of income for the monastery, fell under control of the Orthodox Church.

As printing and publishing in the Russian empire was very much focused in the two capitals, civil Cyrillic types appeared in Ukraine only in the second half of the 18th century: in 1764 a press opened in Elisavetgrad, in 1793  in Kharkiv, in 1787  in Kiev, and in 1793  in Ekaterinoslav. The end of the 18th century and first half of the 19th was a period of establishing a network of Russian state publishers in Ukraine. A new printing house in Mikolaiv became very active at the end of the 18th century.

Ukrainian culture became subject to enforced russification, so the formation of a modern Ukrainian literary language was delayed till the beginning of the 19th century. The first book in literary Ukrainian – Ivan Kotliarevskii’s mock-heroic version  of Virgil’s  Aeneid – was published in St Petersburg in 1798. Unfortunately, the British Library doesn’t hold the first edition of this work, but of course, numerous consequent editions are available.

A private St Petersburg publisher V. Plavil’shchikov produced some books in the Ukrainian language, including a Ukrainian Grammar (Grammatika malorossĭskago nari︠e︡chii︠a︡, 1818; 1332.e.5.(1.)) compiled by A. Pavlovskii. As many Ukrainians moved to the two Russian capitals, works of contemporary Ukrainian authors who later became classics of Ukrainian literature – Taras Shevchenko, Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnov’ianenko (1778-1843), Mykhaylo Maksymovych (1804-1873) – were first published in St Petersburg and Moscow. The first collection of works by the prominent Ukrainian public figure and writer Hryhorii Skovoroda  (1722-1794) appeared in St Petersburg in 1861. A short-lived Ukrainian journal Osnova (‘Basis’) was also published in St Petersburg.

The leading academic publisher in Ukraine was Kharkiv University Press (opened in 1805), but its production was primarily in Russian. The press issued several works on Ukrainian studies, original Ukrainian historical documents and some classical Ukrainian authors. Ukrainian modern journalism in Russian and Ukrainian also started in Kharkiv, where 12 periodical titles appeared between 1812 and 1848.

The Kiev Monastery of the Caves Press kept publishing liturgical and religious texts in Church Slavonic, but also catered for primary schools, seminaries and the general public, publishing calendars and serials. The Kiev-Mohyla Academy was shut by the Russian authorities in 1817, and Kiev University was opened instead in 1834. A year later a university press was set up, which supplied textbooks for secondary and higher education institutions and published scholarly works by the university professors. Another state publishing house was established in Odessa in 1814. It specialised in literary almanacs and scholarly works. In 1839 the Odessa Society for History and Antiquities set up a press to publish their proceedings.

The liberal reforms of Tsar Alexander II made it possible for Ukrainians to publish in their language. The period of liberalisation was short-lived, and already in 1876 a decree that prohibited printing (including ‘lyrics’ for printed music) in Ukrainian was issued. The types of material that were exempted were historical documents, ethnographic sources and very selective fiction and poems, subject to censorship. Export of books from abroad was also banned. Some works by Ukrainian authors did not pass Imperial censorship and appeared abroad in uncensored editions; for example Shevchenko’s Kobzar’ was published in Prague in 1876 (11585.k.11; see picture below).  

Image 4 - Kobzar

However, new private publishing houses became active at the end of the 19th century. These enterprises aimed to popularise literature among the lower classes, and therefore their books were produced cheaply with small print runs. See, for example, a collection of Ukrainian poetry and prose published in Kiev in 1902.

Image 5 -Vyk
This page opening from vol. 1 of this three-volume collection (012265.i.7) shows a portrait of and lyrics by Mykola Verbytskyi, also a contributor to the journal Osnova.

Making books accessible for the wider public was the main goal of the publishing activities of various Ukrainian cultural organizations, such as societies for literacy in Kiev and Kharkiv and the St Petersburg-based ‘Charity for publishing useful and cheap books’ (1898-1917). Apart from these organisations and other publishers who produced some Ukrainian books, in 1909, there were almost 20 Ukrainian publishing houses, and the overall number of Ukrainian books published between 1798 and 1916 is about 2,800 titles.

During World War I production figures fell dramatically, but the printing industry quickly revived in the independent Ukraine  (1917-1921): about 80 titles appeared in 1917, compared with over a hundred in 1918.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead East European Curator

Our seminar Language and the Making of Nations on 14 November will include a talk on ‘Ukrainian language and nation: a cultural perspective’ by Marta Jenkala (Senior Teaching Fellow in Ukrainian, UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies)