Battle of the Russian Greats

‘Dostoevsky’s dead,’ said the citizeness, but somehow not very confidently.

‘I protest!’ Behemoth exclaimed hotly. ‘Dostoevsky is immortal!’

― Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

There is no prerequisite to know Russian if you work at the Taylor. The Slavonic collections returned to our St Giles’ location only three years ago from their home in Wellington Square, the newest layer to our nesting-doll of a library. We even have a cheat sheet for staff to navigate the Cyrillic alphabet, lest they be asked about a book they cannot read.

And yet somehow Russian—the language, the literature, the culture—permeates the building like a foundational block, the missing sister to the European languages carved as goddesses on our Eastern façade. Cyrillic, learned or cheated, is part of our daily rhythm.

After two years working in the Taylor and seeing some mention of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky on a daily basis, I decided it was time to fill the gap in my education and read some of the classics. I started with Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in Hilary term and spent Trinity term and the summer holiday reading Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

“Every person is either a Tolstoy person or a Dostoevsky

person,” one of my colleagues told me as

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Nikolai Ge, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Nikolai Ge, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

we discussed my progress.

“Well, which are you?” I asked.

“Oh, Tolstoy,” she said firmly.

Another colleague passed by—Nick, our Russian subject librarian.

“How about you?” I asked him. “Tolstoy or Dostoevsky?”

He paused. “Oh, that’s a hard one. But I have to go with Dostoevsky.”

We asked another colleague later—

Portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Trevor, who studied Russian and French as an undergraduate before pursuing a career in libraries.

“Tolstoy,” he answered, nodding enthusiastically.

One by one, we asked the rest of our staff the ultimate Russian literature desert island question: if you had to choose, would you read Tolstoy or Dostoevsky?

The results:

Tolstoy: 9

Dostoevsky: 6

Neither: 2

Abstain: 3

Interestingly, the results are reflected in our collection: we hold 1131 books related to Tolstoy and 986 to Dostoevsky, almost the same ratio. Why, then, the preference for Tolstoy?

His visual language appeals to many of us who find reading Tolstoy like watching a movie, the scenes of Natasha’s dance or Anna’s descent a vivid picture that lingers long after reading. Dostoevsky, in contrast, sends us deep into the human psyche in works that read almost like plays, with harrowing insight into fundamental truths. That depth, though engendering strong loyalty from those who choose him, is daunting for others.

I spoke to one of my Russian colleagues to see how she felt about these two pillars of her national canon.

“For us [Russians], these people are like monuments like Lenin,” she explained. Reading them, especially Dostoevsky, draws her back to a childhood spent playing on snowy streets in the dark Russian winter.

So whom does she choose?

“Chekhov,” she answered after deliberating for a while, preferring his shorter form, lively language, and humour.

A small selection of our Chekhov books

A small selection of our Chekhov books

As for me? I find myself in the majority camp choosing Tolstoy, drawn in by the empathetic way he writes women and the sweeping scale of his stories. I must admit, however, that I think of The Grand Inquisitor and Ivan’s conversation with the Devil more than any individual Tolstoy scene.

We would love to know what our readers think about this battle of the greats. Let us know on our Facebook poll!

Link to Facebook poll

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Alexandra Zaleski

Taylor Institution Library

The First Oxford-Groningen Old Frisian Summer School

In the lovely sunny week of 8-12th July, twenty-four students gathered in St Edmund Hall for the first edition of the Old Frisian Summer School. Eleven students came from the University of Groningen, most of them Frisian speakers. Others hailed from Oxford or from as far afield as  St Petersburg and Toronto, a mix of undergraduates, postgraduates and post-doctoral researchers. Sessions were held in St Edmund Hall, the Taylor Institution Library and the Weston Library.

Why Old Frisian?

Old Frisian was an Old Germanic language, spoken along the mainland North Sea coast, as far south as the river ‘Zwin’ or, in Old Frisian, ‘Sincfal’, which is nowadays the border between the Netherlands and Belgium, and as far east as to the river Weser in Germany. The area shrunk over time, by 800 AD the river Rhine was the southern border, by the year 1000 the western border was formed by the river Flee. Over time, the area diminished as Prof. Rolf Bremmer (Leiden University) showed in his first lecture ‘The Scope of Old Frisian Studies’.

Map of Frisia in King Radbod’s time, 8th century. Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frisia_716-la.svg Attribution: Frankish_Empire_481_to_814-fr.svg: Sémhur, Eric.dane 800nc ex leg.jpg: RACM & TNO derivative work: Richardprins [CC BY-SA 3.0] River names added by J. Sytsema.

Map of Frisia in King Radbod’s time, 8th century. Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frisia_716-la.svg Attribution: Frankish_Empire_481_to_814-fr.svg: Sémhur, Eric.dane 800nc ex leg.jpg: RACM & TNO derivative work: Richardprins [CC BY-SA 3.0] River names added by J. Sytsema.

Linguistically, Old Frisian is related to Gothic and Old Norse, more closely to Old High German and Old Saxon and most closely to Old English. The Anglo-Frisian connection is so close that some scholars assumed that both languages must stem from one Anglo-Frisian ancestor, before they split into Old English and Old Frisian, the so-called ‘Anglo-Frisian hypothesis’.

Archaeological evidence shows that there were plenty of Anglo-Frisian connections during the 7th and 8th centuries, proven by very similar jewellery and other finds either side of the North Sea, as Nelleke IJssennagger, former curator of the Frisian Museum and co-author of Frisians and their North-Sea Neighbours, showed in her lecture. There was ongoing trade after the settlement of Britain, so language contact must have been maintained in the following centuries.

Dr Nelleke IJssennagger with an image of artefacts from Kent and from Frisia.

Dr Nelleke IJssennagger with an image of artefacts from Kent and from Frisia.

Linguistic similarities between Modern English and Modern Frisian still show the close connection between the two in comparison with German and Dutch:

  Frisian English   German Dutch
vocabulary kaai key Schluessel sleutel
Irregular plurals ko – kij cow – kine (archaic) Kuh-Kühe koe-koeien
goes – gees (archaic) goose – geese Gans – Gänse Gans – ganzen
skiep – skiep sheep – sheep Schaf – Schafe schaap – schapen
Palalisation of k/g tsjerke church Kirche kerk
dei day Tag dag

These similarities are just an example of connections that were much closer at the time of Old English and Old Frisian. The closeness of the two Old Germanic languages led to the Anglo-Frisian hypothesis, the assumption of one common Anglo-Frisian ancestor from which both Old English and Old Frisian descended. Scholars adhered to this hypothesis for a long time, until 1995 when Dr Patrick Stiles (UCL) denounced the theory on phonological grounds. Dr Stiles explained that many supposed ‘Anglo-Frisian’ sound changes are in fact also shared with Old Saxon or Old High German. The only sound changes that are exclusively Anglo-Frisian are the fronting of West Germanic long ā > ē or ǣ and the fronting of West Germanic short a > e or æ. The West Germanic vowel remains unchanged in Old High German, as shown in the table below.

WGmc OE OFris OHG gloss
*dād- dǣd dēd tāt ‘deed’
*dag- dæg dei tag ‘day’

Why a Summer School?

Old Frisian may be regarded as a ‘niche’ subject within the study of Old Germanic languages and is not always part of the curriculum at universities that offer Old Germanic. To enable students and early career researchers with an interest in Old Germanic to familiarise themselves with the Old Frisian language, its history and its textual sources, the Old Frisian Summer School was organised outside of term time. It was a great advantage to have such an international group of delegates, and many were amazed how much they learned in a week, enough to actually translate Old Frisian texts.

Why in Oxford?

Some unique Old Frisian sources are found at Oxford in the Bodleian Library. These manuscripts are the main source of our knowledge of Old West Frisian[1].  Collections of law texts, the manuscripts came to Oxford by Franciscus Junius’ bequest, dated 1677. Junius was a polymath who had taught himself Old Frisian by copying parts of Codex Unia, now ms Junius 49 and ms Junius 109.   He had borrowed Codex Unia from the Frisian history writer Simon Abbes Gabbema, and failed to return it. (Nothing new under the sun!) He must have borrowed Codex Aysma, now Junius 78, from Gabbema, too. These two manuscripts constitute the base of Old Frisian studies at Oxford.

Codex Aysma, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 78

Codex Aysma, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 78

The first lines of Codex Unia, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 49, in the hand of Franciscus Junius.

The first lines of Codex Unia, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 49, in the hand of Franciscus Junius.

 Junius had an interest in Old Frisian as an Old Germanic language. Having studied Gothic, Old English and Old High German, he clearly considered his knowledge of Old Germanic incomplete without knowledge of Old Frisian.  So, unknowingly, he paved the way for further comparative Old Germanic studies at Oxford, and provided a good reason for the choice of Oxford as the first university to host the Old Frisian Summer School.

Was it fun or hard work?

The summer school programme consisted of lectures in the mornings and workshops in the afternoons, interspersed with some social events and library tours and with excellent lunches. The morning lectures covered the grammar and phonology and aspects of the overarching theme of Anglo-Frisian Connections.  Delegates were presented with an introduction to the field of Old Frisian Studies by Prof Rolf Bremmer (Leiden) to set the scene. Dr Leneghan (Oxford) , whose forthcoming monograph on Beowulf will contain a section on the role of the Frisians, a gave a lecture on Frisians in Beowulf, showing the presence of Frisians in Old English Literature.

Viewing Old Frisian manuscripts at the Weston Library.

The Old Frisian manuscripts were viewed during a visit to the Weston Library. The Junius specialist Dr Kees Dekker had come from Groningen to talk about the manuscripts with the help of a visualizer, (a projector showing the text of a manuscript on a screen), in the Visiting Scholars Centre of the Weston Library.

The delegates had to learn Old Frisian grammar in just three lectures; though most students had some prior knowledge of at least one other Old Germanic language, this was still felt to be a crash course.  Following two grammar lectures by Prof Bremmer and Dr Sytsema, Dr Nelson Goering (BA Research Fellow, Somerville College) explained eight sound changes that are typical for Old Frisian. For those interested in comparative Old Germanic, Dr Howard Jones (Oxford) offered a more in-depth comparison of the verbal classes in the Old Germanic languages.

It may have felt like a crash course, but delegates proved to be able to translate some Old Frisian texts with the help of the grammar and the dictionary (see references) of which each delegate had a copy. The translation classes were valued so much so that none of the students wanted to stop at 5pm when they had not finished their assignment! Since the groups were multilingual in a modern sense (English, Frisian and German) and also in an ‘Old Germanic’ sense – knowledge of Old Norse, Old English, Old High German, Old Frisian and Gothic were present in the group – students were able to benefit from each other’s knowledge.

