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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Collection Snapshot: Notes from Underground …

June 27th, 2014

If you’re interested in matters Polish and Russian or in travels in Slavic lands and in sights seen through western eyes AND if you can read this page from the manuscript diary of an Englishwoman traveling in the summer of 1828 (186 years ago!), then YOU may be the person to transcribe the contents of this little volume. You will get to know “Roberta” and “Mr. Sayer” (their real names), who were her companions on the trip. We can picture Ms. English Lady settling into the pension at night to write … Inside the front cover she begins, “The weight of the statue of Peter The Great …” You’ve seen the blurb; now read the book!

Image of a page from the diary of an English woman open to entry for Warsaw, June 22, 1828.

An English Lady: An anonymous manuscript travel-diary, a detailed account of the sights, costumes, social services, village and town life, war aftermath, travel mishaps in Russia and Poland. Warsaw-Smolensk-Moscow-Novgorod-St. Petersburg. 22 June to 21 July 1828. Call Number: MS B144. Click image to enlarge.

Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger

Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit, Frosted Windows: 300 Years of St. Petersburg Through Western Eyes.

Herps from Hell

April 11th, 2014

Herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles. Pictured here is the Supreme “Herp” from Hell in a manuscript that could be Heaven on Earth to a student of Old Russian. St. John Chrysostom was the most famous of the Greek fathers of the Church. His works consist of discourses illustrating passages of scripture, commentaries on the Biblical books, etc.

Saint John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople. [Extracts from the works, In Russian]. Manuscript from Russia, 16th-17th century. Call number MS C38. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Above: Image from Saint John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople (died 407).
[Extracts from the works, In Russian]. Manuscript from Russia, 16th-17th century. Call Number: MS C38.

As we all know, Evil is in the eye of the beholder; indeed, the presence of a snake in a Russian peasant household was often considered an omen for Good, and brought wealth and good health. The snake, as one of the domovye, or house spritis, lived behind the stove or wherever fires were lighted. In White Russia the domovoi was called tsmok (snake). If the master of the house treated it badly or forgot to leave out some eggs for food at night, tsmok might burn the house down. In some Slavic households the snake was a bad egg, often the embodiment of a dead man’s soul, a rough and evil character like Baba Yaga.

The Spencer Library has books in Slavic languages scattered throughout the collections, and one of the best collections of rare Pollonica in the United States.

Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger
Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit and catalog, Slithy Toves: Illustrated Classic Herpetological Books at the University of Kansas in Pictures and Conversations

The Double

January 10th, 2014

The statue of The Bronze Horseman (= Peter the Great, the inspired hero, rash, speedy, proud, majestic, handsome, and yes, six and a half feet tall in real life!) symbolized a powerful upsurge in Russian energy (and the horse and his rider are pointed westward). Indeed it is the subject of many a frontispiece in our holdings of St. Petersburg travel literature, and is immortalized in Pushkin’s poem, “The Bronze Horseman.”

Frontispiece illustration of the statue, "The Bronze Horseman," (i.e. Peter, the Great) from Granville's " St. Petersburg. A journal of travels to and from that capital." (1829, 2nd Edition)

Statue of Peter the Great: Frontispiece from Augustus Bozzi Granville’s St. Petersburg.
A Journal of Travels to and from that Capital
. 2nd ed., carefully revised and with considerable
additions. London: H. Colburn 1829. 2 vols. Call Number: C9755, v.1. Click image to enlarge.

French sculptor Étienne-Maurice Falconet was commissioned by Catherine II on recommendation of Diderot to erect a memorial to Peter I. Falconet apparently had only unhappy experiences during his Russian years and never came back to see his masterpiece in place and ready to leap into the no longer frozen future. Falconet knew that Catherine abhorred allegory, and he himself did not want a “Peter in Roman armor.” On this matter he locked horns with Ivan Betskoi of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. In the end he had his way artistically, but we have seen no images amongst our holdings that do it justice for display. Obviously this is one statue that must be seen “in the flesh.”

The story of the hauling from Finland of the granite block on which this saddle-sore Peter and his horse are erected is as dramatic as the story of obtaining the rock and wooden underpinnings of St. P., the city, in 1703. Both were the death of many a good Russian.

The biography of Granville, from whose travel journal the above frontispiece illustration is taken, reads like Candide: his Cornish mother’s death-bed wish was that he take a British last name, but in fact he was an Italian patriot and political rabble-rouser, journalist, actor, and eventually physician. He first visited Petersburg in 1827, a second time in 1829 as physician, when he predicted Nicholas would die before July 1855.

Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger

Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit, Frosted Windows: 300 Years of St. Petersburg Through Western Eyes.

St. Petersburg High…

December 27th, 2012

The only image of St. Petersburg more plentiful in western books about 19th century Russia than the bronze horseman, is the ice hill, or “flying mountain,” a peculiarly Russian entertainment that may have something to do with the fact that Petersburgers are flatlanders. Paris, Rome, Athens, and Lawrence have their high points, hogbacks, and hills, but at no point on the delta on which Peter built his city is there a spot over thirty feet above sea-level. Of all the ailments that have plagued that city – typhoid fever, typhus, cholera, giardia, influenza, malaria, diphtheria, syphilis, smallpox, and the common cold – altitude sickness has not been one of them, and actually the hill provides some relief from high barometric pressure if not from a queasy stomach.

Image of title page and frontispiece of Scenes in Russia [...], 1814 (Call number: Children A933)

Scenes in Russia; Describing the Manners, Customs, Diversions, Modes of traveling, &c. of the Inhabitants of that Country. London: printed for J. And E. Wallis, 1814. Call Number: Children 5310  (click image to enlarge).

Image of Scenes in Russia Frontispiece

This contraption seems to be a combination of ski-jump and roller coaster: each person climbs into a small 4-wheeled shallow sided box at the top of a platform and careens downhill on a track. Sometimes ridges (moguls?) are added to increase velocity coming down enough to send them up the other side. When the River Neva is frozen the flying mountains are erected on the ice.

Adapted from the Spencer Research Library exhibit, Frosted Windows: 300 Years of St. Petersburg Through Western Eyes.

Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger

Patron Saint of “Russian” Librarians…

June 22nd, 2012

Friedrich von Adelung was a Prussian historian, linguist, and bibliographer, a.k.a. Fedor Pavlovich Adelung, when he pulled up roots and moved to Russia at age 26. He was dubbed patron saint of Russian librarians when he compiled – with statistician K. Storch – a five-year review of Russian literature, 1810-1811, that marked the beginning of Russian bibliographical statistics. He also wrote a literary review of travelers to Russia up to 1700, Western and otherwise; compiled a universally celebrated bibliography of Sanskrit, 1811; and assembled another bibliography of foreign maps of Russia, 1306-1699.

Portrait from Siegmund Freiherr von Herberstein (C135)
Siegmund Freiherr von Herberstein: mit besonderer Ruecksicht auf seine Reisen in Russland,
by Friedrich von Adelung (1768-1843). St. Petersburg: N. Gretsch, 1818. Call Number: C135

This portrait of Sigmund von Herberstein is from Adelung’s biography of that early German traveler to Russia. Among other important bibliographical works, Adelung published, in 1827, the Austrian Augustin von Meyerberg’s account of his travels in Russia in 1661 and 1662. Adelung died during his presidency of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences.

Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger
Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit, Frosted Windows: 300 Years of St. Petersburg Through Western Eyes.