The letter that instigated the nation-wide competition that inspired Adam Oehlenschläger to write the unofficial Danish national anthem

Image of a manuscript letter that instigated the nation-wide competition that inspired Adam Oehlenschläger to write the unofficial Danish national anthem

Contributor: Hannah Persson

Location: The Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen, Denmark

Description: Stowed away at the Royal Danish Library, this 200-year-old letter seems a forgotten rather than hidden national treasure. Yet it may have been the inspiration for the Danish national poet Adam Oehlenschläger’s unofficial national anthem “Der er et yndigt land” [There is a lovely country]. Dated “Lewarde, den 18. Sept. 1818”, signed “Frederik Pz. Hessen”, and addressed to “Selskabet til de skiønne og nyttige Videnskabers Forfremmelse” [the Society for the Promotion of the Beautiful and Useful Sciences], this letter promises a prize of 400 thaler for a competition to compose a new Danish national anthem.

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A Lace Boudoir Cap and Lace Undersleeves

A lace boudoir cap and lace undersleeves

Contributor: Susan Reynolds

Location: Cowper and Newton Museum, Olney, UK

Description: When we admire the portrait of Mary Unwin (1724-1796) in her lace cap and that of her friend the poet William Cowper (1731-1800) with the lace ruffles at his cuffs that are held in the Cowper and Newton Museum in Olney, we may wonder not only at the skill required to create such lace but also about the conditions in which it was produced. Although we know that this lace cap (OLNCN:1279) was designed by John Millward, we have no information about the maker who executed it, or any such details for these lace undersleeves (OLNCN:1311) which were not worn by Cowper himself, but are later in date. The names of the traditional local patterns (Buckinghamshire point ground border, Bucks point crown) have survived, but those of the craftswomen who worked them have not. All too often these enchanting gossamer-like webs of delicate thread were the results of hours of painstaking and painful labour which was poorly rewarded and took a heavy toll of the maker’s health. With only a rushlight or tallow dip for illumination in their cottages, the lace-makers of Olney either worked by daylight or risked lasting damage to their eyesight.

This lace serves as a reminder of Cowper’s sympathy and support for the local lace-workers and their plight expressed in his letters and verse.

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William Cowper’s Shaving Mirror

William Cowper's Shaving Mirror

Cowper and Newton Museum, Olney, 3945

William Cowper’s Shaving Mirror

It is morning and the poet
still in white nightshirt
is shaving

at his washstand, a mirror
catches his bedroom
backwards

adding a sliver of town
all-night drunks stumbling
out of the Red Lion

the poet’s face is long and bony
wide mouth, soft eyes are sensitive
his faculties are god-given

every day, scrape away
sin
a mirror within

every morning he looks in his shaving mirror
to perceive himself
as cheek and chin

no mark of sin
upon cheek and chin
upon throat his hand trembles slightly

percussive birdsong merely
blackbird hymn
praising the God of Light and upper lip

he dips his blade in cold water
his skin stiffens
his nightshirt is thin

whinny of horses beyond
clatter of pattens below
rustle of leaves, spit-splat of rain

every morning
new promise, good faith
benediction of cheek and chin

every morning this mirror frames his face
his face fills this mirror
innocent

his hands are clean
our Redeemer’s blood
all washed away

leaving love
of God
of shaven cheek and chin.

Clare Brant

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Manuscript of 40 verses of Mickiewicz’s “Pan Tadeusz”

Image of two manuscript pages side by side

Contributor: Teresa Rączka-Jeziorska

Location: Central State Historical Archives of Ukraine in Lviv, 3a Soborna sq., Lviv