Prof. Nigel Palmer, Emeritus Professor of German Medieval and Linguistic Studies and Fellow  of St Edmund Hall, placed Old Frisian in a wider European context by introducing the 15 Signs of Doomsday, a text based on various Latin exemplars that circulated in Europe in the 13th century. In addition to the many extant medieval High and Low German versions of this text, there is one Old Frisian version. Students translated this into English in the translation workshop. Their English translation will appear on the Old Frisian Summer School website as one of the Summer School outcomes.

Delegates were shown round the Bodleian Library, the Taylor Institution Library and St Edmund Hall Old and New library, thus seeing the places where the Old Frisian manuscripts in the Junius and Marshall collections and Frisian items in the Alistair Campbell Collections are kept.

 

Taylor Institution Library

Main Reading Room, Taylor Institution Library, Oxford

The public lectures on the Anglo-Frisian thesis in the Taylor Library were attended by a wider audience. Some came to see Alistair Campbell’s Frisian collection in the Taylorian. As Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon (1963-1974), Alistair Campbell had shown a great interest in Anglo-Frisian connections and was co-founder of the Frisian Academy.  Some items in the Taylorian collections bear witness of his contacts with other Old Frisian scholars.

Students agreed that the summer school was intensive, but also a lot of fun, as proven by these photographs!

Video report

Fardau Visser compiled this excellent video report of the summer school:

 What’s next?

 Partnership with Groningen University

The OFSS was the first event in the Oxford-Groningen partnership. Groningen University is traditionally the university in the Netherlands where Old Frisian is taught and the library at Groningen holds precious Old Frisian manuscripts, as does the Bodleian in Oxford. Nearly half of the delegates came from Groningen University, and next year it will be Groningen’s turn to organise the summer school. Hopefully, the OFSS will continue to be held on an annual basis in Oxford, Groningen or elsewhere. The spreading of knowledge of Old Frisian language and history should continue, ‘salang’t de wyn fan ‘e wolkens waait’ (as long as the wind blows from the clouds).

Funding

The OFSS could not have happened without the generous funding of TORCH International Partnership Fund and of TORCH Oxford Medieval Small Grants. Also, the studentships made available by the Faculties of Linguistics and of English have enabled some Oxford students to take part. Groningen University has also contributed in various ways, not least in allowing the Old Frisian lecturer Anne Popkema to co-organise the summer school.

Summer school convenors and participants

Summer school convenors and participants

A number of students told me they wanted to come to the summer school again next year in Groningen. There will be a different special topic, as well as an opportunity to see the different manuscripts held by Groningen.

 Old Frisian Network

A mailing list will ensure that delegates, speakers and any other scholars or students with a research interest in Old Frisian can keep in touch and share news. If you would like to join the mailing list, please contact me by email: johanneke.sytsema@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

 

Johanneke Sytsema

Subject Librarian for Linguistics, Dutch and Frisian, Bodleian Libraries

Linguistics lecturer, St Edmund Hall

 

[1] Old East Frisian manuscripts are kept in Leeuwarden, Groningen and Oldenburg.

References

Bremmer, R.H.Jr. (2009) An introduction to Old Frisian : history, grammar, reader, glossary. Amsterdam/Philadelphia : John Benjamins.

Dekker, C. (2000) ‘Francis Junius (1591-1677): copyist or editor?’, In: M. Lapidge, M. Godden, & S. Keynes (Eds.), Anglo-Saxon England Volume 29 (pp. 279 – 296). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hofmann, D and A. Popkema (2008) Altfriesisches Handwörterbuch. Heidelberg : Winter.

Leneghan, F. (forthcoming) The Dynastic Drama of “Beowulf”.

Hines, J. & IJssennagger, N. (2017) Frisians and their North-Sea Neighbours. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK : The Boydell Press.

Gerhardt, Ch. & N. Palmer (1992) Das Münchner Gedicht von den fünfzehn Zeichen vor dem Jüngsten Gericht : nach der Handschrift der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek Cgm 717 : Edition und Kommentar.

Giliberto, C. (2007) ‘The Fifteen Signs of Doomsday of the First Riustring Manuscript’, in Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik, 2007, Vol.64(1), pp.129-152.

Stiles, P. (1995) ‘Remarks on the ‘Anglo-Frisian’ Thesis’, in: Friesische Studien II: Beiträge des Föhrer Symposiums zur Friesischen Philologie vom 7.–8. April 1994.
Herausgegeben von Volkert F. Faltings, Alastair G.H. Walker und Ommo Wilts
[
NOWELE Supplement Series 12]. 177-220.

Sytsema, J. (2012) Diplomatic Edition Codex Unia http://tdb.fryske-akademy.eu/tdb/index-unia.html

Sytsema, J. (2018) ‘Old Frisian studies in Oxford’, in: It Beaken, vol.80, 3-4. 202-220.

 

Bodies and Embodiment: An Introduction to the 2018-2019 MML Graduate Network Conference

Sei Shōnagon—an author, poet and court lady who served the Empress Teishi during Japan’s Heian period—mused in her famed The Pillow Book (completed in 1002 CE) that “In life there are two things which are dependable. The pleasures of the flesh and the pleasures of literature.” Some of the objectives of the conference organised by this academic year’s MML Graduate Network—which is themed “Bodies and Embodiment”—include interrogation of the possible paths of interconnection between these two dependable pleasures, and consideration of the various ways by which these pleasures may sour into miseries and/or give way to innumerable ambiguities. The MML Graduate Network recognises that the body and all of the attendant splendours and weirdness of being embodied have long preoccupied writers. Publications such as The Cambridge Companion to the Body in Literature (2015), with its introductory references to the fictions and poetries of the likes of Woolf, Shakespeare, Montaigne, and Rimbaud, seek to provide a survey of the body’s old but also endlessly generative multivalence in literary production. Equally, creators of filmic and sonic works have probed and prodded the many layers of human epidermis, sinew and ick for resonance, inspiration and answers to questions both broad and pointed.

Conference poster for Oxford MML Graduate Network Conference 2019

Conference poster for Oxford MML Graduate Network Conference 2019

For this year’s conference, the MML Graduate Network advertised a Call for Papers that encouraged postgraduate students to submit original, scholarly explorations of the many interpretations of the body and embodiment that exist within literary, visual, sonic, and filmic realms—the possible mediums and genres-for-analysis expanded to include namely film and poetry. The number of abstracts submitted was sizeable. Dished up for consideration were diverse contemplations of body talk and bodily themes from different time periods, languages, and geographic regions. More specifically, all interested postgraduate students demonstrated in their submitted abstracts keen engagement with the teaser prompts included in the Call for Papers: ‘Naked and clothed bodies; bodies at the peak of their physical and bodies in all their abject materiality; bodies experiencing pleasure and bodies racked with pain; culturally coded bodies; marginalised bodies; queer bodies; bodies performing violence and bodies performing all sorts of gestures across historical, cultural, and physical spaces; hybrid bodies incorporating technological and animal elements; bodies of text, film or artwork.’

A shift from East to West: with one exception, all of the essays selected for presentation during this academic year’s conference find their topics in the creative productions of both contemporary and past Europe(s). Such European-focused tacklings of all things body and embodiment include: an intellectual and linguistic mapping of Medieval Ireland’s engagement with the notion of shape shifters and the problems posed by this contentiously believed possibility for corporeal mutability on understood divisions between mind and body (Kristýna Zoé Syrová, Oxford), and an exploration of the depiction of hermaphroditism in the contemporary German prose of authors Ulrike Draesner and Sibylle Berg, specifically Draesner’s Mitgift (2005) and Berg’s Vielen Dank für das Leben (2012), that takes into consideration the German Parliament’s 2018 decision to introduce a ‘third sex’ for birth certificates (Francesco Albè, Oxford).

Cover of Ulrike Draesner, Mitgift

Ulrike Draesner, Mitgift. München : Luchterhand, 2002. Taylor Institution Library TNR7560

Next, a deep dive, or perhaps one should say a studied ascent, into Canto IX of Dante’s Purgatorio and what seem to be the fluctuating levels of involvement required of the body when dreaming—the purpose and corporeal politics of purgatorial dreams (Aistė Kiltinavičiūtė, Cambridge). Then, an analysis of the importance of hands and touch in Michel de Montaigne’s Essais (variously published and revised in the last decades of the 16th century), with close reading of the chapter ‘Of Thumbs’, that gives way to a larger exploration of the relationship between hands and writings that proves necessary for comprehending the French writer and philosopher’s attitudes towards the creative process (Vittoria Fallanca, Oxford).

Plate 53 from Dante Alighieri, La Divina commedia, illustration by Gustave Doré

Plate 53 from Dante Alighieri, La Divina commedia. Milano : Società editrici Sonzogno, 1900
Illustrations by Gustave Doré.
Taylor Institution Library REP.X.119

In addition, an analysis of the Russian stage’s only dramatic rendition of the myth of Acteon and Diana, Nikolai Gumilev’s Acteon (1913), that seeks to track Gumilev’s (likely historically and ideologically contextualisable) recasting or redistribution of the mental and bodily potencies accorded to the two figures in earlier tellings of the myth—changing orientations of the division between mind and body made evident through reconceptualisations of old standards (Katherine New, Oxford), and a joint engagement with two popular series of medievalist novels, Maurice Druon’s Les Rois maudit (published between 1955 and 1977) and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (1996-present), that analyses depiction of the maternal body in these respective strings of fictions, whose worlds are replete with binding, patriarchal sexisms that are both reified and undermined by the potential for a woman’s body to swell with new life (Rebecca Elton, Leeds).

 

Moving on to an ingenious probing of the able-body/disabled binary that is grounded in investigation of differing portrayals of disabled bodies in seventeenth-century French lyric poetry, specifically contrasted in this essay are metaphorical versus grotesque (and grotesquely real) thematic employments of the body’s many, potential ‘defects’ in love poetry and cabaret verse respectively (Sam Bailey, Durham); and the last of these European-focused tacklings of the conference’s proposed subject is exploration of Portuguese masculinities and masculine bodies—their construction and maintenance not only metaphorically paralleled but also more immediately necessitated by the mechanics of colonial empire-building and empire-preservation (in particular the events of the Portuguese Colonial War (1961-74), promoted by the Estado Novo)—in Lídia Jorge’s A Costa dos Murmúrios (1988), Isabela Figueiredo’s Caderno de Memorias Coloniais (2009), and Dulce Maria Cardoso’s O Retorno (2011) (Olivia Glaze, Oxford). Moving back easterly: the conference features presentation of a paper that is preoccupied with the feminist-motivated weaponisation of breasts in the writings of Mahasweta Devi and Indira Goswami, and with the various ways by which both these South Asian writers—Devi with her story, ‘Dopdi’, and Goswami with her poem, ‘Ode to a Whore’—have sought to simultaneously reclaim and decolonise literary representations of these organic mounds.

