350th anniversary of the Raid of the Medway

My primary school in the Netherlands was excellent, especially with regard to history lessons. So I was taught, like most Dutch school children were and are, about the heroic deeds of Admiral Michiel Adriaensz. De Ruyter. Michiel de Ruyter led the Dutch fleet up the Thames, I learned, breaking the chain that the English had placed across the river, thereby defeating the English and winning the second Anglo-Dutch sea-war in 1667.

This feat is commemorated this year, so I decided to investigate the events in a little more detail by reading some contemporary accounts. To my surprise the chain was not placed across the Thames but across the Medway; and, of course, the Dutch did not sail up it to London, but to Rochester (see modern map below). Last but not least: from our sources it appears that the chain was not broken, but ‘sailed over’, perhaps because it was far enough below water level. Other sources, not discussed here, may contradict this sequence of events, but the English were defeated in the second Anglo-Dutch war; that is a historical fact.

My primary school teacher clearly had not read these contemporary accounts of the achievements of the Dutch fleet. If he (not she!) had done so, he would have been able to tell us that Dutch narrators of the period were not very familiar with English river names, and mainly referred to the Thames as ‘river by London’ and the Medway as ‘river by Rochester’ thus confusing Dutch school children 300 years later.

Our teacher would have told us that since De Ruyter was the Admiral of the Dutch fleet, he did not cut through the chain himself, but that it was the brave captain Brakel who ‘sailed over’ the chain and managed to negotiate his way between the ships, deliberately sunk by the English to close off the Medway, and sail all the way to Rochester. Brakel and the Dutch fleet then captured and set fire to various royal ships, including the Royal Charles, and captured Upnor Castle, all of this depicted in this etching from Het leven en bedryf van den Heere Michiel de Ruiter….beschreeven door Gerard Brandt (1687).

Taylor Institution Library 122.E.18 (p.574-575)

Taylor Institution Library 122.E.18 (p.574-575)

Title page of Taylor Institution Library 122.E.18

Taylor Institution Library 122.E.18

A couple of other sources (below) have helped me to get a slightly more realistic picture of what happened in June 1667.[1]  These are accounts of the lives of Cornelis (and Johan) de Witt. The States of Holland (the Government) sent Cornelis de Witt with Michiel de Ruyter to England to report back on any achievements of the fleet in the war against England. Some of De Witt’s letters to the States of Holland are published in both volumes and can be regarded as ‘eye witness reports’. All three of my sources report on the River Medway’s chain; here is one example from Leeven en Dood der doorlugtige heeren gebroeders Cornelis de Witt en Johan de Witt (Life and death of the eminent brothers Cornelis de Witt and Johan de Witt). The (in)famous chain, intended to stop the Dutch, is mentioned on p.133:

’s Woensdags zynde den 22 juny […] zylde de Capitein Brakel […] vooraf, ende over de ketting, die de Engelsche op de Rivier met paalen ter weder zyden vast gemaakt, en gespannen hadden’

(On Wednesday 22nd June […] Captain Brakel sailed […] in front over the chain which the English had put across the river, attached to poles either side)

My school teacher was right to portray De Ruyter as a hero since he was regarded as such at the time:  Both De Ruyter and De Witt were bestowed with specially engraved golden cups in recognition of their achievements in the Anglo-Dutch war, as reported in Historisch Verhael en politique bedenckingen aengaende de bestieringe van Staet- en Oorloghs-Saken: voor-gevallen onder de bedieningen van de Heeren Cornelis en Johan de Witt (1677). The States had given orders for the fleet to set sail for the ‘River of London’ (p.365). On p.394-395 the ‘Goude Koppen’ (golden cups) are mentioned.

This part of the second Anglo-Dutch war, well-known in the Netherlands, is being commemorated this summer with a programme of events in Chatham and London. This includes the exhibition ‘Breaking the Chain’ at the Historic Dockyard Chatham, which vividly brings to life the story of the Battle of Medway with collections from The Royal Museum Greenwich, Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Dutch National Maritime Museum, the Michiel de Ruyter Foundation and the British Library.

Dr Johanneke Sytsema, Subject Consultant for Linguistics, Dutch and Frisian

[1] I have limited my investigations to materials available in the Taylor Institution Library.


Het leven en bedryf van den Heere Michiel de Ruiter….beschreeven door Gerard Brandt. 16261685.
Amsterdam : Wolfgang, Waasberge, Boom, Van Someren en Goethals, 1685.
Taylor Institution Library 122.E.18

Historisch Verhael en politique bedenckingen aengaende de bestieringe van Staet-en Oorloghs-Saken, : voor-gevallen onder de bedieningen van de Heeren Cornelis en Johan de Witt. Beginnende A⁰. 1653. en eyndigende in het Jaer 1672. met hunne Doot. t’Amsterdam, : By J. H. B., 1677.
Taylor Institution Library 167.A.13

Leeven en Dood der doorlugtige heeren gebroeders Cornelis de Witt en Johan de Witt. (Life and death of the eminent brothers Cornelis de Witt and Johan de Witt. Amsterdam : J. ten Hoorn, 1705.
Taylor Institution Library 167.D.5

More documents on the British Library blog http://blogs.bl.uk/european/2017/04/the-dutch-are-coming.html

For Commemorative events please visit the site of the Historic Dockyard in Chatham http://thedockyard.co.uk/whats-on/battle-of-medway-commemoration/ and http://new.medway.gov.uk/news-and-events/bom

Royals, Writers and Musicians: Highlights of the Peyton-Harding Collection

Readers who use the Taylorian’s German collections might have come across rare books and manuscripts whose shelfmarks begin with ‘Fiedler’.  Considering the incredible breadth and value of the Fiedler Collection for the study of German literature from the last five hundred years or so, it is hardly surprising to learn that the donor was a distinguished Professor of German.  Hermann Georg Fiedler served as Chair of Oxford’s German department from 1907 until 1937, leading the department through the challenges of the First World War and supervising the construction of the extension, along St. Giles’,  of the Taylorian’s Teaching Collection (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004).  Today he is commemorated with a large bust.

Bust of Prof. Fiedler at the Taylor Institution.

Bust of Prof. Fiedler at the Taylor Institution.

               Less well-known than Fiedler’s Germanic acquisitions and less publicly apparent than the bust, however, is the stunning collection of autographs assembled by his family during the nineteenth century.  After their donation to the Taylorian by Fiedler’s daughter, Herma, during the 1960s (Sutherland, 1970: i), these manuscripts had lain relatively quietly in our Rare Books Room, until an email enquiry from a Danish academic caused them to be taken out and re-examined in 2017.  Many library staff had not encountered the manuscripts before, so there was great excitement at the discovery of just how many household names had given samples of their handwriting to fill the pages.

               The manuscripts are stored in five boxes (shelfmarks MS.8o.E.17-MS.8o.E.21) and are referred to as the Peyton-Harding Collection, in recognition of Herma Fiedler’s relatives, who collected most of the autographs.  Fiedler had met his wife, Ethel Harding, when she was a pupil of his at the University of Birmingham in the late nineteenth century (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004).  Ethel’s father, Charles Harding, was a highly influential solicitor and philanthropist who funded many initiatives including scholarships at the University and served regularly on organising committees for the Birmingham Music Festival (Carley, 2006: 226).  Charles Harding’s younger daughter, Emily, was married to a wealthy businessman named Richard Peyton (Harding Family Tree (Detailed), 2017).  As a passionate music aficionado, Peyton chaired the Birmingham Festival and financed the University’s Chair of Music position (on condition that his friend, Sir Edward Elgar, took on the role) (Moore, 1999: 446).  With their widespread musical, academic and social connections, the Peyton, Harding and Fiedler families were well situated to build an autograph collection showcasing some of the most illustrious names of their time.

               This blog post is necessarily limited to covering just a few of the highlights of the collection, but any registered reader interested by what follows can ask to see the boxes by filling in a request slip at the Taylorian Enquiry Desk.

Queen Victoria’s Poignant Thanks (MS.8o.E.17, p.1)

The collection begins in spectacular fashion: the first letter you see when opening the first box was written by Queen Victoria.  On Windsor Castle headed notepaper, it addresses an open message of thanks to the women of the United Kingdom for funding a statue in memory of the late Prince Albert.  As the date of the letter is 22nd June 1887, the day chosen for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, it would seem that the statue referred to is the equestrian statue of Albert in Windsor Great Park (Roberts, 1997: 379).

The statue of Prince Albert funded by UK women to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee (1887) | © Copyright Alan Hunt and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The statue of Prince Albert funded by UK women to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee (1887) |
© Copyright Alan Hunt and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

               Women across the UK had been given a leaflet inviting them to contribute between a penny and a pound to a Jubilee gift of the Queen’s choice, ‘in token of loyalty, affection, and reverence towards the only female sovereign who, for fifty years, [had] borne the toils and troubles of public life, known the sorrows that fall to all women, and as a wife, mother, widow, and ruler, [had] held up a bright and spotless example to her own and all other nations’ (Boucherett et al. (eds)., 1979: 82).  It is poignant to think that the same Queen who had been too grief-stricken by her husband’s death to celebrate her Silver Jubilee, and had kept a strict regime of mourning for many years, chose to mark one of the few public occasions of her later life through a statue of Albert.

Hans Christian Andersen’s African Reverie (MS.8o.E.18, p.64)

A highlight of the second box in the collection is undoubtedly Hans Christian Andersen’s meticulously presented extract from his 1864 travelogue In Spain (translated into English by Mrs Anna S. Bushby).  Andersen is of course best known for his fairy tales, which include The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen.  However, he was also an enthusiastic writer of plays, poetry and non-fiction.  In Spain is his diary of an extended tour of the Iberian country, punctuated by few days’ stay in Tangier, Morocco, with his friends the Drummond Hay family, representatives of the English and Danish governments (Andersen, 1864: 189).

               Despite accounting for only one chapter of the book, Andersen’s time in Africa is an emotional high-point of his journey.  Before the extract acquired for the Peyton-Harding collection, he writes ‘Delightful, never to be forgotten days did I pass [in Tangier], forming a new and rich leaf in the story of my life’ (Andersen, 1864: 183).  After a varied programme of exploration, he concludes the chapter by asserting that ‘Our sojourn on the African coast had been the most interesting part of our travels hitherto’ (Andersen, 1864: 205).

