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28 July 2014

Chess is good, dice are bad: but what about backgammon?

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The Galway Museum  displays a city ordinance of 1528 setting a fine of 20 shillings for the playing of ‘cards, dyce, tabulls, nor no other unlawfull gamys, by young men, and specialle by prentisys nor Irishmen’;  ‘Tabulls’, ‘tables’, is backgammon.

Medieval and early modern fun-spoilers were unanimous in their condemnation of dicing and (later) cards, but less commonly, it seems to me, did they include backgammon in their sights.  


A King and lady playing a board game resembling backgammon, from the Luttrell Psalter (ca.1325-35), British Library MS Add. 42130

Two ideas informed much discussion of leisure activities. Both saw there was a role for entertainment, but such entertainment had to be limited. One such was the scholastic idea  of eutrapelia, virtuous leisure, invoked by fray Juan Bautista Capataz in his censor’s assessment of Cervantes’s Novelas ejemplares in 1612:

supuesto que es sentencia llana del angélico doctor Santo Tomás, que la eutropelia [sic] es virtud, la que consiste en un entretenimiento honesto, juzgo que la verdadera eutropelia está en estas Novelas porque entretienen con su novedad, enseñan con sus ejemplos a huir vicios y seguir virtudes, y el autor cumple con su intento...

[since it is a clear opinion of the angelic doctor St Thomas of Aquinas that eutrapelia is a virtue which consists in a virtuous entertainment, I judge that true eutrapelia is in these Stories because they entertain with their novelty, teach with their examples to flee vices and follow virtues and the author fulfils this intention].

The other was the distinction between games of chance and games of skill.

The condemnation of dicing was unremitting, but backgammon was not always included in such criticism.

A clue lies with the prologue of the Libro de los juegos de ajedrez dados e tablas of Alfonso X of Castile-Leon (1282).  

Segunt cuenta en las historias antiguas, en India la mayor hobo un rey que amaba mucho los sabios e tenielos siempre consigo e facieles mucho a menudo  razonar sobre los fechos que nascien de las cosas. […] El uno dicie que mas valie seso que ventura […]  Ell otro dicie que mas valie ventura que seso […] El tercero dicie que era maior qui pudiese vivir tomando de lo uno e de lo al, e esto era cordura […]
E desque hobieron dichas sus razones much afincadas mandoles el Rey que le aduxiese ende cada uno muestra de prueba de aquello que dicien, e dioles plazo cual le demandaron.   E ellos fueronse e cataron sus libros, cada uno segunt su razon. El cuando llego el plazo, vinieron cada unos antel Rey con su muestra.
E el que tenie razon del seso, troxo el acedrex con sos juegos, mostrando que el que mayor seso hobiese e estudiese apercibudo podrie vencer all otro.
E el segundo que tenie la razon de la ventura troxo los dados mostrando que no valie nada el seso si no la ventura, segunt parescie por la suerte, llegando el homne por ella a pro o danno.
El tercero que dicie que era meior tomar de lo uno e de lo al, troxo el tablero con sus tablas contadas e puestas en sus casa ordenadameintre e con sos dados, que moviesen pora iugar, segunt se muestra en este libro […] en que face entender que por el iuego de ellas que el qui las sopiere bien iogar, que aunque la suerte de los dados le sea contraria, que por la cordura podra iogar con las tablas que esquivara el danno quel puede venir por la aventura de los dados.

[As is told in the ancient histories, in greater India there was a king who greatly loved wise men and kept them always with him and very often made them discuss facts which arose from things. […] One of them said that intelligence was stronger than chance […] The other said that chance was stronger than intelligence […] The third said that the greatest man was he who could live by taking from both one and the other, and this was wisdom. […]
And when they had said their piece most vehemently, the king ordered each to bring before him an example proving what they said, and set them a time-limit, as they asked him.  And they went away and looked in their books, each according to his argument.  And when the time was ended, they came before the king with their example.
And he who spoke for intelligence, brought chess with its games, showing that he who had the most intelligence and was alert could defeat the other.
And he who spoke for fate, brought dice, showing that intelligence was powerless against fate, as was shown by luck, by which man came to advantage or harm.
The third, who said that it was best to take from one and the other, brought the backgammon board with its counters counted and placed in their places in order, so that they could be moved in play, as is shown in this book which speaks separately of this, in which it is made clear that he who knows how to play it well, even if the luck of the dice is against him, will by his wisdom be able to play with
backgammon so that he will avoid the harm that can come to him from the fate of the dice.]