The MML Graduate Network has settled on a ‘tripartite body’ for the structuring of the conference—three panels around which these nine essays are categorized and dialogue: 1) Body/Mind; 2) Breaking Binarism: Subversion, Trauma and Recovery; and 3) In the Flesh. Desired of this structuring is a sort of dance between these three panels, a compelling clashing of limbs that gives fresh shape to and perspective on the body, considered by the MML Graduate Network a fleshly ‘intersecting point between crucial issues of social and political relevance such as identity, gender, sexuality, race and marginalisation.’[1] To complement the discussion generated by these three panels, keynote speaker, Professor Santiago Fouz Hernández of Durham University, was invited to give an address titled ‘Uses and Abuses of the Male Body in Contemporary Film & Media.’ The dynamism of the topic of this year’s MML Graduate Network conference hinges on the belief that there exist educating discomforts swirling around the empty spaces in Shōnagon’s claim for the unfailing feel-good-factor of letters and flesh—dozens of (or, more specifically, nine) microbodies of pioneering thought poised for extraction and examination.

Sawnie Smith
Library Officer, MML Graduate Network

[1] Quoted portions of text are taken from the official Call for Papers.

The conference took place on June 24th, 2019 (Trinity Term, Week 9) in Room 2 of the Taylor Institution Library. A companion exhibition was also on display in the Voltaire Room from 20th May – 1st July, curated by Sawnie Smith and entitled ‘Desde el cuerpo: Contemporary explorations of the body authored by Latin American Women.’ Click here for the exhibition catalogue

A born-digital edition of Voltaire’s Dialogue entre un brahmane et un jésuite

This article was originally posted on the blog of the Voltaire Foundation, and is reposted here with permission of the author. See the original post here

…………………….

Just as the print edition of the Œuvres Complètes de Voltaire is fast approaching its completion, we at the Voltaire Foundation are starting work on two new, highly ambitious digital projects thanks to the generosity of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: a digital edition of Voltaire’s works based on the Œuvres complètes (Digital Voltaire), and a born-digital edition of the works of Paul-Henri Thiry d’Holbach (Digital d’Holbach).

With a view to gaining the necessary skills required to begin my work on Digital d’Holbach, in autumn 2018 I attended an intensive course on digital editions run by the Taylorian Institution Library. Taught by Emma Huber in collaboration with Frank Egerton and Johanneke Sytsema, the course takes students through all the phases of the digital edition workflow, from transcription to publication and dissemination. It is a goal-focused, hands-on course during which students are warmly encouraged to create a born-digital edition of a short text from the Taylorian’s collections.

Although short and apparently light in tone, the piece that I chose to edit – Voltaire’s Dialogue entre un brahmane et un jésuite sur la nécessité et l’enchaînement des choses – is a key text in the evolution of Voltaire’s philosophical views. As the title suggests, the Dialogue hinges on the question of determinism (or fatalisme, in eighteenth-century French parlance) and touches on such crucial notions as moral freedom, causation, and the problem of evil. It was first published anonymously in the Abeille du Parnasse of 5 February 1752, and it then went through several reprints during Voltaire’s lifetime, with very few variants.

My edition of the Dialogue is of course not meant to replace the one already available in OCV. Rather, it was conceived to meet the needs of the broader public – and more specifically those of students. A very short introduction, displayed on the right-hand side, provides essential information on the philosophical issues at stake while situating the Dialogue in relation to other key texts by Voltaire. An original translation into English by Kelsey Rubin-Detlev makes the text more widely accessible, allowing students working in fields other than modern languages (e.g. philosophy) to engage with Voltaire’s ideas. High-quality pictures of the 1756 edition, which provides the base text, aim to give non-specialists a taste of what it feels like to leaf through a (dusty) eighteenth-century book. Finally, a modernised version of the text is available next to the facsimile, and a rich corpus of annotations – displaying in both the French transcription and the English translation and featuring links to several other digital resources (the ARTFL Encyclopédie and Tout Voltaire, but also Wikipedia and BibleGateway!) – aims to render the reading experience as informative and rewarding as possible.

But there is more to this edition than first meets the eye! For example, by clicking on ‘Downloads’ in the menu bar, a fifth column will appear from which the user is invited to download pictures as well as TEI/XML files, which can then be used as models to generate further digital editions. Also, a drop-down menu in the transcription column allows users to choose between two different versions of the text in addition to the modernised version displayed by default: a diplomatic transcription of the 1756 edition and a diplomatic transcription of a 1768 edition, which comes with its own set of images that are also available for download under a Creative Commons Licence. By looking at these texts, users will get a sense of how radically French spelling evolved in the mid-eighteenth century.

Readers of this blog are most cordially invited to browse my edition. Any feedback on content or presentation (e.g. the way footnotes or variants are displayed) would be greatly appreciated as I work towards an edition of a considerably longer text by d’Holbach. But more on that in the coming months!

Ruggero Sciuto

Postdoctoral Researcher at Hertford College and the Voltaire Foundation, University of Oxford

The Faithful Shepherd and me: a personal Odyssey, Part II

The Faithful Shepherd and me: a personal Odyssey

The Taylor Institution Library’s editions of Il Pastor fido, by G.B. Guarini (1538-1612)
 Part II: The Once and Future Guarinian

Robert Finch, ‘antiquary and connoisseur of the arts’,1 died in 1830, leaving his large collection of books, manuscripts, coins, paintings and other artefacts to the University of Oxford, with a life interest to Henry (Enrico) Mayer, the son of friends of his in Italy, who became virtually Finch’s adopted son.  It was on Mayer’s death in 1877, therefore, that the collection became legally the property of the University, though Mayer had in fact made arrangements for its physical transfer to the University nearly 40 years previously.  In his will, Finch had stipulated that the collection was to be kept together but it was found that there was no building suitable to hold it all and eventually an appeal was made to the Court of Chancery which allowed for the collection to be dispersed and duplicates sold.  In 1975, the then Taylor Librarian, Giles Barber, bought back for the Library a volume from Finch’s original collection, William Gell’s The Itinerary of Greece (London, 1810), the bookplates inside the book’s front pastedown showing clearly the book’s journey, with Finch’s original bookplate, the Finch Collection bookplate with its ‘Sold by Authority’ overstamping, and the 1975 bookplate.2

Finch’s library was housed originally in Room 3 of the newly built Taylorian and a catalogue of the books and manuscripts was published in 1874.Of the items retained by the Taylorian when the collection was dispersed in 1921, those that stood out as a group were the 33 different editions of Battista Guarini’s famous pastoral tragicomedy, Il pastor fido.  One edition was held in duplicate as having belonged to Finch’s wife Maria and it was these volumes from the Finch Collection which formed the original nucleus of the present collection of well over 200 editions.

In Part I of this personal survey of my involvement in the growth of the collection during the 33 happy years that I spent in the Taylorian Library, I wrote of some of the joys and disappointments of collecting.  And make no mistake, looking out for ‘new’ editions of the Pastor fido, whether for purchase by the Library or to add to my checklist of published editions of Guarini,4 has been a time-consuming affair and, as any enthusiast will tell you, such an endeavour can become something of a compulsive disorder. Under my watch the Library acquired some 80 editions of the works of Guarini, mainly of the Pastor fido, and since my retirement in 2004 I have persuaded the Library to purchase the occasional volume (15 to date). I have even resorted latterly to buying the odd one myself in order to present it to the Library as a thank-you for affording me the real pleasure of helping to enrich the collection, as a member of staff and as a retiree, over a period of many years.

First, there was the curious case of a 1666 edition of the Abbé de Torche’s French translation of the Pastor fido, which turned out to be a curious hybrid, seemingly bringing together as it does the original sheets of the five individual parts, one for each Act, as issued from 1664 to 1666, but reconfigured in the form in which they appear in the reprinting of the whole translation from 1667 onwards, with the dedication of Act V, A Madame, acting as a general introduction to the whole work but minus the other dedications and the plates.  Odd indeed, but interesting.

G.B. Guarini. Il pastor fido (Cremona, 1828)

Next up was a copy of the 1828 Cremona edition of the text as issued in its original publisher’s casing. (Too often in the past binders destroyed much that is interesting from the bibliographer’s point of view.) Both these items have now been donated to the Library but there are two more which I have acquired and which I shall deposit ere long.

The first is an untrimmed copy (volume 1 only, alas, of 2) of the 1819 Zwickau edition in its original printed paper wrappers.

G.B. Guarini. Il pastor fido (Zwickau, 1819)

And then, only in March of last year, I discovered an edition of the Pastor fido with the imprint ‘In Venezia, presso Gio. Battista Ciotti, 1664’, the first time in more than 45 years of investigation that I had come across such an edition. The seller was living in Modica in Sicily, a town more famous for its bitter chocolate and its occasional appearance in the Inspector Montalbano films on television than for its antiquarian books, but, if you like, this would be the chocolate on the icing on the cake of my quest for editions of Guarini’s play.  If all is as it seems.

G.B. Guarini. Il pastor fido (Venice: G.B. Ciotti, 1664)

 The binding, which appears to be contemporary, is a little careworn but, then, so would you be after 350 years. The imprint is obviously spurious, as Ciotti, who had been publishing works by Guarini since 1593 and of the Pastor fido since 1600, had died round about 1627 and, although works bearing the family name were published by his sons up to at least 1638,5 the date of 1664 would be a fascinating echo of his continuing prestige in the world of publishing.

There is another 1664 edition of the Pastor fido, that printed in Rome by Francesco Moneta and sold by Bartolomeo Lupardi in the Piazza Navona. It has the same number of pages as the ‘new’ Venice edition and an enquiry of the library of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz University in Hanover, which holds a copy, confirmed that the setting of the text is identical, so what we are dealing with here is, in theory, a reissue of the Rome edition with a cancel title printed for the Venice market. And yet, and yet… We show here a copy of this so far unique title-page. Is my Shepherd still faithful or has he, after all these years, become infido and false? Someone will perhaps recognize and identify that very prominent ornament.