               The Peyton-Harding handwritten extract (which corresponds with parts of pp.87-88 in the 1864 printed version) depicts a rare, sombre moment on the balcony of the Drummond Hays’ villa.  Andersen lights a cigar and finds his thoughts being led towards some of the darker aspects of Africa’s past.  He imagines a girl picking tobacco in Cuba, ‘a kings [sic] daughter from hot Africa, now a slave in a larg [sic] West India island.’   In his mind’s eye, the girl sheds a tear in remembrance of her African childhood, which soaks into the tobacco leaf she is holding, and remains embedded there as the leaf is transformed into Andersen’s own cigar.  From the lit cigar, the tear ‘freed itself’ in the smoke, ‘it raised itself in its fatherland, and flew over the Atlas Mountains to the unknown inner region.  The soul in the tear was at liberty in thoughts [sic] homeland.’  This poetic expression of the cruelty and unfairness of the slave trade reflects a concern which Andersen had already explored in his 1840 play The Mulatto, and which evidently still haunted him (Zipes, 2005: 21).

The Andersen manuscript and accompanying printed portrait of Andersen (Taylorian MS.8o.E.18, p.64)

The Andersen manuscript and accompanying printed portrait of Andersen (Taylorian MS.8o.E.18, p.64)

Jenny Lind’s Glamorous Lifestyle (MS.8o.E.17, pp.44-45)

A note in the first box from the highly successful Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind is not only an evocative piece of memorabilia in its own right, but also makes an interesting point of comparison with the Andersen manuscript.  After meeting Lind in the early 1840s and corresponding with her, Andersen developed a level of adoration for her that has led his biographers to agree unanimously that she was his ‘great, unrequited love’ and ‘a loyal and recurring figure’ in the fantasy worlds he portrayed through his writing (Andersen, 2005: 312).  She never reciprocated his feelings, but he continued to think of her and kept a bust of her in his home until his death (Andersen, 2005: 312).

               The letter in the Peyton-Harding collection seems illustrative of how widespread such admiration for Lind was among her audiences.  Dated 4th December 1850, when Lind was touring the USA under the management of famous showman PT Barnum (Rosenberg, 1851), it is addressed to an unspecified ‘Sir’ but its purpose is to pass on thanks to a ‘Mr Peacock’ for ‘two dresses…of beautiful manufacture’ that he had given her.  She promises gratefully that she will wear them on stage ‘in kind remembrance of the Donor.’

               An eyewitness account of the US tour describes how Lind was inundated with similar gifts, as well as messages and visits from fans.  They arrived at the rate of literally ‘one every other minute’, to the point that Lind felt at times as if she were being ‘torn to pieces’ by the clamour of attention (Rosenberg, 1851: 72-73).  For her US audiences, she was clearly one of the most exciting celebrities of the time.

The Lind manuscript, with accompanying photo and envelope (Taylorian MS.8o.E.17, pp.44-45)

The Lind manuscript, with accompanying photo and envelope (Taylorian MS.8o.E.17, pp.44-45)

Professor Fiedler’s German Travels with the Future Edward VIII (MS.8o.E.19, pp.42-45)

The third box of autographs holds some memories more personal to the Peyton and Harding families, as Professor Fiedler’s letters home from a very important trip to Germany are preserved in this box.  Between 1912 and 1914, Fiedler was German tutor to Edward, Prince of Wales (1894-1972), an undergraduate at Magdalen College, who would be crowned as King Edward VIII, abdicating eleven months later in order to be able to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson).  The young Prince had the opportunity to improve his language skills by visiting Germany in spring and summer 1913, and Fiedler went with him (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004).

               Fiedler’s letters, which are addressed to his sister-in-law Mrs Peyton, demonstrate both a great fondness for the Prince and a reverence for the glamorous world of royalty.  On 28th March 1913, he refers to Edward affectionately as ‘our Prince’, and claims that ‘He is such a dear fellow’, who often confides in Fiedler privately.  The two in fact remained in contact long after the tuition arrangement was over (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004).  Mixed with the feelings of warm friendship, however, one can also sense Fiedler’s awe at the regal lifestyle.  In his letter of 28th March, he relates how Edward ‘wore his [ceremonial] Garter at dinner and looked splendid’.  In an earlier letter (23rd March 1913), he eagerly lists all the German dignitaries the pair have met or are due to meet, and excitedly concludes by saying that he ‘must hurry back’ to their party.  In hindsight, there is a very poignant side to the Easter festivities Edward enjoyed with his German counterparts, as the two countries went to war with each other only a year later.

               Perhaps the most exclusive souvenir of the trip, however, is a short note to Professor Fiedler written by the Prince himself to demonstrate his (somewhat novice) German language skills (see transcription and English translation below).

The future Edward VIII's note in German to Professor Fiedler (Taylorian MS.8o.E.19, p.43)

The future Edward VIII’s note in German to Professor Fiedler (Taylorian MS.8o.E.19, p.43)

Für Professor Fiedler

Würden Sie gern um 8 uhr einen Spatziergang machen bis 9 uhr? Nur wenn es nicht zu früh ist.  Ich habe das Frühstück um 9 uhr bestellt für drei.


To Professor Fiedler

Would you like to go for a walk from 8 o’clock until 9?  Only if it isn’t too early. I have ordered breakfast for three at 9 o’clock.


Misunderstandings with George Bernard Shaw and Algernon Charles Swinburne (MS.8o.E.21/B)

The fifth and final box is organised differently from the others: the manuscripts do not have individual page numbers, but instead are grouped into categories according to the occupations of their writers.  Group B (‘English Writers’) contains two somewhat amusing examples of mishaps in Professor Fiedler’s academic career.

               In 1928, George Bernard Shaw was already a Nobel Prize laureate who had written some of the most renowned plays of his time – including, arguably, his most enduring work, Pygmalion, which is still frequently performed today and was the inspiration for the musical My Fair Lady (Frenz (ed.), 1969: 229).  Unfortunately, he did not feel that his abilities extended so far as to allow him to comment on writers from abroad.  His note to the Taylorian, dated 15th May 1928, states in a rather alarmed and curt manner that it is not his job to give a lecture at the Taylorian, because he does not speak a word of Norwegian. Presumably he had been invited to speak on Ibsen.

               In 1901, meanwhile, it seems that Professor Fiedler was misled by the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne.  As an adult, Swinburne became associated with passionate and erotic poetry (Poetry Foundation, 2017), but he reveals in the letter below that his youthful intellectual interests were focused elsewhere.  Dated 12th February 1901, it reads, ‘Dear Sir, I am quite sorry you have had so much trouble about Maistre Gaget.  I must confess that he & his book, as well as the legend of the leper, were pure inventions of my own at a rather early age, when I was fond of trying my hand at imitations of mediaeval French prose & Latin verse. Yours apologetically, A C Swinburne. ‘

The manuscript by Swinburne (Taylorian MS.8o.E.21/B)

The manuscript by Swinburne (Taylorian MS.8o.E.21/B)

As mentioned above, this post covers only a small selection from a large and wide-ranging collection.  The Peyton, Harding and Fiedler families managed to collect many more fascinating items that cannot be included here, such as handwritten staves of music by Sir Edward Elgar, Edvard Grieg, Antonín Dvorák, Franz Lizst and Sir Arthur Sullivan; the signatures of Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell and Rudyard Kipling; and various notes and calling cards from political and military luminaries of the time.  The collection is well worth exploring further and the Taylorian is certainly fortunate to be its owner. 


Jessica Woodward
Formerly Graduate Trainee at the Taylorian, now Assistant Librarian at Mansfield College.


Primary Source

Peyton, Harding and Fiedler families (19th C.) Peyton-Harding Autograph Collection. Donated to the library by Herma Fiedler. [Taylorian MS.8o.E.17-21]

Secondary Sources

Andersen, H. C. (1864) In Spain, tr. by Mrs. Bushby. London: [publisher unknown]. [Bodleian (OC) 203 c.261]

Andersen, J. (2005) Hans Christian Andersen: a new life. New York and London: Overlook Duckworth. [Bodleian M07.E05693]

Boucherett, E. J. et al (eds.) (1979) The Englishwoman’s review (of social and industrial questions). New York: Garland Publishing.  [Available online via SOLO]

Carley, L. (2006) Edvard Grieg in England. Woodbridge: Boydell. [Bodleian M06.E11817]

Frenz, H. (ed.) (1969) Literature 1901-1967. Amsterdam and New York: published for the Nobel Foundation by Elsevier Publishing Company. [Bodleian 3961 d.157]

Harding, N. (2017) Harding Family Tree (Detailed). [Available online at https://sites.google.com/site/hardingofpackington/home/family-tree-detailed#_Toc307562807] Accessed 12th May 2017.

Moore, J. N. (1999) Edward Elgar: a creative life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Bodleian Lower Gladstone Link M99.E10357]

Santini, D. (2004)  ‘Fiedler, Hermann Georg’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [Access online, from within the University network, via SOLO]

Roberts, J. (1997) Royal landscape: the gardens and parks of Windsor. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. [Bodleian Lower Gladstone Link M98.A01556]

Rosenberg, C. G. (1851) Jenny Lind in America. New York: Stringer & Townsend. [Available online via SOLO]

Sutherland, D. M. (1970) Catalogue of autograph material acquired by the library during the years 1950-1970. Oxford: Taylor Institution. [Taylorian ZA.2226.6 / REF.M.1.C]

Zipes, J. (2005) Hans Christian Andersen: the misunderstood storyteller. New York and London: Routledge. [Bodleian M06.F03880]

Identities in Transit: Portuguese Women Artists since 1950

The Taylor Institution Library has mounted an exhibition (10-24 March 2017, subsequently extended to 31 March) to accompany the conference Transnational Portuguese Women Artists (Wadham College, 16-18 March 2017). The exhibition is curated by Dr Maria Luísa Coelho, Joanne Ferrari and Jessica Woodward. The exhibition catalogue is available here.

The purpose of the exhibition is to highlight the significant contribution of Portuguese women artists to Portuguese culture and beyond, from the perspective of their experiences, works, contacts and, ultimately, their impact within the transnational context. It focuses on a group of women who, from the 1950s, have created a wide-ranging body of work whilst living for extended periods outside Portugal. During their time abroad, these women established relationships and collaborations not only with other expatriate Portuguese artists but also with a wider European artistic community. The Taylorian’s exhibition displays publications primarily held by the Taylor Institution Library, showing the artistic production of Lourdes Castro, Menez, Paula Rego, Maria Velho da Costa and Ana Hatherly. The material on view highlights the tension between the terms roots and routes while also suggesting the connections between different moments and places, and the creation of identities in transit.