The Alfonsine book, MS T.i.6 of the Escorial Library,  is profusely illuminated with scenes of men, ladies Christian and Moorish, and nuns playing peaceably a variety of games; the games themselves are displayed from above, like the problems that they are.  

Alfonso’s introductory fable is of unknown origin, but like many a fable it encapsulates much in little.

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


El Ajedrez de D. Alfonso el Sabio [Chess problems from the work on the game of chess by Alphonso the Wise, solved by J. B. S. P.] (Madrid, 1929).  7916.b.11

Dwayne E. Carpenter, ‘Alea jacta est: At the Gaming Tables with Alfonso the Learned’, Journal of Medieval History, 24 (1998), 333-45.  ZC.9.a.7652

Alexandra Walsham, ‘Godly Recreation: The Problem of Leisure in late Elizabethan and Early Stuart Society’, in Grounds of Controversy: Three Studies in Late 16th and Early 17th Century English Polemics, ed. D E. Kennedy (University of Melbourne History Department, 1989), pp. 7-48.   5536.825000 no 9

25 July 2014

Through the world a mighty voice is ringing…

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On 26 July Esperantists world-wide will celebrate Esperanto Day. On this day in 1887 the first manual of Esperanto, known as La Unua Libro, was published in Warsaw. It took the enthusiasts for a new world language 18 years to organise the first international congress in Boulogne-sur-Mer in France in 1905 (photo from Wikimedia Commons below).


Each year after 1905 a World Congress of Esperanto, known in Esperanto as Universala Kongreso, was held in a different country (and often  continent). On 26 July 2014 the 99th World Esperanto Congress  will open in Buenos Aires (Bonaero in Esperanto), Argentina.

The British Library holds various materials from many congresses. British Esperantists were amongst the most enthusiastic pioneers of the Esperanto movement. No wonder that the Third World Congress of Esperanto (after the second in Geneva in 1906) took place in Cambridge.   Three very remarkable men known as “La Trio por la Tria” (The Three for the Third) were in charge: Dr George Cunningham of Cambridge; Colonel John Pollen, President of the British Esperanto Association, and Mr Harold Bolingbroke Mudie, the Vice-President of the London Esperanto Club. The British Library holds a few books about this congress, amongst them  Kongresa Libro (London, 1907; 012002.eee.22) with a description of colleges and other remarkable places in Cambridge for non-British visitors, a translation of “God save the King” (“Gardu la Regon Di’!”), names of people who financially supported the congress (the sum of £1,925 was secured to guarantee the event), and a list of participants who joined the congress before July 1907 (from K.B.R. Aars from Kristiania in Norway to Mr Zinovjev el Poltava, Ukraine, then in the Russian empire). The English-language booklet The Third Esperanto Congress (London, 1907; YF.2012.a.27398) has 32 black-and-white photographic illustrations by Ian Wilson from Glasgow. The one below, captioned “At the Fitzwilliam Museum”, depicts the arrival of Zamenhof (right) and the Mayor (left).


In 2005 the Universal Esperanto Association published a well-illustrated book about the history of Esperanto congresses in 1905-2005: Ziko Marcus Sikosek, Sed homoj kun homoj. Universalaj Kongresoj de Esperanto 1905-2005 (Rotterdam, 2005; YF.2006.a.30996). The title translates as  “But people with people”  and comes from Zamenhof’s  famous speech in Boulogne-sur-Mer. In 1913 the successful 9th Congress, with 1,203 participants, was held in Bern, Switzerland (see the special stamp below). The documentation from this congress, entitled Naua Universala Kongreso de Esperanto (YF.2013.a.209979), was published in 1914 in Paris.

The 10th World Congress was planned for Paris and the preparations were going ahead throughout 1913-1914. More than three thousands Esperantists joined. Postcards depicting the main venue for the congress, the Palais Gaumont, were duly published. The delegates from various countries, including Dr Zamenhof and his family, all subjects of the  Russian empire,  started their journey to Paris by the end of July 1914.  Then the First World War erupted.  

 Chromolith postcard for  the 1914 Congress in Paris (from Wikimedia Commons).

For the next four horrible years “a mighty voice” of hope that “all mankind at last will live as brothers” (poem “The Hope” by Zamenhof written in 1893, translated by Terry Page) was drowned by the noise of guns and human cries. Tomorrow thousands of Esperantists of all nationalities will sing again in Buenos Aires the anthem La Espero (The Hope):

En la mondon venis nova sento

You can see fragments from the  Congress of Esperanto in Stokhholm  in the documentary film by Sam Green  The Universal Language.