Of the 470-odd verified editions of the Pastor fido recorded in all his guises, the Taylorian can account currently for nearly 220, with the Bodleian and college libraries chipping in a further 30 or so, a wholly satisfying total, even if, through the ravages of time, a small number of them are imperfect. But, then, ‘there is no real beauty without imperfection’ (James Salter).

And do I have a favourite, I hear you ask? Well, apart from my apparent unicum, I suppose it has to be the 1768 edition of the Pastor fido, published in Leipzig by Johann Georg Loewe and purchased by the Library in 1976. The frontispiece and the 42 vignettes in the text are here printed in blue, ‘stampate con inchiostro turchino’ the bookseller’s catalogue said. The Library also has the more usual issue where the engravings are printed with black ink but, if you want to see the other issue in all its glory, the Taylorian’s copy has been digitized and you can download PDFs of both editions here.

And me? I’m going to sit back and wait for an edition of the Pastor fido in dwarsligger format. Flipbacks, as they are dubbed by the publisher Dutton Books, are, so we are made to believe, the future.6

David Thomas
Assistant Librarian, Taylor Institution Library, 1971-2004

Notes

1 See the entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004) (Published online 23 September 2004 [accessible within the University network only]). See also Elizabeth Nitchie, The Reverend Colonel Finch (New York: Columbia University Press, 1940) and E.R.P. Vincent, ‘Robert Finch and Enrico Mayer’, Modern Language Review, XXIX (1934), 150-155.

2 Intriguingly, the volume bears the signature of another of the Library’s benefactors, Marshall Montgomery (1880-1930), Reader in German in the University, who acquired the book in 1925.

3 George Parker, A catalogue of the books in the Finch Collection, Oxford. Oxford: E. Pickard Hall and J.H. Stacy, 1874.  The Bodleian copy of the catalogue (2590 e. Oxf. 10.3) is annotated and, although most of the Guarinis are marked as being not in Bodley, they were all destined to be kept in the Taylorian when the collection was dispersed.

4 David H. Thomas, An annotated checklist of editions of the works of Battista Guarini. Oxford: Taylor Institution Library, 2014.  A contemplated further revision of the checklist will reveal the most recent metamorphosis of my Faithful Shepherd as the Polish Wierny pasterz, in a translation by Marta Wojtkowska-Maksymik (Warszawa, 2018); this, too, will join the collection shortly.

5 Dennis E. Rhodes, Giovan Battista Ciotti (1562-1627?): publisher extraordinary at Venice. Venezia: Marcianum Press, 2013.

6 See an article by David Sanderson in The Times, 5 November 2018, ‘Mini book format swiped from phones,’ p.19.

 

Alexander Solzhenitsyn Centenary Exhibition

Alexander Solzhenitsyn December 11th 1918- August 3rd 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn December 11th 1918- August 3rd 2008

“Cast in bronze, set to music, choreographed, subject of poems, jokes and novels, of dozens of monographs, a score of American doctoral dissertations, innumerable articles, and even a scatological sally in Hustler magazine, parodied and plagiarized, quoted and interpreted in countless incompatible combinations – Solzhenitsyn has produced an impact which, in its extensity, if not its intensity, has been equalled by no other writer in recent times.”[1]  These words, written after the first two decades of Solzhenitsyn’s extraordinary reception in East and West, have, of course, lost their topicality, but there is much to mark as the centenary of his birth approaches.

The Nobel Prize-winning Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born on 11 December 1918, when the Revolution had just marked its first anniversary. Despite the efforts of his widowed mother, his upbringing in Kislovodsk and Rostov, in housing makeshift or nomadic, was fraught with the privations and uncertainties of the time.  His obsession with becoming a writer began around the age of ten, and for much of his youth he pursued it where and when he could.

Solzhenitysn’s home-produced newspaper “20th century”

Solzhenitysn’s home-produced newspaper “20th century”

 After university, the War and military service kept him on the move, and it was while he was at the front that he was first arrested in 1945. Eight years of imprisonment, ‘writing’ largely in his head/memory, were followed seamlessly by ‘eternal’ exile, which took him to a remote corner of Kazakhstan and the beginnings of his treatment for cancer. It was not until ‘eternity’ was curtailed by fiat during the Khrushchev Thaw that Solzhenitsyn could move to the relative security and stability of Ryazan.  There, in 1959, he began writing a story ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’, taking the line of greatest resistance: that is, eschewing the horrific and chronicling routine life on a relatively benign day in a Stalinist labour camp. In November 1962, the publication, at Nikita Khrushchev’s behest of a work so obviously unpublishable caused a political and literary sensation.  Solzhenitsyn’s brief interval of celebrity gave way in the East to years as unperson, target for KGB assassination, arrestee and then as forcible deportee.  In the West, admiration for his personal courage and for the novels which found their way out of Russia faltered once he turned his attention to the failings of the West. With his return to a new post-Soviet Russia in the early nineties, his reputation in the West entered its eclipse.  In his homeland he remains uncomfortably poised as a tolerated classic.

Oxford can boast a modest claim to association with Solzhenitsyn, principally thanks to three Fellows of St Antony’s College.  In the scramble to translate ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ into English, Max Hayward and Ronald Hingley’s version emerged as superior to the other four early attempts. Their reviews of this and later works did much to promote Solzhenitsyn’s reception in this country, and one of the first British doctoral dissertations devoted to the author appeared at Oxford under their guidance. Solzhenitsyn has remained on the list of optional ‘special authors’ in the Oxford BA syllabus for more than thirty years. In exile from Russia in the 1970s, Solzhenitsyn discovered the translations of a third St Antony’s Fellow, the historian Harry Willetts, who henceforth became his unconditionally preferred English translator until Harry’s death in 2005.

The Taylor Institution’s exhibition of books and illustrations to mark Solzhenitsyn’s centenary is open from 22 November to 17 December.  Though beginning with the author’s celebrated début in 1962, the exhibition then casts back to his literary origins — the juvenilia and labour-camp writing that led up to his break-through in 1962.

A sample of Solzhenitsyn’s juvenilia written when he was a boy. Titles of the stories: Morskoi razboi (Robbery at sea); Siniaia strela (Blue arrow); Strana piraniia (Land of the piranhas)

A sample of Solzhenitsyn’s juvenilia written when he was a boy. Titles of the stories: Morskoi razboi (Robbery at sea); Siniaia strela (Blue arrow); Strana piramid (Land of the pyramids)

 It then returns to the works associated in the West with the Solzhenitsyn of the late sixties and seventies (The First Circle, Cancer Ward and The Gulag Archipelago).   Some exhibits relate to the the intense official campaign mounted against him in connection with his arrest, loss of citizenship and forcible exile in 1974. Others to the Western reaction—veneration, bewilderment or irritation — as he expounded his views in speeches and lectures in America and Europe.

We have tried to capture something of that sustained mythologizing and debunking to which his larger-than-life image was subjected over several decades.  For example, at the height of his political notoriety in the East and his not uncontroversial fame in the West, at least four novels were published presenting fictionalized incarnations of Solzhenitsyn now as heroic  dissident, now as squalid ingrate befouling his own nest, or as slightly batty would-be prophet, preparing to return to a liberated Russia, triumphantly mounted on a white charger, and even (in response to persistent rumours in the seventies) as a malevolent imposter sent to foment hostilities between East and West, while the ‘real’ Solzhenitsyn languishes in captivity.

Such curiosities are included in the exhibition, together with pirate editions, and miscellaneous examples of the accusatory and denunciatory genres.  Together they attest, albeit sometimes obliquely, to Solzhenitsyn’s remarkable and varied impact in East and West over half a century.

Dr Michael Nicholson

University College, Oxford

[1] M. Nicholson, Solzhenitsyn: Effigies and Oddities, in Dunlop, Haugh & Nicholson (eds.), Solzhenitsyn in Exile: critical essays and documentary materials (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1985), p. 132.

……………………………………………………

Take a look at the following podcast for Dr Nicholson’s lecture on the event of Solzhenitsyn’s centenary:

The exhibition continues at the Taylor Institution until 17 December. You can link to the exhibition chronology and catalogue below:

Solzhenitsyn exhibition chronology

Solzhenitsyn exhibition catalogue

Clare Hills-Nova

28 October 2018

The Faithful Shepherd and me: a personal Odyssey

The Taylor Institution Library’s editions of Il Pastor fido, by G.B. Guarini (1538-1612)
 Part I

Battista Guarini, Il pastor fido, scene from Act 1 (engraving, c. 1602; See Berthold Wiese, Erasmo Pèrcopo: Geschichte der Italienischen Litteratur, Leipzig und Wien 1910 [Wikimedia Commons])

We go back quite a long way, the Faithful Shepherd and me. He was born some time during the 1580s and has been reborn speaking many different languages other than his native Italian: French, English, Spanish, Dutch, German, Neapolitan, Cretan (and Greek), Polish, Swedish, and Portuguese, and even Croatian, Latin, and, in a parody, the dialect of Bergamo; but latterly he has had to content himself mainly with his native tongue. This is the story of our acquaintance, published in two parts, with Part II appearing later in the year.

I was appointed to the staff of the Taylor Institution Library in 1971 and it must have been very early on that the Librarian, Giles Barber, suggested that I build upon the Library’s collection of editions of Giovanni Battista Guarini’s famous Il Pastor fido, a pastoral tragi-comedy set in Arcadia, first published in Venice in 1589. In An annotated checklist of editions of the works of Battista Guarini, first published online by the Library in 2010 and, in a slightly revised version, in 20141, I wrote at length, in the introduction, of the history of the Taylorian’s Guarini collection.

In summary, its origin lies in the 33 editions amassed by Robert Finch (1783-1830), a Balliol man, who bequeathed his library and other artefacts to the University.2 Damned, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, as a ‘pretentious ass’ and a ‘supposititious officer of dragoons’,3 it was impossible, said an earlier biographer, ‘to hold him in very high respect as a connoisseur of literature or of art’ and yet his library was ‘good enough to supply to Oxford University several thousand volumes which it did not own’.4 The 33 Guarinis ended up in the Taylorian and this nucleus was added to notably by the Library’s second Librarian, Dr Heinrich Krebs (in post 1871-1921) during the 1870s.