Snapshot of one exhibition case showing works by Paula Rego and Maria Velho da Costa.

Snapshot of one exhibition case showing works by Paula Rego and Maria Velho da Costa.

Lourdes Castro

Born in Madeira, in 1930, Lourdes Castro moved to Lisbon in 1950 and, following her expulsion (for “non-conformity”) from the Escola Superior de Belas Artes, she relocated to Munich in 1957 and then Paris in 1958. There, Castro was in close contact with the celebrated couple Maria Helena Vieira da Silva and Árpád Szenes. It was in Paris, where she lived for twenty-five years, that she co-founded the experimental group KWY with her husband René Bertholo and a number of other artists. (The letters K, W and Y were considered ‘foreign’ to Portuguese by the spelling reforms of 1943.)  During this period, the artist often visited London and met other Portuguese expatriates.

Lourdes Castro, exhibition catalogue, Galeria 111, Lisbon, c. 1970, with a poem by Helder Macedo; Lourdes Castro and Manuel Zimbro, “As Cinco Estações” (from “Teatro de Sombras”), performance held at Teatro Municipal do Funchal, Funchal, 14-15.07.1977

Lourdes Castro, exhibition catalogue, Galeria 111, Lisbon, c. 1970, with a poem by Helder Macedo; Lourdes Castro and Manuel Zimbro, “As Cinco Estações” (from “Teatro de Sombras”), performance held at Teatro Municipal do Funchal, Funchal, 14-15.07.1977

Lourdes Castro has developed a considerable body of work focusing on the shadow, through which she reassesses the relationship between the aesthetic object and its surrounding world. In 1962 she began working on her ‘projected shadow’ works. Beginning with collaged objects these developed into paintings of Castro’s and her friends’ projected shadows. From 1966 onwards – and in collaboration with Manuel Zimbro – Castro also formed the Teatro Ambulante de Sombras (Travelling Theatre of Shadows). Despite her development of this performative art form outside of Portugal Castro’s interest in radical experimentation is clearly rooted in the Portuguese avant-garde. Another avenue of exploration of the shadow was the ‘inventory’, for example O Grande Herbário de Sombras (1972), (“The Great Herbarium of Shadows”, a collection of shadows of botanical specimens). This herbarium reveals Castro’s profound interest in nature, a major influencing factor in her decision to return to Madeira in 1983.


Menez (1926-1995) had an exceptionally cosmopolitan existence. Although she did not undertake any formal artistic training, her travels and privileged background (which she shared, to a certain extent, with the other artists featured in this exhibition) allowed her to pursue an artistic career and overcome many of the constraints imposed on Portuguese women by the dictatorial regime of Oliveira Salazar.

The artist’s first exhibition was held at Galeria de Março, Lisbon, in 1954, and showed a collection of Menez’s gouaches selected by the poet Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen. Menez remained a close friend of Sophia and other major Portuguese writers and artists such as Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Júlio Pomar, Mário Cesariny and António Ramos Rosa.

Despite the influence of the Paris School in her early work and her debt to Vieira da Silva, Menez chose to use a grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation (1964-65 and 1969) to move to London. There, she was in contact with other cultural and aesthetic trends, and also became a central and often admired figure in the Portuguese expatriate milieu: she formed long-lasting friendships with the writers Alberto de Lacerda and Helder Macedo and the artists Victor Willing and Paula Rego. As a whole, her body of work is defined by a continuous process of change.

Exhibition catalogue, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, November-December 1990

Menez, exhibition catalogue, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, November-December 1990. Image shows: (25) Os Antepassados (1966), (26) Henrique VIII (1966), (28) Sem Título (Retrato de Mário Chicó) (1961), (27) Sem Título (Retrato de Arpad) (25.12.1961), (30) Sem Título (Auto-retrato) (25.12.1961), (29) Sem Título (Retrato de M. H. Vieira da Silva) (1961)

Paula Rego

Dame Paula Rego (1935-) was born in Lisbon. In 1951 she moved to London to study at the Slade School of Fine Art and became immersed in a lively artistic community attuned to creative activities around the world. She formed strong and close relationships with other Portuguese artists and writers living in London while never losing touch with developments back in Portugal. Rego returned to Portugal in 1957, where she lived intermittently with her husband, the British painter Victor Willing (1928-1988), and their three children. Partly prompted by the Portuguese revolution in 1974, the family returned permanently to London in 1976.

Rego’s transcultural position is reflected in her work, clearly evidenced through the influence of her Portuguese heritage as well as the impact of her life in London. Through this patchwork of references, Rego addresses the recurrent themes of asymmetric power relations and gendered experiences, as she revisits the national, religious and sexual politics of the country she left behind. She is not only one of the most respected artists working in Britain today, but also a household name in Portugal. In 2009, a museum dedicated to her work –­ Casa das Histórias ­– opened in Cascais. She continues to exhibit regularly both in Portugal and in Britain.

Photograph of Paula Rego painting Crivelli’s Garden at the National Gallery, while Artist in Residence, 1990 (source: Nicholas Willing)

Photograph of Paula Rego painting Crivelli’s Garden at the National Gallery, while Artist in Residence, 1990 (source: Nicholas Willing)

Maria Velho da Costa

Maria Velho da Costa (1938- ) is one of Portugal’s most experimental contemporary writers, perhaps best known to an international readership as one of the authors of New Portuguese Letters (Novas cartas portuguesas, Lisbon: Estúdios Cor, 1972). Her work is imbued with a spirit of de-centering and de-territorialisation through the creation of diverse characters, worlds, realities and dimensions that nevertheless coexist or intersect. Through continually pushing the boundaries of literary genres, she explores the possibilities of language in dialogue with other artistic media such as music and the visual arts. This de-centering process is also a reflection of the locations she has chosen to spend time in: she was briefly in Guinea-Bissau in 1973; in 1980 she moved to London, where she worked for about six years as Portuguese leitora at King’s College; after that she was appointed cultural attaché in Cape Verde (1988-89).

During her time in England Velho da Costa wrote and published the novel Lúcialima (1983) whose cover was illustrated by Paula Rego; and the compilation O Mapa Cor de Rosa: Cartas de Londres (1984), about life in London in the early 1980s. More recent works, such as Madame (2000) and Myra (2008) continue to display physical or psychological accounts marked by an interest in otherness and the intersecting of different worlds, realities and languages; they also show her collaborations with visual artists.

Maria Velho da Costa, Lúcialima (Lisbon: O Jornal, April 1983), cover by Paula Rego

Lúcialima, Maria Velho da Costa (Lisbon: O Jornal, April 1983), cover by Paula Rego

Ana Hatherly

Ana Hatherly (1929-2015) was born in Porto, moving to Lisbon at an early age. After undertaking formal musical training in Portugal, France and Germany, she took a degree in Modern Languages at the University of Lisbon. She then enrolled at the London International Film School (1971-74) and subsequently moved to the United States where she completed a doctorate in Golden Age Hispanic Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

Ana Hatherly, Dessins, Collages et Papiers Peints (Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian: Lisbon, 2005), exhibition catalogue, Centre Culturel Calouste Gulbenkian, Paris, 6-15.12.2005

Ana Hatherly, Dessins, Collages et Papiers Peints (Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian: Lisbon, 2005), exhibition catalogue, Centre Culturel Calouste Gulbenkian, Paris, 6-15.12.2005

A clear focus of Hatherly’s oeuvre is the relationship between word and image, already evident in her early works, produced while living in London. Her output from this period also exhibits the influence of Pop Art, a strong connection with the concrete-experimental movement, and her adoption of the collage technique. The artist’s visual exploration of text evolved into her visual poems, informed by her academic research on baroque poetry. In 1959 she began experimenting with concrete poetry. She soon became one of the leading figures in the Portuguese Experimental Poetry group, regularly contributing to avant-garde journals, edited collections and group exhibitions in Portugal and abroad.





Dr Maria Luísa Coelho
FCT Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Oxford/ Universidade do Minho

You can also see two videos of Maria Luísa and Luis Amorim de Sousa introducing and discussing the exhibition (links below, courtesy of Prof. Henrike Laehnemann).



Gysbert Japicx and the Junius collection

2016 marked the 350th anniversary of the death of the Frisian poet Gysbert Japicx (1603 – 1666). Seventeenth-century Frisia’s principal poet, Gysbert Japicx was crucial in preserving Frisian as a written language and in developing a Frisian spelling standard. His language is usually referred to as Middle Frisian (17th-18th century) although one could also call it Early Modern Frisian.

The earliest and most important items for the study of Gysbert Japicx’s oeuvre are held in the Junius Collection in the Bodleian Library. This unique collection includes the only known manuscript of his work, the poem Wobbelke and two extremely rare and fragile copies of ‘De Friessche Tjerne, ofte bortlijcke rijmlerye’: all three items are in Japicx’s own hand and were published anonymously in 1640.

Life and work

Gysbert Japicx was a school teacher and a poet in Boalsert, Fryslân (a province in the north of the Netherlands).  His first publication was the Friessche Tjerne, a rhyming text written for the entertainment of guests at a wedding. This type of publication was probably not meant to last, which may explain the poor quality of the paper and the fragile state of extant copies. His main work Friesche Rymlerye, published posthumously in 1668, contains mainly poetry and rhyming prose and also a few psalms. The oldest printed copy in Oxford is the 1821 edition held by the Taylorian.

Gysbert Japicx, Friesche Rymlerye. Taylor Institution Library VET.FRIS.6

Gysbert Japicx, Friesche Rymlerye. Taylor Institution Library VET.FRIS.6

Among Japicx’s earliest manuscripts held by the Bodleian is an early version of the touching lovesong Wobbelke, in Japicx’s own hand, presumably written for the love of his life whom he later married. This is the only poem in Gysbert Japicx’s own hand; all the other poems are copied from originals by Franciscus Junius.  Close-up images of these manuscripts can be seen in one of Omrop Fryslân’s (Frisian Television) documentaries on Gysbert Japicx. I had the honour to comment on camera. (The programme can be viewed at http://www.npo.nl/fryslan-dok/19-11-2016/POW_02993273.) The manuscripts are shown approximately five minutes into the programme. The manuscript poems in the Bodleian Library were edited and provided with an English commentary by Alistair Campbell, (Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College,1963-1974) who bequeathed his Frisian collection to the Taylor Institution Library.

