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31 August 2015

Solidarity Collection

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35 years ago, on 31 August 1980, the Gdańsk Agreement was signed between the strikers of the Lenin Shipyard and the government of the Polish People’s Republic. The Solidarity movement was born.

Poland was a signatory state of the Helsinki Final Act,  signed at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in 1975. This had a tremendous effect on future developments in Poland and subsequently in other countries of the Eastern bloc. Inspired by the Helsinki agreement regarding human rights and civil liberties the dissident movement led to the rise of the unofficial publishing network in 1976. Independent publications produced underground began to infiltrate intellectual circles in Polish society.

The formation of the Solidarity movement in August 1980 resulted in the expansion of opposition publications on an unparalleled scale. Though it may seem strange, the declaration of Martial Law in December 1981 and the repressions that followed did not weaken the underground publishing output. It is estimated that between 1976 and 1990 some 3,000-4,000 independent periodical titles and over 6,000 books and pamphlets were published. The underground publishers and publications are known in Poland as drugi obieg (‘second circulation’).

Solidarity Ruch ,,Wolnosc i Pokoj,,, Sol. 212c
The collection that found its way to the British Library is named after the Solidarity movement. The name, however, does not reflect the pre-1980 holdings in the collection. Throughout the 1970s and 80s the main means of acquiring dissident material was via anonymous donations. Young Poles travelling to the West smuggled clandestine publications so as to distribute them to Western academic institutions. The British Library was one of the repositories. The curators of the Polish collections at the time also contributed to the growth of this collection.  Their visits to Poland created the opportunity to obtain illegal publications which they then took out of the country secretly.

The situation changed in 1990. The Library bought its first large collection of independent material, consisting of some 900 items, from a private collector in Lublin, Marek Szyszko. There are 808 books in this collection and all the records are tagged with the name of the collector. In 1999 the Library was offered part of the collection of Marek Garztecki, a Polish journalist exiled in London and director of the Solidarity Information Office in London. The collection consisted mainly of some 4,000 underground periodical parts, filling many gaps in the existing holdings. In 2007 a small collection of ephemeral Solidarity publications was purchased from John Taylor, a former London-based Polish Solidarity Campaign activist. Thanks to a generous donation in 2010 of some 1,700 journal parts and about 500 books from the Polish Library in London the collection expanded greatly.

As of in August 2015 the collection consists of 1,759 books, 831 periodical titles and 469 ephemeral publications. All the items are physically stored together at the range of shelfmarks with the prefix Sol. followed by the consecutive numbers 1-911. Books are stored at Sol. 200, 200 a,b,c,…270 w and journals at Sol. 1-199 and Sol. 271-911.  Most records include a note “Polish samizdat publication” and a keyword search enables identification of the relevant items in the catalogue. All the ephemeral publications are located at the shelfmark Sol. 764, and the collective title Polish ephemera applies to the group as a whole.

Solidarity Droga - Wolnosci i Niepodleglosc, Sol. 737

Solidarity Solidarnosc Nr 13, Sol. 103

Solidarity Kultura niezalezna 37, Sol 367

The collection includes uncensored works by Polish writers whose books were banned from the official market such as Kazimierz Orłoś, Tadeusz Konwicki or Marek Nowakowski. Then follow reprints of émigré publications and translations from foreign languages, including works of such outstanding writers as George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut and Josip Brodski. Newspapers, journals, bulletins, pamphlets, collections of documentary material and photographs, as well as the ‘flying university’ lectures, one-leaf factory news-sheets, posters, postcards, calendars and Solidarity postage stamps complete the holdings. Most of the material was published on very poor quality paper and in small formats due to paper shortage, although it is worth noting that some books were lavishly printed, e.g. George Orwell’s Animal Farm published in Krakow in 1985.  However, many books and pamphlets have incomplete imprints or no imprints at all.

  Solidarity Marek Nowakowski  Sol.239c

Magda Szkuta,Curator of East European Collections

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