Indeed, it was Dr Krebs who acquired for the Library a copy of the first edition of the Pastor fido (dated 1590 but in fact December 1589) and by 1882 he was able to talk of the gathering together (originally on the upper shelves of the Taylorian’s Main Reading Room gallery) of ‘not less than 126 different editions and versions in various languages of this celebrated pastoral’.5

Il pastor fido (Venice: Gio. Battista Bonfadino, MDXC. [1590])

(He managed to include among all those Guarinis – and it is still there – La fida pastora, Sir Richard Fanshawe’s Latin translation of John Fletcher’s The faithful shepherdess (1658), an early example, maybe, of gender inclusivity!) My checklist, which attempts to list editions of all Guarini’s works apart from the more minor anthologized extracts, has, I hope, been of use (it has certainly been quoted by booksellers and even by the occasional librarian and academic). Although it could be used as a springboard for a more serious attempt at compiling a full-scale bibliography of Guarini’s works, much remains to be done. There are a great many editions listed that I have not seen, even in online digitized form, and, while I have built up a large collection of photocopies or downloads of title pages and illustrations, I am very conscious of the magnitude of the task. It is likely that a full listing and description of all Guarini editions would need to be a large-scale collaborative undertaking, probably best done online, but I personally shall have to content myself with a possible third version of my checklist in, I hope, the not too distant future.

My hope that more might be done by way of attaching images to the entries in the list (I was thinking simply of images of title pages) has been implemented in a way I did not initially envisage by the appearance of Laura Riccò’s masterful 2-volume work on illustrations of the pastoral genre, the second volume of which is devoted entirely to the illustrations, a considerable number of them taken from editions of Guarini.6 Professor Riccò graciously tweaks a few of the entries in my list and generously introduces me to a few editions that I did not know about. She quite legitimately replaces the Anglo-French bias of my listings by giving, wherever possible, locations in the penisola and speaks very kindly of the checklist as a ‘fondamentale soccorso’ and a ‘massiccia ricognizione’, seeing me perhaps as a scout reconnoitring a somewhat difficult and even unknown territory, no attempt having been made since that of Vittorio Rossi in his 1886 monograph on Guarini to list editions of Il Pastor fido.7 Relying heavily on earlier bibliographers, some of them not entirely reliable, Rossi listed about 180 editions, of which he had personally seen only just over 80. My own list brings the figure up to about 430, with a further 40 or so published since 1886.  If, as Professor Riccò suggests, my list ‘stupisce anche gli studiosi più avvertiti con la documentazione del successo davvero immenso del Pastor fido’, it is surely time for a proper descriptive bibliography of Guarini to be undertaken ‒ but not by me. It is nice to think that it might even be possible to construct a fully integrated database which would bring together texts, drawings, woodcuts, engravings, frescoes, paintings, porcelain and other examples of the fine arts, such as the fan in the Royal Collection depicting the game of Blind Man’s Buff from Act III of the play.8

Like all collectors, I have had my disappointments. Back in the day, before the advent of online bookselling databases like AbeBooks and Maremagnum, a lot would depend on the speed with which the post office could deliver booksellers’ catalogues to the Library. In Birmingham, the Professor of Italian, Humphrey Whitfield, a no mean Guarini scholar himself, was on the lookout for editions to add to the University Library’s collection and he could easily snap up a delicious morsel, even from a Blackwell’s catalogue, before the Taylorian had time to pick up the phone. (As I record in the introduction to my checklist, it was Humphrey who goaded me into producing the first preliminary draft of the list at the end of 1994, just a short time before his death in the February of the following year.) In December 1975, Birmingham beat us to a 1596 Venice edition of the Pastor fido. (I still have the card on which is pasted the entry from the catalogue with my annotation: ‘Too late!!’.) It is still the only copy of this edition in the UK. Sometimes we would have to pass over a desirable edition owing to its exorbitant price or because, although it had an interesting provenance, we already had a copy of the particular edition. So it was that we let an early edition of Sir Richard Fanshawe’s translation of the Pastor fido, which contained an autograph poem from the translator to a friend, Thomas Brooke, ‘before an extended voyage’, wing its way  across the Atlantic to a collector in Marblehead, Ohio. (I still rather regret this but I have a photographic copy of the poem which he very generously let me have.)

Il pastor fido ([S.l.]: [s.n.], [1727?])

We also passed up the opportunity of acquiring an undated but late eighteenth-century edition of the Italian text which happened to have belonged to the poet Shelley, which naturally helped to push up the price astronomically. (The Taylorian already had a copy, as did the Bodleian.)

However, the Friends of the Bodleian were able to buy for that library a 1639 edition of the Pastor fido which had belonged to the poet Lucy Hutchinson (1620–1681) and which had been a present from her husband, the regicide John Hutchinson (1615–1664).9 And there was one infuriating occasion when, although successfully ordered, the book simply disappeared. This was a copy of the Pastor fido published in Ronciglione by Pompilio Totti in 1632 and it would have made a valuable addition to our collection. But for the most part we were able to obtain what we felt we could afford, with the result that, from 1971 to my retirement in 2004, the Library acquired some 80 editions of Guarini’s works, mainly of the Pastor fido, and, since 2004, it has continued to add to the collection from time to time. The Taylorian’s collection can thus, I think it can be said without fear of contradiction, be deemed the most comprehensive in the world and some of the Italian editions are not even recorded by the Catalogo del Servizio Bibliografico Nazionale, which maintains the Italian national catalogue.

Below: Some other Pastor fido editions held by the Taylorian. (See Part II, coming later this year.)

David Thomas
Assistant Librarian, Taylor Institution Library, 1971-2004

Notes

1 David H. Thomas, An annotated checklist of editions of the works of Battista Guarini. Oxford: Taylor Institution Library, 2014

2 Finch’s books are listed in George Parker, A catalogue of the books in the Finch Collection, Oxford. Oxford: E. Pickard Hall and J.H. Stacy, 1874

3 Alan Bell, ‘Robert Finch (1783-1830)’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004) (Published online 23 September 2004 [accessible within the University network only])

4 Elizabeth Nitchie, The Reverend Colonel Finch. New York: Columbia University Press, 1940

5 Heinrich Krebs, ‘The earliest French version of Guarini’s “Pastor fido”’, The Academy XXI (Jan.-June 1882; n.s. 507, 21 Jan. 1882), 46

6 Laura Riccò, L’arcadia “in mano”: illustrazioni editorali della favola pastorale (1583-1678). 2 vols. Roma: Bulzoni Editore, 2012

7 Vittorio Rossi, Battista Guarini ed il Pastor fido: studio biografico-critico con documenti inediti. Torino: Ermanno Loescher, 1886

8 Jane Roberts, Prudence Sutcliffe, Susan Mayor, Unfolding pictures: fans in the Royal Collection (London: Royal Collection Publications, 2005), pp. 42-43

9 See David Norbrook, ‘Lucy Hutchinson and Il pastor fido’, Bodleian Library Record 25/2 (October 2012), 269-273

Editions mentioned in the text

Battista Guarini. Il pastor fido, tragicomedia pastorale. Venetia: Gio. Battista Bonfadino, MDXC [1590]

Battista Guarini. Il pastor fido, tragicomedia pastorale. Venetia: Francesco de’ Franceschi Senese, 1596

Battista Guarini. Il pastor fido … Con le Rime. Ronciglione: Pompilio Totti, 1632

Battista Guarini. Il pastor fido: tragicomedia pastorale. Trevigi: Girolamo Righettini, MDCXXXIX [1639]

John Fletcher. La fida pastora: comœdia pastoralis. London: G. Bedell & T.Collins, 1658

Digital Editions at the Taylorian : the making of a mazarinade

As a participant in Emma Huber’s[1] inaugural Digital Editions course, I created a digital edition and accompanying transcription of a primary text held by the Taylor Institution Library. I chose to digitize, transcribe and encode a ‘mazarinade,’ dating from 1649 (title-page featured above). This piece belongs to the Taylorian’s vast collection of ‘mazarinades,’ or political pamphlets consisting of ‘short satirical or burlesque texts, in verse or prose, about Cardinal Mazarin, written at the time of the Fronde (1648-1653), a time of uprising and revolt in France while King Louis XIV was still a minor.’ The mazarinades satirize Cardinal Mazarin, who succeeded Richelieu as Minister of State and were the propagandist arm of the political revolution against the French Crown. The reasoning behind my choice of material was grounded in the pamphlet’s convenience for digitization, or ‘digitizability’: it is quarto-sized which means it is easy to photograph, legibly printed, which made it accessible to transcribe, and relatively short, making it a convenient choice for a contained project and first attempt at creating a digital edition. Furthermore, the Taylor Institution Library holds a large number of mazarinades that are not individually catalogued. I hope that the digital edition of the ‘Covrier de la Covr’ is a small contribution to the ongoing project to digitize them to raise awareness of their existence, improve access and, subsequently, promote their incorporation into research on early modern French history, literature and culture.

As a graduate student in early modern French literature, I was equally as curious about the medium of the pamphlet as I was about creating a digital edition; the mazarinades are explicitly polemical products, designed to undermine the Crown’s authority but simultaneously written in verse and therefore perhaps also blurring the line between art and politics. On a theoretical level, I was intrigued by the parallelism between the pamphlet and the digital edition, both being media designed for mass dissemination. By imitating the process of textual editing implicit in the mazarinade’s original creation in the re-production of the pamphlet as a digital artefact, I was made aware of the intricacies undergirding such production in the first place.

This mazarinade is written in rhyming couplets, the playful, sing-song nature of which lends itself well to ridiculing the Cardinal and the Queen. It tells the story of the French court under attack by Spanish forces. The courier who arrives tells the Queen that the only way to save the country is to get rid of the insolent ‘ministre de France,’ who flees the country by the end of the poem. When Mazarin informs the king of his decision, the latter promptly ‘se prit a rire/Disant c’est que ie desire. [began to laugh/saying “that’s what I desire.”]’ further undermining Mazarin’s authority.  What follows in the rest of this blog post is devoted to the process of creating this digital edition for those who want to learn more, but if you’re curious about the text itself, check it out here!

In the creation of this digital edition, editorial decisions began with the act of digitization itself. Under the guidance of Emma Huber, I learned about the various processes behind the creation of a digital edition, a process starting with digitization. In this case, the analog paper pamphlet was turned into a digital document by capturing its image. We used the Library’s camera to photograph each page of the mazarinade, which could be easily saved and transferred to our computers. Already at this stage, the bias of the editor/digitizer crept in, for I initially had not photographed the blank back-side of the pamphlet’s cover page. It contained no information I thought was valuable. And yet, this editorial decision resulted in an incomplete, bastardized version of the pamphlet that, though it was a digital facsimile, was already different from the original. Lots of factors went into the taking of these images such as the care of the book, making sure not to overextend the edges, using lead snakes to hold the pages down, natural lighting and using the maximum resolution possible on the camera.