Gysbert Japicx: The Oxford Text of Four Poems by Alistair Campbell Taylor Institution Library FRIS.4.D.JAP.2

Gysbert Japicx: The Oxford Text of Four Poems by Alistair Campbell. Taylor Institution Library FRIS.4.D.JAP.2

Gysbert Japicx has been hugely influential for the development of Frisian as a written language. He began writing in Frisian after a nearly one hundred year gap in which hardly any Frisian was written – the last charter in Old Frisian was written around 1550 – so head to invent a new spelling system as there was no previous one he could build on. The process of designing a new orthography was a gradual one. His earliest publication, De Friessche Tjerne, represents the first phase of development of a spelling standard of 17th century Frisian. The next phase is found in Junius’ handwritten copies of Japicx’s work, which in turn differs from the spelling used in the final publication of poems Rymlerye in 1668. The orthography developed by Japicx has been of great importance to the Frisian writing tradition and it was followed until the early 19th century.

Gysbert Japicx (1603-1666) and Franciscus Junius (1591-1677)

It is generally assumed that Junius visited Japicx to learn Frisian. This assumption is supported by the Japicx manuscripts, where we find both Japicx’s and Junius’ handwriting together.

The Japicx material consists of two manuscripts in the Junius collection, MS. Junius 115a and MS. Junius 122. MS. 115a is Junius’ glossary of Old Germanic. At the end of MS. 115a, after the glossary, some smaller pages are bound into the manuscript which contain poems by Gysbert Japicx in Junius’ hand. The big surprise is the inserted folio which has Japicx’s most well known poem Wobbelke. This piece of paper holds an early handwritten version of the poem with corrections by the author.

Wobbelke, MS. Junius 115a, f.527v

Wobbelke, MS. Junius 115a, f.527v

On the front of this page (f.527r), both Japicx’s and Junius’ hands are found, an indication that Junius did indeed visit Japicx to learn Frisian.  Japicx has written the days of the week in Frisian with Dutch translation, presumably for Junius’ benefit. Junius has written numerals in Frisian, perhaps dictated by Japicx, as might be expected of a Frisian language learner. His next task was copying Japicx’s poems. It is fortunate that he did so, since Junius’ copies are the only handwritten copies of those poems that survive.

MS. Junius 115a, f.527r

MS. Junius 115a, f.527r

The other manuscript is MS. Junius 122, containing two rare copies of his De Friessche Tjerne, glued into the manuscript above each other. Both versions were printed in 1640. On the second of these the publication details (in Dutch!) are accompanied by a translation into Frisian in Gysbert Japicx’s hand.

De Friessche Tjerne, MS. Junius 122

De Friessche Tjerne, MS. Junius 122

How did these manuscripts end up in the Junius collection in Oxford rather than in a Frisian Library? This has everything to do with Junius’ interest in Germanic languages. Born in Heidelberg, Junius was raised in the Netherlands and spent major parts of his adult life in England. He studied Frisian as a Germanic language before concentrating on Gothic and Old High German.  He began his Germanic studies by learning Frisian during his stay in Fryslan between 1646 and1648, where he visited Gysbert Japicx. Looking for a Frisian tutor, there was not a lot of choice: in the mid 1640s Japicx appeared to be the only one who was able to write Frisian. Copying texts, such as Japicx’s poems, seemed to be Junius’ method of learning a language. He took his copies with him when he returned to England, and spent the last two years of his life in Oxford. Junius knew Bodley’s Librarian, and before his death in November 1677 he gave his collection to the Bodleian Library. So the Junius collection is a donation rather than a bequest, as shown from the ‘deed of gift’ in the Bodleian archives.

Junius’ deed of gift, witnessed by Tho(mas) Marshall and Obad(iah) Walker. Library Records c. 1158, fol. 3r (detail), with thanks to Theodora Boorman, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Junius’ deed of gift, witnessed by Tho(mas) Marshall and Obad(iah) Walker.
Library Records c. 1158, fol. 3r (detail), with thanks to Theodora Boorman, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Dr Johanneke Sytsema, Subject Consultant for Linguistics, Dutch and Frisian


Munske, Horst Haider and Nils Århammar (eds). 2001. Handbuch des Friesischen= Handbook of Frisian studies. Tübingen : Max Niemeyer Verlag.

Taylor Institution Library PF1413 HAN 2001

Bremmer, Rolf H. (ed). 1998. Franciscus Junius F.F. and his circle. Amsterdam : Rodopi.

Taylor Institution Library DUTCH.146905.A.1

Sipma, P. 1932. Friessche tjerne, Gysbert Japicx ; mei ynleiding en oantekeningen fen P. Sipma. Boalsert : A.J. Osinga.

Taylor Institution Library FRIS.4.D.JAP.7

Japicx, Gysbert. 1821.  Friesche rijmlerye. 3. Druwck. op nijz trognoaze in forbettere trog E. Epkema. (3rd edition, checked again and corrected by E.Epkema). Ljeauwert : J. Proost.

Taylor Institution Library VET.FRIS.6

Japicx, Gysbert. Frieske rymlerije, yn trije delen forskaet : d’earste binne: Ljeafd en bortlike mingeldeutjes; ‘t oarde sinte: Gemiene ef Husmannepetaer en oare kalterije; ‘t efterste is Himelsk Harplud; dat is to sizzen utylike fen Davids Psalmen.

Taylor Institution Library FRIS.4.D.JAP.4

Feitsma, Antonia.1956. Frysk ut de 17de ieu : teksten en fragminten. Estrikken 15. Grins : Frysk Ynstitút oan de R.U. to Grins.

Taylor Institution Library FRIS.SER.1/11

Japicx, Gysbert. 1948. The Oxford text of four poems. Edition with a complete glossary by Alistair Campbell. Bolsward : A.J. Osinga.

Taylor Institution Library FRIS.4.D.JAP.2

Electronic Enlightenment


‘Von der Muttersprache zur Sprachmutter’: Yoko Tawada’s Creative Multilingualism

The Taylorian is delighted to be hosting an exhibition celebrating the work of Yoko Tawada, DAAD Writer in Residence at St Edmund Hall for two weeks from 19th February 2017. The exhibition has been curated by Masters student Sheela Mahadevan (MSt Modern Languages), with the help of DAAD-Lektor Christoph Held and Professor Henrike Lähnemann, and will run for the duration of Tawada’s visit. It is open to holders of a Bodleian Reader Card.  This blog post is an abbreviated version of the exhibition catalogue prepared by Sheela Mahadevan.

Sheela Mahadevan and Christoph Held setting up the exhibition

Sheela Mahadevan and Christoph Held setting up the exhibition

Yoko Tawada was born in 1960 in Tokyo, Japan.  From 1982, she did an MA in German literature at Hamburg University, followed by a PhD at Zurich University. Germany is now her home: after living in Hamburg for 22 years, Tawada moved to Berlin in 2006, where she still lives. She writes in both German and Japanese, with the nature of her bilingualism a prominent feature in her work.

Tawada works intensively with German dictionaries when she writes. These are two of those she uses most:

Tawada has won numerous prizes for her work, such as the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize (1996), the Förderpreis für Literatur der Stadt Hamburg (1990), the Lessingförderpreis (1994), as well as numerous Japanese prizes. She was winner of the prestigious Kleist Prize in 2016 (see this extract of the Laudatio by Günter Blamberger given on this occasion).

Tawada writes in a variety of genres and media: novels, poetry, essay collections, plays, and even audio texts. Some of her works are written in Japanese, and then translated into German. Other works are written in German. She rarely translates one language into the other herself, but sometimes writes the same text in both Japanese and German.

Some examples of Tawada’s work.

Of course Tawada is not alone in making use of multilingualism in her writing. Other multilingual writers writing in German whose works contain the presence of one or more additional languages, include Paul Celan, Franco Biondi, Franz Kafka, Elias Canetti, Galsan Tschinag, Emine Sevgi Özdamar and Tzveta Sofronieva.

Other multilingual works by authors writing in German:

When making deliberate use of several different languages, the way the languages are presented to the reader is a very important consideration. Layout, choice of typeface and clarity of presentation can all influence how the reader perceives the language and culture in relation to others. The Taylorian has examples of bilingual books over several centuries.

Schottel, Justus Georg. Ausführliche Arbeit Von der Teutschen HaubtSprache/ Worin enthalten Gemelter dieser HaubtSprache Uhrankunft/ Uhraltertuhm/ Reinlichkeit/ Eigenschaft/ Vermoͤgen/ Unvergleichlichkeit/ Grundrichtigkeit/ zumahl die SprachKunst und VersKunst Teutsch und guten theils Lateinisch völlig mit eingebracht/ wie nicht weniger die Verdoppelung/ Ableitung/ die Einleitung/ Nahmwörter/ Authores vom Teutschen Wesen und Teutscher Sprache/ von der verteutschung/ Item die Stammwoͤrter der Teutschen Sprache samt der Erklaͤrung und derogleichen viel merkwuͤrdige Sachen. Abgetheilet In Fünf Bücher. Braunschweig/ Gedrukt und verlegt durch Christoff Friederich Zilligern, 1663.

Schottel, Justus Georg. Ausführliche Arbeit Von der Teutschen HaubtSprache/ Worin enthalten Gemelter dieser HaubtSprache Uhrankunft/ Uhraltertuhm/ Reinlichkeit/ Eigenschaft/ Vermoͤgen/ Unvergleichlichkeit/ Grundrichtigkeit/ zumahl die SprachKunst und VersKunst Teutsch und guten theils Lateinisch völlig mit eingebracht/ wie nicht weniger die Verdoppelung/ Ableitung/ die Einleitung/ Nahmwörter/ Authores vom Teutschen Wesen und Teutscher Sprache/ von der verteutschung/ Item die Stammwoͤrter der Teutschen Sprache samt der Erklaͤrung und derogleichen viel merkwuͤrdige Sachen. Abgetheilet In Fünf Bücher. Braunschweig/ Gedrukt und verlegt durch Christoff Friederich Zilligern, 1663.

Opitz, Martin, and Esaias Fellgiebel. Des berühmten Schlesiers Martini Opitii von Boberfeld/Bolesl. Opera. Geist- und Weltlicher Gedichte/ nebst beygefuͤgten vielen andern Tractaten so wohl Deutsch als Lateinisch/ Mit Fleiss zusammen gebracht/ und von vielen Druckfehlern befreyet. Die neueste Edition. Breßlau: Verlegts Jesaias Fellgibel, ..., 1690.