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Esperanto Studies

22 July 2014

Tauchnitz and Marinack: the famous and the unknown bringing English literature to the Germans

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When I started thinking about topics for this series of Anglo-German blogs, publishing and bookselling were naturally on the list, not least the famous Tauchnitz Verlag in Leipzig which published  English literature in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I didn’t expect that an enquiry received in the course of my regular work would alert me to other English-language publishing ventures in 19th-century Germany and to one not at all famous Englishwoman hoping to bring the best of British poetry to the Germans.

To start with the better-known figure: Christian Bernhard Tauchnitz established his publishing house in 1837, and began issuing his ‘Collection of British Authors’ in 1841. At a time when international copyright law was in its infancy, Tauchnitz’s policy of offering fair payment in return for the right to publish and distribute the works of British (and later American) writers on the continent appealed to both authors and publishers in the Anglophone world, and he won many clients and friends among them.

Portrait of Christian Bernhard Tauchnitz, from The Harvest; being the record of one hundred years of publishing, 1837-1937, offered in gratitutde to the friends of the firm by Bernard Tauchnitz (Leipzig, 1937) British Library 2710.k.29.

In theory, Tauchnitz’s books were only for sale in continental Europe and bore warning messages against importing them to Britain. This sometimes led to speculation that the books were pirated, whereas in fact the reverse was true: Tauchnitz editions were fully authorised for distribution on the continent but not allowed to compete with the authors’ British publishers on home ground. But many British travellers who purchased Tauchnitz novels while abroad simply brought them back home without any thought for the niceties of publishing and copyright, making the brand familiar even to stay-at-home Britons. The British Library holds one of the world’s largest collections of surviving Tauchnitz editions, the Todd-Bowden collection.

In establishing his business Tauchnitz had an eye for the growing market among English-speaking travellers abroad, but his aim was also to make English literature in the original language available and better known to the German reading public. He was by far the most successful German publisher to venture into this field, but not the only one.  Others, hoping no doubt to rival Tauchnitz’s success, also established series of English literary works, and this is where our less famous figure comes in.

In 1861, one Mary Maria Marinack edited an anthology entitled Selections from the Works of the British Classical Poets... for the illustrious Brockhaus Verlag. The enquiry which  I mentioned came from someone who had a copy of this book and wanted to know more about both it and its compiler. To my surprise I quickly found a reference to Marinack in the standard German biographical dictionary, Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB) – not in her own name but as the wife of a German schoolmaster and educationalist, Karl Eduard Niese. The daughter of “a cultured English family”, born in 1829, Mary married Karl Eduard in 1861 and the couple established a highly successful preparatory school in Thuringia, which even received royal approval when two Princes of Saxe-Weimar were enrolled there.

Selections from the British Poets
Selections from the works of the British Classical Poets from Shakespeare to Shelley. Systematically arranged with biographical and critical notices by Maria Mary Marinack. (Leipzig, 1851). 11602.f.8.

In the preface to her work Marinack says that an “increase of the general interest throughout Germany in English Literature, particularly Poetry” and her own “fervent admiration for my native Poets” inspired her to compile the collection. No doubt with her husband’s profession in mind, she adds that she has sought “to avoid all that is improper for the perusal of youth” so that “this volume may be safely recommended to the heads of the higher Schools and Institutions.”

At around the same time as Selections from the Works of the British Classical Poets Brockhaus also published an 8-volume ‘Library of English Poetry’. Marinack’s anthology, although not in that series, was probably part of the same initiative to break into the English-language market.  However, the venture enjoyed little success and was not continued, which probably explains why Marinack’s proposed second and third volumes also came to nothing.

We may know little about the details of Marinack’s life, but she represents not only the personal ties between England and Germany through her marriage, but also the cultural exchange between the two countries in the 19th century. Furthermore, her role in Brockhaus’s brief English-language publishing venture tells a small part of a wider Anglo-German book trade story, one where the infinitely more famous Bernhard Tauchnitz is a major figure.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies


Tauchnitz-Edition : The British Library, London (London, 1992).  ZA.9.d.172(47).

Beiträge zur Rezeption der britischen und irischen Literatur des 19. Jahrhunderts im deutschsprachigen Raum / herausgegeben von Norbert Bachleitner. (Amsterdam, 2000). ZA.9.a.5563(45)