Once we had all the images, we needed to ‘compress’ the images so that they could be easily represented as thumbnails on the digital editions website; Emma walked us through the various available formats and their purposes. We learned to use the TIFF format for our master images as it is the large preservation format. PNG files compress the file, but don’t lose any data in the process—which is why it can be called ‘lossless’ compression. The reason for not using a .jpeg file is because it creates a small file but loses data every time the file is saved (lossy compression). After converting the images to TIFF files then we cropped them to a standard format that makes the image easily viewable. Emma emphasized the importance of always retaining the original image and saving any changes made as a separate file. The importance of this is to ensure that no data is lost, since with every new save and/or change you lose information about the original image. She also emphasized the importance of providing metadata about the images such as which camera was used, the resolution, date of the picture, the shelfmark of the document captured, the holding library and then a description of the content of the image. This metadata should always be in open format that is available to anyone. And the description should use a controlled vocabulary in order to describe the content of the image so that it is more easily searchable for interested viewers.

It should be noted here that using a camera for the creation of digital text is useful when wanting to display that text alongside a transcription, but since cameras are unable to perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR), these digital documents alone are often insufficient for researchers, as they are not searchable or in a format that can be manipulated into other formats. As such, transcription was an essential component of this project; I chose to create a semi-diplomatic transcription, which attempts to preserve as much of the original textual presentation as possible, except where making small orthographic changes greatly enhances the readability for a modern audience. In my edition, all original spelling has been maintained, including the interchangeable use of u and v and other spelling variations. All accents and original punctuation have been reproduced, although editorial choices about spacing were made; where I felt the original lack of spacing between words would have made the document less readable or unclear, I used modern spacing practices. On line 210, there appears to be a printer error: it reads “lny” instead of “luy” however I maintained the mistake as such and signalled it in my editorial note.

Our transcriptions were created in the oXygen text editing software application, which creates ‘plain text’ that conforms easily to the XML markup language and thus also lends itself more easily to the process of ‘encoding.’ During this process, we also learned about the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) which has set out the rules for various elements used by XML to encode a transcribed text. These various codes and tags not only delineate the format elements, such as the title, body, quote, but also where verse appears and where editorial choices have been made. By doing this ‘structural encoding,’ it makes it possible for the encoded text to serve as the base for a variety of ‘transformations,’ in which the XML document is transformed into HTML (webpages), a PDF, EPUB (e-publication), DOCx or ODT (open data document). For me, the most important implication of having an xml-encoded text is that it opens up the possibilities of where you can take the scholarship from there. Although I did not extend the project this term, I would have been able to extract much data from a set of mazarinades. Hopefully when the corpus of digital mazarinades grows, scholars will be able to query the data sets using methods such as content analysis, social network analysis and corpus linguistics in order to expand the research being done on these texts. By turning qualitative observations into quantitative data, it might be possible to reach more audiences with more information. For example, now that I have the XML version, I could create a visualization that tracks the number of times the Queen regent is mentioned in the mazarinades, compared with how many times Cardinal Mazarin occurs, and compared with how often their names are mentioned in conjunction. I would have to ‘code’ the occurrences of each of these incidents, but once I have the quantitative data, I could use data visualization tools to present this information clearly and succinctly on a visual graphic.

While this seems to be a bit superfluous and redundant for a short pamphlet that can easily be studied by a literary scholar, the potential for data visualizations is particularly useful to researchers looking at massive corpora of texts, because it allows them to look at the information from a distance in a way that might lead to new research questions. And secondly, this merging of quantitative methods and qualitative data in sources such as literary texts, makes the research more easily accessible to a lay audience. Rather than needing to possess the skills of an Oxford graduate student, information can be communicated effectively in a matter of minutes with a good visualization and a thorough legend for the graphic. Therefore, the creation of digital editions is significant not only because they break open access to documents by making texts freely available online, but because the creation of ‘metadata’ about the texts and the quantification of humanities-based observations gives rise to different kinds of research methodologies that ask different kinds of questions; not only does this give the humanities researcher more breadth to contextualize and deepen her own research, it also provides the space for interdisciplinary collaboration on textual or historical artefacts that become the point of convergence for researchers from fields ranging from comparative literature to anthropology to computer science. Such collaboration inevitably results in, or has the capacity to result in, a deeper understanding not only of historical narratives and literary methods, but also of the socio-political structures governing access to information and its distribution in the modern day.

For me personally, the digitization of this mazarinade allowed me to connect to the text and the conditions of its original production that would not have been apparent had I been studying it online as an already digitized document. Going through the entire process of creating the digital document, its text and its context, as well as publishing it online for a variety of audiences brought to mind questions about the various layers of decision-making behind the creation of a text by a multitude of actors, from the author to the editor to the printer and the distributor. Although these questions would arise with any digital edition, the choice of the mazarinade aligned well with this one, especially when thinking about the polemical and ethical dimensions of mass textual dissemination. It is my hope that this blog post will serve as a small means of contextualizing the creation of this digital edition and prompt readers—researchers, teachers, students, historians, librarians, mazarinade enthusiasts alike—to think about how we acquire, process, and package information in the modern age and whether or not universities and libraries, as major guardians of this information, have an ethical responsibility to disseminate it so that texts, like the mazarinades, that were intended for a public readership, can reach one in the modern day.

[1] Emma Huber is the German subject librarian at the Taylor Institution Library, Oxford.

………………………………….

Eileen Jakeway, MSt French and German

Michael Angelo Taylor and the Taylor Institution: Legacies, Politics, Modern Languages


When the noted architect Sir Robert Taylor died on 27 September 1788, he left behind a codicil to his will which stipulated that, after specific allocations had gone to his wife and others, the residue of his considerable fortune (which at his death stood at some £180,000), be left in the first instance to his son and, in the event of his dying without issue, to the University of Oxford.[1] This bequest, the codicil stated, was to be used for buying freehold land in Oxford and constructing upon it an institution ‘for the teaching and improving the European languages’.

Fig. 1: Foundation stone, Taylor Institution (Photo: Thomas Roberts)

These words, engraved in stone, dominate the grand staircase which leads to the Main Reading Room of the Taylor Institution Library, the establishment ultimately founded as a result of Sir Robert’s generous donation. The phrase, therefore, is likely to have penetrated the consciousness of frequent visitors to the Taylorian. Readers are much less likely, however, to have heard of Sir Robert’s son, Michael Angelo Taylor. Little do they know that, had his position, following his father’s death, prevailed the Taylor Institution and its library might never have been realised – at least, not in the form that it exists today.

Fig. 2: Portrait of Michael Angelo Taylor by S. W. Reynolds. Published by and after J. Lonsdale. 1822 © National Portrait Gallery (NPG D15054). CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Born in 1757, Michael Angelo Taylor was the only child of Sir Robert Taylor and his wife, Lady Taylor. After spending time at Westminster School, he received legal training at the Inner Temple and at Lincoln’s Inn, and in late 1774 he was admitted to Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Seemingly headed for a career in the law, he was called to the bar three weeks later. He completed his BA in 1778, and subsequently received his MA from St John’s College, leaving in 1781. By then, it seems, his interest in the legal profession had waned, and he had cultivated an ambition to make his way in politics. In 1784 he became MP for Poole, embarking on what would be a long, noteworthy, and quite successful career in Parliament.[2]

His life after leaving Oxford, however, was not to be without difficulty or controversy. Significantly, after Sir Robert died in 1788, Michael Angelo set himself on a collision course with the institution at which he had studied. Apparently not content with the £50,000 that his father had left to him specifically, he chose to contest the will, as well as the codicil to it which set out the bequest to the University. Thus, the University found itself embroiled in a drawn-out legal battle which was to rumble on until after Michael Angelo himself died in 1834. Papers deposited with the University Archives tell the story.

Despite the University’s vigorous assertion of the ‘force and validity’[3] of the crucial codicil, whilst Michael Angelo remained alive no settlement was reached between the two parties regarding Sir Robert’s bequest. Initially, a judge in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury pronounced against the validity of the codicil establishing Sir Robert’s intention to leave part of his fortune to the University. This was largely, it seems, due to the fact that Sir Robert had never actually attached his signature to the codicil.[4] (It appears that a considerable portion of the University’s case centred around attempting to prove that Sir Robert had intended to do so, and was prevented only by the failures of his solicitors.[5]) Although the High Court of Delegates reversed this decision following an appeal by the University, letters of administration with the will and codicil annexed were granted to Michael Angelo in 1795.[6] Michael Angelo thus ‘possessed himself of all the real and personal estate of his father’ and ‘intermixed’ it with his own monies and property.[7] In 1817 he offered to settle the University’s claim on his father’s estate for £50,000 Irish currency (the majority of the estate was in property in Ireland), but the University seems to have declined this proposal.[8]

Fig. 3: Extract from a University document headed ‘2nd Session of Michaelmas Term, to wit, Friday the 14th day of November 1788’. The author writes: ‘the party proponent prays […] that the Right Worshipful the Judge of this court would pronounce for the force and validity of the aforesaid papers’. One of the papers in question was the codicil establishing the bequest to the University. University of Oxford Archives, UD/23/1/2b

The fact that Michael Angelo could draw upon the entirety of his father’s estate granted him a considerable degree of financial security, and no doubt allowed him to focus his energies more completely on his political career – a career which was to gain him much public notoriety. Having begun his time in Parliament as a follower of Pitt, he later allied himself with the radical Whig Charles Fox and favoured parliamentary reform. Over time he repeatedly found himself the subject of controversy, and became one of the preferred subjects of the satirical printmakers of the day, the most notable of whom being James Gillray.[9] Often referred to as the ‘chicken of the law’ (a title he had inadvertently bestowed upon himself when, during a debate in February 1785, he described himself as ‘but a chicken’ in his profession,[10]) he was frequently depicted as a diminutive figure with treacherous tendencies. One print published in May 1797 (Fig. 3) – a satire on the decision of Charles Fox and several of his followers among the opposition Whigs (of whom Michael Angelo was one) to secede from Parliament in 1797 after calling for reform – provides a colourful example. Here he appears in the form of a small rat – one of several seen scampering from the Opposition benches and out through the doors of the House of Commons.