Opitz, Martin, and Esaias Fellgiebel. Des berühmten Schlesiers Martini Opitii von Boberfeld/Bolesl. Opera. Geist- und Weltlicher Gedichte/ nebst beygefuͤgten vielen andern Tractaten so wohl Deutsch als Lateinisch/ Mit Fleiss zusammen gebracht/ und von vielen Druckfehlern befreyet. Die neueste Edition. Breßlau: Verlegts Jesaias Fellgibel, …, 1690.

Luther, Martin. Ein Wellische Lügenschrifft/ von Doctoris Martini Luthers Todt/ zů Rom außgangen. Papa quid ægroto sua fata ... perfide Papa velis. Nürnberg: [Hans Guldenmund], 1545.

Luther, Martin. Ein Wellische Lügenschrifft/ von Doctoris Martini Luthers Todt/ zů Rom außgangen. Papa quid ægroto sua fata … perfide Papa velis. Nürnberg: [Hans Guldenmund], 1545.

Clifton, E., Friedrich W. Ebeling, and Giovanni. Vitali. Manuel de la conversation et du style épistolaire : Français-anglais-allemand-italien. Nouv. éd., soigneusement revue et corrigée. ed. Paris: Garnier Frères, 1866.

Clifton, E., Friedrich W. Ebeling, and Giovanni. Vitali. Manuel de la conversation et du style épistolaire : Français-anglais-allemand-italien. Nouv. éd., soigneusement revue et corrigée. ed. Paris: Garnier Frères, 1866.

Taylor, Thomas. The Gentleman's Pocket Companion, for Travelling into Foreign Parts: : Being a Most Easy, Plain and Particular Description of the Roads from London to All the Capital Cities in Europe. With an Account of the Distances of Leagues or Miles from Place to Place, All Reduced to the English Standard. Illustrated with Maps Curiously Engraven on Copper Plates. With Three Dialogues in Six European Languages. The First Being to Ask the Way, with Other Familiar Communications. The Second Is Common Talke in an Inn. The Third Other Necessary Conversation. London: Printed and Sold by Tho: Taylor ..., 1722.

Taylor, Thomas. The Gentleman’s Pocket Companion, for Travelling into Foreign Parts: : Being a Most Easy, Plain and Particular Description of the Roads from London to All the Capital Cities in Europe. With an Account of the Distances of Leagues or Miles from Place to Place, All Reduced to the English Standard. Illustrated with Maps Curiously Engraven on Copper Plates. With Three Dialogues in Six European Languages. The First Being to Ask the Way, with Other Familiar Communications. The Second Is Common Talke in an Inn. The Third Other Necessary Conversation. London: Printed and Sold by Tho: Taylor …, 1722.

The materiality of the book is a vital aspect of Tawada’s works. She experiments with different forms of paper and other materials in her books. Although paper made from plant-based products has been available since the end of the Middle Ages, Tawada chose to have the book cover of Ein Gedicht für ein Buch made from fish skin, since fish and water are important in her works.

“When a book is translated into other languages, you can’t control the translation.”

(Yoko Tawada, Jaipur Literary Festival 2016)

Translating Tawada is undoubtedly a challenge; it often requires a knowledge of both Japanese and German. It poses many ‘problems’: how do we translate neologisms into any language? How do we translate so as to recreate the reading experience of a specific book? For example, in a book that is in German and Japanese, where both languages are to be read in different directions, how is this effect rendered in an English translation? How do we translate into English a German and a Japanese version of the same text?

In this text, Chantal Wright outlines the problems and demonstrates potential solutions when translating Tawada’s work.

Tawada, Yōko, and Chantal Wright. Portrait of a Tongue. Ottawa, 2013.

Tawada, Yōko, and Chantal Wright. Portrait of a Tongue. Ottawa, 2013.

Tawada’s works make us reconsider our own relationship with language, creating the feeling that no-one can be comfortable in any language, even our mother tongue. Is it possible to free oneself from language?

We end this post with a variety of comments by Yoko Tawada regarding language and translation, taken from Koiran, Linda, Schreiben in Fremder Sprache- Yoko Tawada und Galsan Tschinag (Munich: Iudicum Verlag, 2009) pp. 257-358:


<<Wenn man eine weitere Sprache kennt, dann ist die Distanz zwischen sich selbst und der Muttersprache spürbar. Man ist nicht so ganz unter der Macht der Sprache. Das ist eine Befreiung, und dann kann man erst mutig werden.>>

 (If you know another language, then the distance between yourself and the mother tongue can be sensed. You aren’t quite so much under the spell of the language. You are released, and only then can you become bold.)


<<Wenn ich im Denken von der einen Sprache zur anderen springe, spüre ich einen Augenblick stark, dass es ganz dunkle Bereiche gibt, ohne Sprache….Wenn man in diese Kluft einmal hineingefallen ist, dann ist die Muttersprache auch ganz fremd, ich finde Japanish dann sehr komisch und Deutsch sowieso. Dieses Gefühl ist für mich sehr wichtig: sich von der Sprache zu befreien.>>

 (If I jump from one language to another while thinking, I sense for a moment that there are quite dark areas without language…if you have fallen into this abyss once, then the mother tongue is quite foreign, I then find Japanese very strange, and German too. This feeling for me is very important: to free oneself from language.)


<< Die literarische Sprache ist sowieso nie die Muttersprache. So wie ich auf Japanisch schreibe, gleicht nicht dem Japanisch, das ich spreche oder der japanischen Sprache, die ich als Kind gelernt habe. In dem Moment, wo man einmal eine Trennung von der Alltagssprache gemacht hat, kommt die literarische Sprache- und die ist sowieso eine Fremdsprache.>> 

(Literary language is in any case never the mother tongue. The way I write in Japanese never equates to the Japanese which I speak, or the Japanese language which I learnt as a child. When one has separated from the language of daily use, this is the moment at which literary language arises, and this is in any case a foreign language.)


For a video introduction to the exhibition, please see the links below:

Introduction: On Yoko Tawada https://youtu.be/gVxWauXK4fE

Exhibition Case 2: Bilingual Layout in Yoko Tawada https://youtu.be/rU5Zv36k2iY

Exhibition Case 3: Exophonic Writing in German https://youtu.be/I6dd2wPT0HY

Exhibition Case 4: Bilingual Layout https://youtu.be/M0z8HMzXqSU

Exhibition Case 5: Bilingual Layout 2 https://youtu.be/CgujyiGUVgc


Exhibition catalogue by Sheela Mahadevan, MSt student, Oriel College

Text abbreviated for online publication by Emma Huber, German Subject Librarian


Golden Age Theatre at the Taylorian: ‘El parte veynte de las comedias de Lope de Vega Carpio’ (1630)

At the start of the 15th Century, Spain entered its Siglo de Oro, or Golden Age. The country had not only been recently united with the fall of Granada in 1490, but had also grown spectacularly wealthy after Columbus’ voyage to the New World and the subsequent founding of the first transatlantic European colonial empire. This new economic and political power led to increasing patronage of the arts and masterpieces were therefore produced in several areas. Throughout this Golden Age, El Greco helped create a uniquely Spanish style of painting, composers such as Tomás Luis de Victoria and Cristóbal de Morales helped to shape Renaissance music, Miguel de Cervantes wrote the world’s first modern novel with Don Quijote, and on the stage Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca perfected a new form of play in the comedia, writing several hundred plays between them.

This period of intense artistic and literary creativity in Spain is, naturally, well documented in the collections of the Taylor Institution Library. Students of the Spanish Golden Age, however, may not know that the library is fortunate enough to possess not only a large amount of scholarship on this period of history, but also several early editions of works by the most celebrated authors and playwrights of the era. This blog post aims to highlight the richness of the Taylorian’s holdings from this period and also to provide a brief introduction to one book: ‘El parte veynte de las comedias de Lope de Vega Carpio’ (Shelfmark 270.G.20).

This book, published in 1630, contains a collection of plays written by perhaps the most famous Spanish playwright, Lope Félix de Vega Carpio. Born in 1562 and described by his contemporary Cervantes as ‘un…ingenio de estos reinos’ [a genius of these kingdoms] (Thacker, 2007: 26), Lope de Vega certainly led an extraordinary life. As Ignacio Arellano and Carlos Mata (2011) point out, he married twice  and had several long standing extra-marital affairs  before ending his life as a priest. Despite this religious conversion, however, his final years were not to be happy. After several personal tragedies and the loss of his favourite son and second wife in childbirth, one of the greatest Spanish authors of the period died in what Arellano and Mata (2011: 158) aptly describe as  ‘cansancio y…soledad’ [fatigue and loneliness] in 1612 .

Lope, however, was not only extraordinary in terms of his life experiences, but also in terms of his literary innovation. The playwright essentially revolutionised theatre in Spain, creating and defining the comedia  nueva in his artistic manifesto El Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo (1609). This new form of play was, as Thacker (2002: 7) points out, ‘a hybrid form of popular theatre’  that was defined by a mixture of tragedy and comedy. Normally consisting of three equal length acts, the genre proved to be extremely popular in Spain and scholars now attribute 600-800 individual works to Lope de Vega alone.

This twentieth part of the comedias may only contain 12 plays from this impressive number attributed to the playwright, but they nevertheless demonstrate the range of the genre. This can be emphasised by a short analysis of just one of the comedias in this collection, Arauco Domado (1625). In this play, Lope de Vega dramatizes the conflict between the Spanish settlers and the Mapuche people in the territory that is now Chile, depicting an expanding Spanish-speaking world.

The work begins with the arrival of García Hurtado de Mendoza to Chile, the viceroy of Peru from 1590-96, and describes the subsequent conflict between him and Caupolicán, the military leader of the Mapuches. Interestingly, the narrative shows a native perspective of the conflict, with Lope describing in detail the relationship between Caupolicán and his wife Fresia. After several battles between the two leaders, Caupolicán is captured by the Spanish and sentenced to death. As his capture dishonours him, his wife Fresia ends the play by throwing their baby son at his feet and killing him. In this play, Lope therefore takes the classic comedia theme of honour, but transfers it to the New World, introducing a native voice in the process.

This play, however, is significant not only for its content, but also for its publication history as it demonstrates increasing communication, and conflict, among Spanish Golden Age writers. This is because Lope’s Arauco Domado is actually a dramatic version of an epic poem of the same name written by Pedro de Oña. Considered the first poet of Chile, de Oña wrote his version of Arauco Domado in 1596 for its protagonist, García Hurtado de Mendoza. As de Oña was commissioned by Hurtado de Mendoza, it naturally presents him in a positive light and, as reflected in Lope’s later work, his adversary Caupolicán negatively. Written completely in Spanish and avoiding any reference to native terminology, this work is therefore a deliberate attempt to defend Hurtado de Mendoza’s reputation: one that had been seriously damaged following the publication of another important Golden Age work, La Araucana, written by Alonso de Ercilla and published in three parts between 1569 and 1589. As Ercilla was condemned to death by Hurtado de Mendoza in 1558, La Araucana naturally presents this conflict in a completely different way to de Oña and Lope de Vega. Hurtado de Mendoza is, instead, vilified and the Mapuche are portrayed as a noble people defending their homeland against foreign aggression, an idea encapsulated in the portrayal of Caupolicán not as a coward, but as a brave chieftain compared to classical heroes.

This comedia, therefore, is a useful resource not only because of the way it portrays Spain and the New World , but also because it shows increasing communication among Spanish Golden Age writers and their differing representations of the same historical events..

Also of note in this volume are the three aprobaciones [endorsements] that appear at the start. As the Inquisition wanted to impede the spread of heretical ideas in Early Modern Spain, books had to be endorsed by both secular and religious authorities, and this volume is no exception. Juana de José Prades (1971: 114) points out that Lope de Vega may have emphasised the importance of ‘libertad absoluta para el dramaturgo en la elección de temas’ [absolute freedom for the playwright in the choice of topic] in his Arte Nuevo de Hacer Comedias en este tiempo, but the inclusion of these three aprobaciones demonstrates that this freedom was constrained by both the Church and the monarchy.

In the first aprobación, for example, the plays are declared to support ‘la piedad de la Fé’ [the piety of the faith]; in the second, the approval of the ‘Real Consejo’ [Regal Council] is emphasized; and, in the final one, the fact that the book ‘no contiene cosa contra nuestra Santa Fe’ [does not contain anything against our holy faith] is equally highlighted. Arauco Domado and the history behind it may reveal both communication and disagreement among writers of this period, but the three aprobaciones at the start of the volume reveal that freedom of expression certainly had its limitations.

Although this volume may not contain the best-known of Lope de Vega’s comedias, it is not only interesting for the content of the plays included, but also as an object in itself, revealing much about the Spanish-speaking world and the political nature of book publishing throughout the Spanish Golden Age. This blog post has provided only a brief introduction to the collections available at the library, but Taylorian readers interested in the Spanish Golden Age can consult a variety of early works from the period. These range from other early works by Lope de Vega such as the Segunda parte de las comedias de Lope de Vega Carpio (Shelfmark: ARCH.8o.SP.1611) to early editions of Don Quijote by Cervantes from 1672-3 (Shelfmarks: BUTLER.CLARKE.O.4 and BUTLER.CLARKE.O.5) and an early volume of comedias by Lope’s successor, Pedro Calderón de la Barca from 1687 (Shelfmark: VET.SPAN.I.B.104 (v.3).

William Shire, Graduate Library Trainee
Taylor Institution Library


Primary Text:

De Vega, Lope (1630), El parte veynte de las comedias de Lope de Vega, Barcelona: Esteuan Liberos.
[This volume contains the following 12 comedias, published between 1625 and 1630: La Discreta Vengança; Lo Cierto por lo Dudoso; Pobreza no es Vileza; Arauco Domado; La Ventura sin buscalla; El Valiente Cespedes; El Hombre por su Palabra; Roma Abrasada; Virtud, Pobreza y Muger; El Rey sin Reyno; El mejor Moço en España and El Marido más Firme.]  


Arellano, Ignacio and Carlos Mata (2011), Vida y obra de Lope de Vega, Madrid: Homo Legens.

De José Prades, Juana (1971), ‘Estudio Preliminar’ in Lope de Vega, Arte nuevo de hacer comedias, Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, pp. 1-278.

Thacker, Jonathan (2002), Role-Play and the World as Stage in the Comedia, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Thacker, Jonathan (2007), A Companion to Golden Age Theatre, Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer.

The Pring-Mill Collection: Nicaragua — Part III

The Testimonio (Testimonial Literature)

Part I of this series of blog posts introduced the Robert Pring-Mill collection at the Taylor Institution Library and explored Nicaraguan poetry. The second part focused on serial publications, pamphlets and grey literature. Last but not least, Part III discusses the genre known as testimonial literature.

The Pring-Mill collection includes some very interesting books documenting the trajectory of the revolution from its early beginnings. A recurring form found in Latin American literature of that time, the testimonio flourished in Nicaragua during the course of the revolution and was developed, according to Beverley and Zimmermann (1990), by the American feminist and academic Margaret Randall in her various publications. Randall lived for many years in Nicaragua and published her well-known book Sandino’s Daughters, the story of the women who fought in the revolution, in 1981. Also in the Pring-Mill collection is her book Risking a Somersault in the Air: Conversations with Nicaraguan Writers (1984), comprising 12 interviews with some of Nicaragua’s most important writers/revolutionaries. Randall also wrote the introduction and transcribed the story of Doris Tijerino in Doris Tijerino: Inside the Nicaraguan Revolution (1978), which tells the story of one woman’s life, shaped by the country’s struggle, as an illustration of women’s experiences everywhere in times of tyranny and war. Cristianos en la Revolución (1983) comprises Randall’s interviews with some of the most important figures in the new revolutionary government, some of whom were also integrating liberation theology with the Nicaraguan movement: Ernesto Cardenal, the then Minister of Culture; Uriel Molina, director of the religious centre Antonio Valdivieso; and Luis Carrión, Commander of the Revolution and Deputy Minister of the Interior.


Barricada: Corresponsales de Guerra (1983) was a newspaper launched during the insurgency period as a means to counter the government-owned media and it became the official organ of the FSLN. It is a journalistic account of five war testimonials of events between March and June 1983 by a group of war correspondents who take up arms. It includes photographs in black and white of the involvement of these war correspondents in their first experience of war and how they bonded with other Sandinista militias while following them into combat.



In the tradition of Bartolome de las Casas’ Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, 1552), priest Teófilo Cabestrero published Nicaragua: Crónica de una sangre inocente (1985), an account of 60 civilian testimonials as victims of atrocities and crimes in Nicaragua at that time. It describes how the peasant population of Latin America was the primary victim of the violent social, economic and political struggles.

Published by the new revolutionary publisher Nueva Nicaragua, Sandino: Enfrenta al imperialismo (1981) is a large, beautiful collection of black and white photographs drawn from Nicaraguan citizens’ photographs taken during the revolutionary struggle led by Augusto Sandino (1927-1933). This book was published for the 47th anniversary of the death of Augusto Sandino (1934) by the Junta de Gobierno de Reconstrucción Nacional. Divided into nine parts, it documents the main players of the time and their movements, including Sandino’s travels through Mexico.

Another large book of black and white photographs is Nicaragua: A Decade of Revolution (1991) with an introduction by Eduardo Galeano and edited by Lou Dematteis with Chris Vail. It is a chronology of snapshots of Nicaragua from 1979, the year of the overthrow of dictator Anastasio Somoza, until 1990, the year of the election victory of Violeta Chamorro. These photographs offer a brutal but realistic documentation of the triumphs and tragedies of these years.

The Pring-Mill collection contains other publications documenting, through photography, Nicaragua during different periods and through different lenses, as well as many other books, magazines, journals and grey literature — too many to describe here but which are definitely worth further investigation. One of my favourites is the book Carlos Para Todos (1987). A biography of Carlos Fonseca and history of Nicaragua from 1936 onwards, it is illustrated, in comic-book style, by the illustrator and political cartoonist Eduardo del Rio, known by his pen name Rius.

photo37Readers may know him as the author of the very popular book Marx For Beginners which started the For Beginners series. Employing his characteristic style and satire he gives a short and simple narrative of Nicaragua from 1936, the year in which the Nicaraguan teacher and librarian Carlos Fonseca, founder of the FSLN, was born. The book tells Fonseca’s story with help of comic-book illustrations, photographs, and articles in an anarchic and accessible style.


I am very grateful to Joanne Edwards and Frank Egerton for giving me the possibility to freely explore this collection and learn so much about a country that is seldom in the mainstream media and yet whose influence on Latin American literature and identity, in terms of its committed poetry and also its liberation theology, has been so powerful.

Natalia Bermúdez Qvortrup
University College of Oslo and Akershus
Intern, Social Science Library, Bodleian Libraries

Further reading

Arellano, Jorge Eduardo (1997) Literatura Nicaraguense Managua: Ediciones Distribuidora Cultural

Beverley, John and Marc Zimmerman (1990) Literature and Politics in the Central American Revolutions. Austin: University of Texas.

Forster, Merlin H. and K.David Jackson (1990) Vanguardism in Latin American Literature: An annotated Bibliographical Guide. New York: Greenwood Press

Pring-Mill, Robert (1970) “Both in Sorrow and in Anger: Spanish American protest poetry” Cambridge Review  vol. 91/2195.


Cerezo Barredo: http://www.minocerezo.it/

For Beginners Books – About us: http://www.forbeginnersbooks.com/aboutus.html

Listening to Dante: An Audio-visual Afterlife

‘Listening to Dante: An Audio-Visual Afterlife’: Film – Readings – Vinyl – Books – Images
by David Bowe

2016-07-CetraIt all started with a box of LPs. Well, strictly speaking, it all started with the birth of Dante Alighieri in 1265 and his subsequent writing of the three-part epic poem the Divine Comedy (the Commedia to its friends) begun in 1308 and finished not long before his death in  1321. The LPs, a set of recordings pressed by CETRA in 1964, and featuring readings of the complete Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso by Arnoldo Foà, Carlo D’Angelo, Achille Millo, Giorgio Alber-tazzi, Antonio Crast, Romolo Valli and Tino Carraro, were placed on my library desk by the Taylorian’s Italian Literature and Language Librarian, together with a note saying, ‘I thought these might be of interest’. And they were, providing the meeting point of my love for Dante and for slightly old-fashioned recording technologies. The road this took me down was a little unexpected, as I was prompted to contemplate the range of responses that Dante’s writing has provoked over the centuries, from the earliest illuminators and commentators, to the most recent translations, adaptations, and research.

2016-08-DantePosterAs Picture

This led me to the Taylor’s collections of rare printed books, dating from the 15th to the 20th centuries, to films, operas, and symphonic poems from all across the world and on the internet, and thence to a Taylorian event at which these different media were considered.