Fig. 4: James Gillray, Parliamentary-reform,-or-opposition-rats, leaving the house they had undermined. 1797 © Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

In another print, published later that year (Fig. 4), he appears in a procession of ‘truants’ (that is, opposition Whigs who had seceded from the Commons) who are seen trudging reluctantly towards an angry-looking Pitt as they return to Parliament. Michael Angelo (second from the left) is here depicted as a miniscule figure, and one who has been humiliated – he is clearly embarrassed (he covers his face with his hand) – and a hen and her chicks can be seen at his feet. In depicting him in this way, the anonymous maker of this print perhaps sought to pierce through Taylor’s apparently pompous demeanour. Also noteworthy is the fact that all of the ‘truants’ wear bonnets-rouges, the implication being that they have revolutionary ambitions. Clearly, Michael Angelo was a divisive character whose behaviour inspired discussion and frustration in a number of different quarters, of which the University of Oxford was only one.

Fig. 5: Anon., Truant school-boys returning to their duty!! 1797 © Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

It was only after Michael Angelo’s long career in public life was brought to a close by his death in 1834 that the battle over his father’s fortune was finally concluded. Michael Angelo’s proposal of settling the University’s claim on Sir Robert’s estate for a sum of £50,000 appeared again in his will, and was again rejected by the University, which sought a greater amount. However, as Michael Angelo had intermixed his father’s estate with his own monies, it was now impossible to ascertain exactly how much of it had been left in residue after payment of his debts and legacies. In the end, an agreement between the University and John Vane (a relation of Michael Angelo’s late wife) was reached in November 1835, whereby the University of Oxford received the sum of £65,000.[11]

Several documents held in the University Archives shed some light on the lengths that senior figures within the University went to in order to finally obtain these funds. One particularly interesting document (UD/23/1/5), which lists monies paid by the University in 1837 to a solicitor named Baker Morrell,[12] reveals how legal proceedings relating to Michael Angelo and his father’s bequest in the years prior cost the University large sums of money in lawyers’ fees. The first page of this document alone lists £4 8s 8d paid to Morrell for, among other things, ‘Perusing and considering Mr M.A. Taylor’s codicil and the codicil to Sir R. Taylor’s will containing the bequest to the University and also the papers in the cause upon the establishment of Sir R. Taylor’s will and codicils in 1795’ (see Fig. 5).

Fig. 6: Extract from a University document headed ‘The University to Baker Morrell (Sir Robert Taylor’s Bequest)’. 1837. University of Oxford Archives, UD/23/1/5

The document runs to several pages in length, and on the final page the total sum paid is given as £342 3s 4d – a not inconsiderable amount, being equal to around £28,500 in today’s currency.[13] The list is seemingly exhaustive, even including £3 3s for ‘Postages and carriage of parcels for 2 years’.

Fig. 7: A note, signed by Frederick Joseph Morrell (1811–1882), the son and partner of the solicitor Baker Morrell, attached to UD/23/1/5 (see Fig. 5), University of Oxford Archives. The note acknowledges receipt of payment from the University ‘for business relative to Sir Robert Taylor’s bequest’.

The foundation of the Taylor Institution, then, was a messy business. Thanks to Michael Angelo, the University had already expended a considerable amount of time and money before any meaningful plans for its construction could be made, let alone those for its character or constitution. When the necessary funds had finally been received, they were put towards a project whereby land was acquired from Worcester College, and a building which combined a modern languages institution and a University art gallery (later to become the Ashmolean Museum) was erected on the site, designed by C.R. Cockerell (son of Samuel Pepys Cockerell, who had been a pupil of Sir Robert).[14] The Taylor Institution Library opened, at long last, in early 1849, sixty-one years after the founder’s death.

Thomas Roberts
Graduate Library Trainee
Taylor Institution Library

Acknowledgements

Simon Bailey, Keeper of the University Archives, for permission to reproduce extracts relating to Sir Robert Taylor’s Last Will and Testament.

References and Further Reading

[1] Jill Hughes, ‘Taylor Institution Library’, in B. Fabian (ed.), Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland, Österreich und Europa, Hildesheim, 2003 [Online ed., http://www.b2i.de/fabian?Taylor_Institution_Library].

[2] Roland Thorne, “Taylor, Michael Angelo (bap. 1757–1834)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [online ed., Jan 2013, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/27067, accessed 22 Nov 2017].
‘TAYLOR, Michael Angelo (1757-1834), of Cantley Hall, nr. Doncaster, Yorks. and Whitehall Yard, Mdx.’ The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher (CUP, 2009) [Online ed.: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1820-1832/member/taylor-michael-1757-1834, accessed 16 Mar 2018].

[3] ‘2nd Session of Michaelmas Term, to wit, Friday the 14th day of November 1788’. University of Oxford Archives, UD/23/1/2b – see Fig. 2.

[4] John Harris & Malcolm Baker, “Taylor, Sir Robert (1714–1788)” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [Online ed., Jan 2013, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/27077].

[5] In UD/23/1/2b it is stated, for example, that ‘it was his intention to sign [the codicil] […] and was accordingly by his own desire raised up in his bed in order to sign the same’.

[6] These and other details relating to the legal dispute are set out in a University document headed ‘Sir Robert Taylor’s Bequest to the University of Oxford’, University of Oxford Archives, UD/23/1/1-6.

[7] Ibid.

[8] This detail is noted by former Taylor librarian Giles Barber, who provides a succinct overview of the foundation of the library in his chapter entitled ‘The Taylor Institution’, in M.G. Brock & M.C. Curthoys (eds.), The History of the University of Oxford. Volume VI, Nineteenth-Century Oxford, Part 1 (OU), 1997), pp. 632-4.

[9] For an overview of Gillray’s work and significance, see, for example, Richard T. Godfrey & Mark Hallett (eds.), James Gillray: The Art of Caricature, Tate Publishing, 2001, and Draper Hill, Mr Gillray, the Caricaturist (London: Phaidon), 1965.

[10] Thorne, ‘Taylor, Michael Angelo’ (see note 2).

[11] This is recounted in the document entitled ‘Sir Robert Taylor’s Bequest to the University of Oxford’, University of Oxford Archives, UD/23/1/1-6.

[12] The Bodleian Library holds papers relating to Baker Morrell, as well as his father, James Morrell (also an Oxford solicitor). See http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/online/1500-1900/morrell-enclosures/morrell-enclosures.html.

[13] See MeasuringWorth.com: https://www.measuringworth.com/ppoweruk/.

[14] Barber, ‘The Taylor Institution’, p. 633 (see n. 8).

See also: Thomas Roberts Satirical prints and national identity in England, c.1760-c.1830 (B.A. Thesis, London School of Economics, 2017)

The Image of Dante, the Divine Comedy and the Visual Arts: Part II

The Image of Dante, the Divine Comedy and the Visual Arts
in the Ashmolean Museum and the Taylor Institution

II: The Divine Comedy Illustrated

This is the second of two short articles concerning the iconography of Dante as represented in the collections of the Ashmolean Museum and the Taylor Institution in Oxford. The first concerned the image of Dante himself. This one is focused on Ashmolean and Taylorian illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy.

It has often been said that the Divine Comedy is impossible to render in another medium – and that those who have tried to depict the Comedy have all, more-or-less hopelessly, failed. Some have been criticised for being too literal, failing to engage with the higher purpose of the poem; others for sacrificing Dante to their personal artistic ambitions. Underlying these criticisms is an idea of Dante’s text as a pure and independent work of art. Anything added to this is suspect. Such arguments are equally by-products of a misguided cult of authenticity, reinforced in this context by an enduring academic tendency to privilege the word over the image.

Rather than making a fetish of some imagined original and ideal reader of the poem, and consequently lamenting the supposed corruption of interpreters, it makes more sense historically to consider with an open mind the various ways in which the Comedy has been experienced across the seven centuries since its composition. Reception has always entailed visualisation – whether in the material frame of the text or in the mind of the reader. The reception history of the Comedy, seen through the material evidence of the book in its many editions, is a constant reminder of the ever-changing variety of Dante’s readers. In fact, the evidence of imagery associated with Dante, which can be sampled from the holdings of the Ashmolean Museum and the Taylor Institution Library, indicates what we know ourselves as readers: that text and visual images are constantly in mutual dialogue.

The Comedy began to be illustrated almost as soon as it was written down: the earliest manuscript copies containing pictures date from the second quarter of the fourteenth century. More than five hundred codices of the poem from this and the following century have some form of pictures, although half of these cases include only minimal imagery, while some 150 are extensively illustrated. The arrival of printing, therefore, did not inaugurate the illustrated Comedy. The Bodleian Library possesses important examples of this early manuscript tradition, whilst the illustrated texts in the Taylor Institution Library are printed versions from the late fifteenth century onwards.

Sandro Botticelli, Illustration to Inferno Canto XV, facsimile Zeichnungen von Sandro Botticelli zu Dantes Goettlicher Komoedie: nach den Originalen im K. Kupferstichkabinett zu Berlin (Berlin: G. Grote’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1887) Taylor Institution Library: REP.X.55 (plates)

Botticelli’s enormous project to illustrate the Comedy was, in a sense, the culmination of the medieval tradition of illustrated manuscript copies of the poem. Botticelli’s drawings themselves are now divided between Rome and (for the greater part) Berlin. The acquisition of these sheets in 1884 by the Kupferstichkabinett zu Berlin (Museum of Prints and Drawings) was followed by the publication of facsimiles of the complete series, made to the highest standards of the day and disseminated, as an act of cultural diplomacy, to the major collections of Europe. The Taylor Institution Library owns a copy of the portfolio of loose plates.

Botticelli’s patron must have been a wealthy Florentine patrician, who was content for his artist to work on a grand scale, and to allow his imagination, responding to the poem, to build creatively on the pre-existing repertoire of illustrations to the Comedy. The moment was an important one in the process of Tuscan re-adoption of the exiled Florentine: in 1481, a decade after the appearance of the first, north Italian, printed edition, the Comedy was published in the city of Dante’s birth. This version was accompanied by an extensive commentary and a patriotic introduction by Cristoforo Landino, who boasted that the new edition effectively repatriated the author: ‘…Firenze lungo tempo dolente ma finalmente lieta sommamente si congratula col suo poeta Dante nel fine di due secoli risuscitato et restituto nella patria sua’ (‘After a long period of grief, Florence can finally and happily celebrate to the utmost with her poet, Dante, who after two centuries has been restored to life and to his homeland’). The book was also illustrated with woodblock prints, which for the first half of Inferno were based on the drawings on which Botticelli was evidently simultaneously at work. For the rest, Botticelli’s progress was evidently too slow to be of use, and other designs were deployed. These woodblocks would be re-used in diverse editions over several years.

Commento di Christophoro Landino fiorentino sopra la comedia di Dante Alighieri poeta fiorentino (Venice, 1491) Taylor Institution Library: ARCH.Fol.It.1491(1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ashmolean Print Room possesses a number of detached woodcuts from this series, painstakingly cut out from copies of the book by early collectors of printed images. In some cases, previous owners of the books had enhanced the pictures with the addition of colour.

Woodcuts from the Comedy published in Venice in 1491(?) Ashmolean Museum: Douce Collection WA.2003 (Italian sequence, unmounted)

Landino’s extensive commentary made a visual announcement that the text was quasi-biblical in its need of authoritative exposition. By the same token, however, the annotations threatened to overwhelm the text, which, like the Bible, was also known in less intellectualised forms. In an evident reaction against the perceived clutter of the Tuscan layout, the great Venetian publisher Aldus Manutius produced a simple text edition, with the collaboration of Pietro Bembo. The latter owned a copy of the Comedy once given by Boccaccio to Petrarch, which encouraged the editors to think their version superior to others. Their claim was that modern Tuscan versions had corrupted the text with changes in vernacular usage, whereas they were presenting the ‘authentic’ Dante. Once again, an idea of authenticity is contrasted with the supposed inadequacy of anything which might betray the process of reception and the passage of time. Aldus’s end-note authoritatively declares: ‘Venetiis in aedibus Aldi accuratissime men’. The title page bears the simple legend: ‘Le terze rime di Dante’. The text appears unencumbered.

Lo’nferno e’l Purgatorio e’l Paradiso di Dante Alaghieri (Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1502) Taylor Institution Library: ARCH.12°.It.1502

But although the prestige of the Bembo-Aldus text meant that it was frequently copied thereafter, it was in fact far from perfect, giving the opportunity for the Tuscan Alessandro Vellutello to condemn its failings and so to reclaim the book for Florence. Vellutello’s extra-annotated edition of 1544 (ironically published in Venice) would in turn provide the initial basis for the official Florentine imprint of the Accademia della Crusca in the 1590s. The 1544 printing also introduced a number of diagrams of Hell, based partly on the work on this subject written in Florence in the fifteenth century by Antonio Manetti. Sixteenth-century readers were interested to apply the latest techniques of geographical measurement to their reading of the poem. It is often pointed out that many more editions of Petrarch than of Dante appeared in print before 1600; yet the latter was not seen as outdated.

La comedia di Dante Aligieri con la noua espositione di Alessandro Vellutello (Venice, 1544) Taylor Institution Library: ARCH.8°.It.1544(2)

In 1564, for the first time, the author appeared on the title page both in the largest lettering and in a portrait (apparently derived from those by Raphael, or otherwise from those fifteenth-century Florentine depictions on which Raphael himself had drawn).

Dante con l’espositione di Christoforo Landino et di Alessandro Vellutello sopra la sua comedia dell’Inferno, del Purgatorio, & del Paradiso (Venice, 1564)
Taylor Institution Library: ARCH.Fol.It.1564(1)

The Ashmolean Museum possesses an extraordinary testament to the status of Dante in mid-sixteenth-century Tuscany, in the form of a wax relief, probably made in the late eighteenth century as a cast copy of its Renaissance original. That work was made by the young virtuoso sculptor Pierino da Vinci, on commission from the prominent Dante scholar, engineer, and Medicean governor of Pisa, Luca Martini. The subject is the shocking scene, described in Cantos 32 and 33 of Inferno, of the imprisonment and starvation by Archbishop Ruggiero of Pisa of his enemy, Ugolino, together with the latter’s sons and grandsons. Both the patron’s deep knowledge of the poem and his official posting to Pisa explain the appearance of this, the first Dantean subject to be rendered as an independent work of art.

Pierino da Vinci (after), Ugolino and His Sons and Grandsons in the Tower of Famine. Wax relief. Probably late 18th-century Ashmolean Museum: WA1897.190 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Only months before this commission, in the late 1540s, a famous discussion had been conducted in Florence concerning the status of the various arts. Benedetto Varchi, who orchestrated that debate together with Luca Martini, proposed that in order to render Dante’s Inferno or Pugatorio in visual art, the better medium would be, not painting, but relief sculpture. Giorgio Vasari, who saw the relief which ensued, commented that ‘In this work Vinci displayed the excellence of design no less than did Dante the perfection of poetry in his verses, for no less compassion is stirred by the attitudes shaped in wax by the sculptor in him who beholds them, than is roused in him who listens to the words and accents imprinted on the living page by the poet.’ Bearing in mind this reference to a wax version, it is not altogether impossible, on the available evidence, that the Ashmolean relief was made by Pierino da Vinci – even if the arrival of the bronze in Britain creates a plausible context for the manufacture of a wax version (together with several terracotta casts which are known, and of which the Ashmolean possesses an example: WA1888.CDEF.S28) for an eighteenth-century collector. (The bronze version, which for more than two centuries resided in the house of the Dukes of Devonshire at Chatsworth, was in 2010 sold to the Prince of Liechtenstein; it is now in that family’s palace in Vienna.)

The afterlife of Pierino da Vinci’s bronze Ugolino had momentous consequences for the imagery of the Comedy in the nineteenth century. By the seventeenth century it had been attributed to Michelangelo: not a foolish idea, given Pierino’s admiration and emulation of the master which is so evident in the figures. Acquired and brought home by a travelling English artist around 1700, it was seen by the painter and critic Jonathan Richardson, who in an influential essay on art criticism praised the sculptor’s ability to lift the communication of great ideas even beyond the power of words.

Joshua Reynolds, himself a passionate admirer of Michelangelo, responded to Richardson’s challenge with a painting of the same subject, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773 (now at Knole, Kent). Once John Dixon had in 1774 made an engraving after Reynolds’s picture, the tragic subject was launched as an ideal point of reference for the Romantic imagination, as Dante’s poem came back into favour around 1800. Along with the episode of Paolo and Francesca, that of Ugolino’s imprisonment dominated the selection of scenes from the Comedy chosen for depiction by numerous nineteenth-century artists.

At the same period a number of artists rose to the challenge of illustrating the entire poem. By the time that Gustave Doré embarked on his Dante series in the 1850s, the poet was thoroughly established in French and European culture, which helps to explain the enormous impact of those particular designs. It was, by contrast, at a relatively early moment in the nineteenth-century boom in Dante’s critical fortune that William Blake, in the 1820s, undertook a similar project. Blake’s response to Dante was so personal, that it has often been assumed to have sacrificed the poem to Blake’s idiosyncratic visual mythologies. This does injustice to the work, on which Blake was exclusively and passionately engaged in the final, illness-ridden years of his life. Blake had enormous respect for Dante, despite disagreeing with aspects of his theology; but the strength of his imagery stems from the fact that he regarded himself as equal to the medieval poet as both poet and visionary. A century ago Blake’s watercolour drawings, which he made as steps towards a never completed series of engravings, were distributed to various museums by the Art Fund. One given to the Ashmolean is amongst the most beautiful of the set. It relates to Paradiso Canto 24, and represents Dante and Beatrice in the Constellation of Gemini.

William Blake, Beatrice and Dante in Gemini, 1824-7. Watercolour over graphite with some pen and ink and black chalk Ashmolean Museum: WA1918.5 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

The Print Room also holds a set of the seven partially completed prints by Blake, which his friend and publisher John Linnell had solicited from him.

William Blake, The Six-footed Serpent Attacking Buoso de’ Donati (Inferno Canto 25). Engraving Ashmolean Museum: WA1941.27.5

In the next generation and in his own fashion, Dante Gabriel Rossetti also brought into focus aspects of the Comedy which had previously been less noticed.  He contributed to a new fascination with the youthful Dante of the lyric poetry and the Vita Nuova. The poet, in Rossetti’s imagery, shifts from the role of hero to that of lover. This is exemplified in the Ashmolean’s Beatrice at a Marriage Feast Denying Her Salutation to Dante.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beatrice at a Marriage Feast Denying Her Salutation to Dante. Watercolour and bodycolour with some pen Ashmolean Museum: WA1942.156 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Rossetti was prompted in particular directions by John Ruskin, who proposed several subjects for the artist to take from Purgatorio. One of these was the character of Matelda (or Matilda), seen by Dante in the Earthly Paradise. Rossetti’s painting of this subject is lost, but the Ashmolean holds a detailed preparatory drawing.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Dante’s Vision of Matilda Gathering Flowers (Purgatorio Canto 28). Pen and brown ink. Ashmolean Museum: WA1942.157 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Dante describes Matelda as ‘una donna soletta’ who picks flowers and sings by herself. Rossetti, ever drawn to ideas of friendship and evidently eager, perhaps under the influence of Ruskin, to emphasise a feminine principle, multiplied the female presence in his image.

Other artists in Oxford collections have engaged in diverse ways with Dante’s Comedy. Rodin’s work for his never completed Dantesque scheme, The Gates of Hell, is represented in the Ashmolean Print Room by a small engraving of Souls in Purgatory (WA1946.263). A few drawings for Tom Phillips’s Inferno (1985; WA2009.94 and WA2009.96–99) are held in the Print Room, while several boxes of related materials are catalogued in the Bodleian Library Special Collections. Also in the Print Room are sets of Geoff MacEwan’s Inferno (1990) and Purgatory (2008) engravings. In the latter the Earthly Paradise, an oasis of green ringed by purificatory flames, bursts into colour and into an abstract simplification of form. The poem continues to find imaginative responses which themselves generate new readings and new readers.

Geoff MacEwan, ‘The Garden’ 2008 © Geoff MacEwan Reproduced with the Artist’s permission

Note:

In June 2017 seminars on Dante and the visual arts were held, on two occasions for different audiences, in the Western Art Print Room of the Ashmolean Museum. The project was the result of my experience as Faculty Fellow in the Department of Western Art at the Ashmolean. I am very grateful to the following who contributed generously and enthusiastically to the collaboration: the Keeper of Western Art, Dr Catherine Whistler; the Leverhulme Research Assistant (Raphael Project), Angelamaria Aceto; the Print Room Supervisors, Dr Caroline Palmer and Katherine Wodehouse; the Bodleian Libraries’ Librarian for Art & Architecture, and for Italian Literature & Language, Clare Hills-Nova; the Picture Library Curator of the Ashmolean Museum, Amy Taylor; and Jim Harris, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Teaching Curator at the Ashmolean, together with Unity Coombes and Ben Skarratt, UEP Museum Assistants.

Professor Gervase Rosser
History of Art Department & Faculty of History
University of Oxford