For the Case List of Works on Display in the Voltaire Room and Vestibule, click here:

2016-05 DanteCaseList-Voltaire Room And Vestibule

In 1782 Britain saw the publication of the first full translation of Dante’s Inferno into English, by one Charles Rogers. The first English translation of the entire Divine Comedy, by the Irish cleric Henry Boyd, was published in 1802 (though his version of Inferno first appeared as early as 1785).

2016-09-dante-book-display-boyde-translations-resized2Thanks to the collecting of renowned Cardiff-born Dante Scholar Edward Moore (a fellow of The Queen’s College and later Principal of St Edmund Hall in Oxford), and courtesy of a long-term loan from The Queen’s College, the Taylor Institution Library holds copies of both of these translations. Moore was working towards the end of a 19th Century which saw the growth of both general readerly interest in the Florentine poet and the emergence of the formal discipline of Dante Studies in the Anglophone world.

Moore founded the Oxford Dante Society in 1876 and the Dante Society of America was founded by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Charles Eliot Norton in 1881. These three had previously met as a less formal Dante Club while Longfellow prepared his famous translation of the Comedy, first published in 1867. Back in Oxford, our own Edward Moore was also responsible for the first modern edition of Dante’s works in Italian, the so-called ‘Oxford Dante’, printed by Oxford University Press in 1894. This edition of Dante’s medieval texts was a landmark for Dante scholarship worldwide and also had the honour of being OUP’s first publication entirely in a ‘modern’ foreign language..

Contributing to this developing context, the Pre-Raphaelites and poets like Alfred Lord Tennyson were discovering Dante’s stories, poetry, and the powerful visual imagery which emerged from his work. Few of the larger collections of pre-Raphaelite art, including that of  are without images drawn from Dante. Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum (next door to the Taylorian) has a fine collection of Pre-Raphaelite works, recently re-installed, and includes Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘Dante drawing an Angel on the First Anniversary of Beatrice’s Death’.


Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Dante drawing an Angel on the First Anniversary of Beatrice’s Death (Ashmolean Museum: Watercolour and bodycolour on paper, 1853)

The 19th century wasn’t the first time that echoes of Dante’s writing had been  heard in England. The works of Chaucer are shot through with strands of allusion to and quotation or adaptation of Dante’s writing, especially the Comedy. For instance, the Wife of Bath borrows a few lines on the theme of nobility from Purgatorio Canto 7, and the Prioress’s invocations of the Virgin Mary are indebted to St. Bernard’s prayer at the start of the 33rd Canto of Paradiso. One of the most explicit acknowledgements of Dante as source text comes in the Monk’s Tale, however: the Monk tells the tragedye of one Hugelino and, having recounted the starvation of father and sons while imprisoned by Archbishop Ruggieri of Pisa, he directs curious listeners to read the Inferno (Dante’s telling of the episode is found in Canto 33).

Whoso wol here it in a lenger wise
Redeth the grete poete of Taille
That highte Dant, for he kan al devyse
Fro point to point; nat o word wol he faille.

[Whoever wants to hear it in a longer version
Read the great poet of Italy
Who is called Dante, for he can all narrate
In great detail; not one word will he lack.]

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Monk’s Tale, 2459-2462

This early foray of Dante into English was short-lived and we have to wait for Milton’s Paradise Lost for another sustained literary engagement with Dante’s works in English. This is not to say he was unknown in England during the intervening period, however. For example, thanks to the antiquarian meanderings of John Leland, we know that, in the 1530s, copies of a Latin translation and commentary of Dante’s Comedy were to be found in libraries in Oxford and in the Cathedral library of my home city of Wells. So Dante’s works were being translated into and read in the common intellectual language of Latin well before they made it into the English vernacular. Anyone interested in the fate of Dante’s works in the British Isles would do well to look at Nick Havely’s extensive work on the subject in his book Dante’s British Public, which offers an account of Dante’s readers and the fate of his texts in Britain from Chaucer to the modern day.

If translation was a part of the afterlife of Dante’s writing from a very early stage, one of the first indisputably ‘modern’ interpretations of Dante’s work emerged at the start of the 20th century in a relatively new medium, which would come to dominate the world of entertainment: the motion picture. 1911 saw the first (and possibly still the best) film adaptation of Dante’s Inferno. More interpretations would follow in 1924 & 1935 and there has been a recent flurry of animated films, an adaptation of Dan Brown’s ‘Dante-inspired’ Inferno, and there were reports last year that Warner Brothers were gearing up to make a new film in which Dante descends through the circles of Hell to save the woman he loves… There is something rather alarming about the fact that a 21st century entertainment company seems to struggle  more than a 13th century poet with the idea of Beatrice as the one doing the saving, but it remains remarkable that so many feet of celluloid (and megabytes of digital film) continue to be devoted to this medieval poem. The 1911 Milano Films’ Inferno, sometimes (falsely) advertised as the Divina Comedia, is the oldest surviving feature-length film in existence and was arguably the first international blockbuster, taking in excess of $2million in the US alone. We have a sense of some audience reactions, including Nancy Mitford’s, who described seeing it in 1922 in a letter home from Italy:

‘most bloodthirsty and exciting … a man’s hands chopped off very close and full of detail, and a man dying of starvation and eating another man very very close to … helped to add excitement to a film full of battles … , molten lead, a burning city and other little every day matters.’

And one of the episodes being described by Nancy Mitford is the case of Ugolino and Ruggieri, which so inspired Chaucer’s Monk’s Tale. (You can find the full film here, on YouTube.)


The imagery used for Dante’s hell in this film isn’t itself entirely original. The directors’ scenography drew heavily from Gustave Doré’s iconic 19th century illustrations of the Divine Comedy. There’s something very striking about those engravings brought vividly to life on film and with special effects which were cutting edge at the time and can still sometimes startle (particularly in the more gruesome torments of lower hell that so captured Nancy Mitford’s admiration). The 1911 Inferno acts as a double adaptation, then, of text into image and illustration into moving picture.

The Doré connection is proof enough (and plenty more is available) that the appeal of Dante (and his creations) beyond Italy wasn’t limited to Britain, or the anglophone world. Liszt’s 1849 Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata is more commonly know as the Dante Sonata, inspired by the Hungarian composer’s reading of the Italian poet’s  Divine Comedy. (Connect here to Vitaly Pisarenko’s rendition.) Dorè and Liszt are but two representatives of the rich traditions of translation, reception and artistic response to his work across Europe and Russia, where Tchaikovsky penned a symphonic poem called Francesca da Rimini in 1876, and Rachmaninov was inspired to write an opera of the same name, based on the events of Inferno 5. Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov were not alone in seeing the musical potential for Francesca’s story, although, of a dozen operas named after Dante’s anti-heroine, only his and Riccardo Zandonai’s remain in the repertoire. Perhaps it is unsurprising that Francesca should be so enthusiastically adopted as a tragic operatic heroine. She is lyrical, enamoured, articulate, and doomed. Her adulterous (incestuous, by medieval standards) affair with her brother-in-law and the murderous wrath of her husband (who will, according to Francesca, end up in Caïna, the zone named for the biblical fratricide Cain and reserved for those who betray, often violently, their kin), are all features that beg for melodrama. Rachmaninov’s opera — available here  — opens with a slow build towards the infernal storm — the ‘bufera infernal’ — of Inferno 5, which eternally buffets the souls of the carnal sinners. The score drives the action and reflects this atmosphere. We then see Dante enquiring about the souls and calling to Paolo and Francesca, who identify themselves and utter the immortal lines: “‘There is no greater sorrow / than to recall our time of joy / in wretchedness’” — “‘Nessun maggior dolore / che ricordarsi del tempo felice / ne la miseria’”.

Rachmaniov’s swirling, disorienting score gives a vivid sense of the frightening, overwhelming moment of Dante’s entry into Hell-proper, which the poet had previously characterised as a space full of ‘Diverse lingue, orribili favelle, / parole di dolore, accenti d’ira, / voci alte e fioche’ [Unfamiliar tongues, horrendous accents, / words of suffering, cries of rage, voices / loud and faint]. All these, Dante, recounts in Inferno III, ‘facevano un tumulto, il qual s’aggira / sempre in quell’ aura sanza tempo tinta, / come la rena quando turbo spira’ [made a tumult, always whirling / in that black and timeless air, / as sand is swirled in a whirlwind]. The vibrant and violent soundscape evoked by Dante’s poetry lends itself readily to musical and sonic responses, the text of his Divine Comedy often demands that we hear as we read, that we allow ourselves to be drawn into a synaesthetic muddling of sight and sound, just as Dante finds his own senses confounded on the 1st terrace of Purgatory.


La Divina commedia: ridotta a miglior lezione dagli Accademici della Crusca (Firenze: Domenico Manzani, 1595)

After emerging from the Inferno, the next leg of Dante’s journey will be to ascend the mountain of Purgatory where penitent sinners undergo productive torments to pay for their sins and cleanse their souls in preparation for Heaven:

    e canterò di quel secondo regno
dove l’umano spirito si purga
e di salire al ciel diventa degno.

    [Now I shall sing the second kingdom
there where the soul of man is cleansed
made worthy to ascend to Heaven.]

Purgatorio I, 4-6

After a certain amount of milling about on the shores of Purgatory meeting those souls who left their repentance to the last minute, Dante passes through the gate leading to the Mountain where the real work of purgation takes place. The mountain is divided into terraces, each of which is dedicated to the purifying of a particular deadly sinful impulse: Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and finally Lust. The first of these sins is corrected on the first terrace of the mountain of Purgatory and, as Dante emerges onto it, he is faced with three reliefs carved into the living rock. These reliefs depict three scenes of humility, the Virgin Mary accepting the will of God, King David dancing before Ark of the Covenant, and the Emperor Trajan taking time out of his busy schedule to grant justice to a widow whose son had been slain. And these freezes are not the work of man, but the art of God himself, surpassing all other art. Dante describes his sensory confusion in an act of divine ekphrasis: his eyes tell him that he can hear Mary speaking, but his ears tell him no, he can visually smell the incense burning in the scene of the dancing David, even though his nostrils are sure there is nothing to be smelled. Dante is faced with the art of the divine, which is impossible for human sense to fully comprehend or communicate, but Dante gives it a shot… His audacity leads to some beautiful verse and, subsequently, to a vibrant artistic tradition, as generations of artists took Dante’s text as a challenge to produce their own art of the divine. One of the most notable efforts comes from the pen of Botticelli, subject of a recent exhibition at the Courtauld Galleries (London).

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Though Botticelli’s illustrative programme for the Comedy is largely unfinished, the incompleteness takes on a poetic justice in the case of this particular canto, where God’s art is described as so beyond the realm of human hand. Indeed, Dante describes the angel Gabriel who, in this relief,

    dinanzi a noi pareva sì verace
quivi intagliato in un atto soave
che non sembiava imagine che tace.
Giurato si saria ch’el dicesse ‘Ave!

     [appeared before us so vividly engraved
in gracious attitude
it did not seem an image, carved and silent.
One would have sworn he was saying ‘Ave,’]

(Purgatorio X 37-40)

Having now looked at Purgatorio, and, while any discussion of the audio-visual afterlives of the Comedy somewhat inevitably skews towards Inferno, given the comparative weight of artistic responses, translations, and adaptations of the first part of the poem, it would be remiss not to account at least briefly, for Paradiso, a realm which, even more than the divine art of Purgatory, defies representation. Even as Dante recounts the marvels he has seen, he accounts for the failure of language to express that which he has undergone. When recalling his final mystical vision in the heights of Paradiso 33, Dante tell us:

   Omai sarà più corta mia favella
pur a quel ch’io ricordo, che d’un fante
che bagni ancor la lingua a la mammella.

   [Now my words will come far short
of what I still remember, like a babe’s
who at his mother’s breast still wets his tongue.]

Paradiso XXXIII, 106-8

And again:

   Oh quanto è corto il dire e come fioco
al mio concetto! e questo, a quel ch’i’ vidi
è tanto, che non basta a dicer ‘poco’.

           [Oh how scant is speech, too weak to frame my thoughts.
Compared to what I still recall my words are faint —
to call them ‘little’ is to praise them much.]

Par XXXIII, 121-3

Of course, as with that divine art in the previous realm, this didn’t stop Dante exploring the possibility of representation in words, nor did it deter artists from endeavouring to depict the undepictable, Boccaccio again gives it his best shot, here illustrating Dante receiving a lesson on angelology from Beatrice in canto 28 of the Paradiso.

One artist who did eventually embrace the inexpressibility of Paradise, was Liszt, in another Dantean composition, A Symphony to Dante’s Divine Comedy. He had intended to compose a choral third movement to give voice to Paradiso, but was persuaded to shy away from any attempt to express the rapturous heights of heaven in his music, instead concluding his symphonic poem (as it is more often been classified), with a Magnificat.

Artists and entertainers, readers and scholars have listened to Dante in a variety of ways over the seven and half centuries since his death: interpretations, translations, appropriations, distortions, and homages ranging from the OUP’s Very Short Introduction, to Electronic Art’s very questionable videogame, from Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s sketches, to Mary Jo Bang’s thematically modernising translation. The Russian poet and essayist Osip Mandelstam, in the Conversations on Dante dictated to his wife in the mid 1930s, said, ‘It is unthinkable to read the cantos of Dante without aiming them in the direction of the present day. They are missiles for capturing the future.’ Our continued fascination with Dante’s poetry, the scores, and texts, and images that have been and continue to be generated and regenerated from those earliest illuminators, commentators, and biographers, to today’s artists, translators, filmmakers and writers demonstrate the continued resonance of his work and the lasting impacts of those missiles from the past. Dante has plenty more to tell us, if we continue to listen.

David Bowe, Victoria Maltby Junior Research Fellow, Somerville College
Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages

Further reading

Dante Alighieri. Inferno, translated by Mary Jo Bang (Minneapolis: Greywolf Press, 2012)

Peter Hainsworth & David Robey. Dante: a very short introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)

N.R. Havely. Dante’s British public: readers and texts, from the fourteenth century to the present (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)

Tristan Kay, Martin McLaughlin, and Michelangelo Zaccarello. ‘Introduction’, in  Dante in Oxford: the Paget Toynbee Lectures, ed. by Tristan Kay, Martin McLaughlin, and Michelangelo Zaccarello (London: Legenda, 2011), pp. 1-23 (1)

Dagmar Korbacher, ed. Botticelli and the treasures from the Hamilton collection (London: Paul Holberton, 2016)

Osip Mandelstam. ‘Conversation on Dante’, in The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam, translated by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973)

Matthew Pearl. The Dante Club (London: Vintage, 2014)


The Pring-Mill Collection: Nicaragua — Part II

Serial publications, pamphlets and propaganda

Part I of this series of blog posts introduced the Robert Pring-Mill collection at the Taylor Institution Library and explored Nicaraguan poetry. This second part focuses on serial publications, pamphlets and grey literature. Part III, the last in the series, will discuss the genre known as testimonial literature.

It is in the serial publications, political pamphlets and the literacy campaign – La Cruzada Nacional de Alfabetización, with which Ernesto Cardenal was involved – that one can clearly see the role of what Pring-Mill termed “committed poetry”. In these publications, alongside political essays and journalistic accounts of human rights abuses, we find poetry and songs. Publications such as Tlaloc, Amanecer, La Chachalaca, student journals, literacy pamphlets and revolutionary martyrs’ obituaries, as well as other genres, show the function of poetry as part of a greater expression of national identity and development.

A good introduction to Nicaragua of the late 1970s and early 1980s is the magazine Amanecer: Reflexion Cristiana en la Nueva Nicaragua. It shows the strong links, in Nicaragua, between Christianity and the Sandinista movement. As its official artist and cartoonist it had Maximino Cerezo Barredo, the liberation theologian who produced liberation art throughout Latin America. The magazine provides a good insight into what was going on in Nicaragua politically and socially, covering events from the visit of Pope John Paul II (1983), to cinema festivals and peasant workshops. The Pope’s visit resulted in a variety of articles by prominent figures in the liberation theology movement expressing frustration and disappointment over the pontiff’s position with regard to the Sandinista revolution.

Amanecer includes articles and poems from the best-known intellectuals and poets of Nicaragua, authors widely represented in the Taylorian’s collections. We find poetry by Rubén Darío, Rosario Murillo, Ernesto Cardenal (Minister of Culture 1979-87), José María Valverde and other liberation theologians such as Fray Betto and Leonardo Boff, as well as interviews with the historian Hans-Jurgen Prien. There is political analysis, including the prediction of the escalation of the Contra War (Amanecer, January 1982, p.4), alongside songs and poems. This juxtapositioning shows the deep roots that the oral tradition has in Nicaragua, and the role it plays in its national identity and by extension in its political and social development.


Selection of periodicals in the Pring-Mill collection

The place of poetry in the reconstruction of the country after the revolution of 1979 is also evident in these serial publications. La Chachalaca (1985) was a publication of the Centros Populares de Cultura (Ministry of Culture) with the aim of developing “educational activities that contribute to increasing the level of culture of the citizens” (my own translation). This was the Sandinista project of cultural democratisation.

Article by Cortazar in La Chachalaca

Julio Cortázar. Article extract in La Chachalaca

Aurora, a trimestral publication on a variety of topics, comprises political essays, historical analysis, book reviews and poetry including, in 1964, Pablo Neruda’s poem Cita de Invierno. The number of articles on the Soviet Union in both Aurora and another publication, América Latina No. 4 (1976), reflects the close ties between the two regions. The latter, a Russian-Latin American academic publication, was probably collected by Pring-Mill for its article on Pablo Neruda as it includes 20 of the poet’s previously unpublished letters.

Various pamphlet series celebrating the lives of combatants who died during the armed struggle were published during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Each pamphlet is dedicated to the biography of an individual revolutionary martyr. Many of the combatants wrote poetry and this is included in each of their biographies. Some biographies also include a prayer or a passage from the Bible and frequently there is a direct comparison between the deceased and Jesus Christ or the Christian martyrs. It is here, as well as in Amanecer, that the influence of liberation theology in Nicaragua can really be seen.


A publication which aims to be pedagogic as well as religious is Historia de la Iglesia de los Pobres en Nicaragua, by the Comisión de Estudios de Historia de la Iglesia en Latinoamérica (1983). The booklet is in a simple language, within a cartoon-like format. It narrates the history of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua beginning with the colonial period and ending with 1979. It explains the differing models of the Church, how the Church dealt with the different historical periods in Nicaragua, and how the Church integrated itself into the revolution.


Less religious in focus but told in similar comic-book fashion is a translated booklet of cartoons by Roger Sánchez, a political cartoonist and social critic then aged 24, who also drew for the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN — Sandinista National Liberation Front) and its newspaper, Barricada. Sánchez’s Cartoons from Nicaragua: The Revolutionary Humour of Roger (1984) was published by the Committee of US Citizens Living in Nicaragua which, though it claimed not to align itself with the FSLN, did want to help change US policy in Nicaragua.


Part of the Sandinista project was the creation of a space with possibilities of alliance between the workers and the middle and upper classes. The aim was to increase educational attainment as well as create a shared sense of national-popular identity. Serie Educación Popular: Programa de reactivación económica en beneficio del pueblo (small booklet version, 1980) is written in clear and simple language explaining what the economic recovery programme consists of, its strategies, aims and related problems.


Other pragmatic pamphlets include, Revolución y El Campo: Boletín Informativo by the Centros Populares de Cultura, and Qué es el plan 80?: Plan de emergencia y reactivación económica en beneficio del pueblo: Ministerio de Planificación Nacional, among others. They were an attempt to inform citizens in an open and straightforward language about the economic plans and strategies of the new revolutionary government. Other pamphlets like these were part of the literacy campaign launched by the Sandinista government in 1980, in what was known as El año de la alfabetización (The Year of Literacy).


Natalia Bermúdez Qvortrup
University College of Oslo and Akershus
Intern, Social Science Library, Bodleian Libraries

Further reading

Arellano, Jorge Eduardo (1997) Literatura Nicaraguense Managua: Ediciones Distribuidora Cultural

Beverley, John and Marc Zimmerman (1990) Literature and Politics in the Central American Revolutions. Austin: University of Texas.

Forster, Merlin H. and K.David Jackson (1990) Vanguardism in Latin American Literature: An annotated Bibliographical Guide. New York: Greenwood Press.

Pring-Mill, Robert “ Both in Sorrow and in Anger: Spanish American protest poetry” Cambridge Review  vol.91/ 2195 (1970).


Maximino Cerezo Barredo: http://www.minocerezo.it/

For Beginners Books: http://www.forbeginnersbooks.com/aboutus.html