Description: This piece of paper was found in 2015 in Lviv in the collection of the Central State Historical Archive of Ukraine. Written on it are the first forty verses of “Pan Tadeusz czyli ostatni zajazd na Litwie. Historia szlachecka z r. 1811 i 1812 we dwunastu księgach wierszem” [“Pan Tadeusz. A Story of the Gentry from 1811 and 1812. Comprising Twelve Books in Verse”], an epic poem that the Polish Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), inspired by love and longing for his homeland, created while in Paris (1832-1834). The handwriting is that of Mickiewicz; it has in addition a title and a legible signature in the same hand. The manuscript contains a previously unknown version of the ‘Invocation’ of the Polish national epic. It is possible to date this autograph to Mickiewicz’s residence in Paris through the paper. The manufacturer’s watermark (located in the right bottom corner, front — seashell and “WEYNEN” caption in an irregular octagon), identifies it as Timothée Weynen paper that was very popular in France in the 1830s. Mickiewicz used it mostly in the period from 1832 to 1836, writing most of “Pan Tadeusz” on it, including the so called Dzików manuscript of “Pan Tadeusz”, as well as his translation of Byron’s The Giaour (1833). It became part of a Romantic era collection of “Autographs of Illustrious Men” which documented authors both old and contemporary made by bookseller and antiquarian Ambroży Grabowski (1782-1868). Its story exemplifies how and why European Romantic culture was invested in holograph manuscript associated with poets.

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Wordsworth’s Wishing-Gate

Colour illustration of a lake and hills at Grasmere, including the wishing-gate

Contributor: Jeff Cowton

Location: The old Grasmere – Rydal Turnpike Road, Grasmere

Description:  ‘Wordsworth’s Wishing-gate’, and what remains of it, tells a paradigmatic Romantic story of literary tourism in the heart of the English Lake District in the mid nineteenth century.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, literary pilgrimages around Britain were already popular with tourists from home and abroad. As Nicola J. Watson writes: ‘The French poet and scholar Auguste Angellier remarked on the huge numbers of literary pilgrims who came to Britain from the four corners of the world to pay homage to the country’s writers.’ From the 1820s, such tourists came to the Lakes in search of Wordsworth: the man himself and the places associated with his poetry. ‘Strangers’, as tourists were then addressed, were encouraged by published guidebooks to call on the poet at his Rydal Mount home for personal tours of his garden. An image showing Wordsworth standing in his library was included in a popular set of prints in the 1830s; by the 1850s his name was synonymous with the area: ‘Wordsworth Country’. One particular place of pilgrimage was ‘The Wishing Gate’, a humble farm gate on the old turnpike road overlooking Grasmere lake, just five minutes’ walk from Dove Cottage which the Wordsworths had made their home between 1799 and 1808.

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A Lock of Goethe’s Hair

A lock of hair framed with a portrait in an oval, gold frame.

A Lock of Goethe’s Hair

(cut on 2nd March 1823, now in the Taylor Institution Library, Oxford)

Clear as melt-water, the March air flows into the room,
Carrying the delicate notes of the birds’ first thin calls
In that garden in Weimar. The Herr Geheimrat, propped high
On his bulwark of pillows, the doctor dismissed at last,
Waits for his barber. Time to be tidy and kempt,
Fit for the salon, although his condition is still
Fragile as Meissen, and weaker than camomile tea.
The cold blade slides down his neck, gliding, and with it there falls,
As his dead hair scatters, the years of his well-worn past –
Italy, Frankfurt, the court and the theatre, the verse –
`One lock – as a favour?’ Yes – far in the past, those old Greeks,
They cut off a curl of their hair as a gift to the dead,
And the Roman boys severed a strand at their coming-of-age…
Outside, Frau von Goethe, her wholesome cheeks shiny and scrubbed
As a winter apple, goes bustling, shuffles and scolds.
Excellent woman! He thinks of Charlotte von Stein –
Her pale smile, ironic, her manners, that filigree cage
Of etiquette, trapping a passion that fluttered and cried…
Whose are those voices? Next door, or much farther away,
One, like a violin, springs in a light curving arc
While Mozart’s viola responds in its full rolling tone:
`…cut from the head of the poet as he convalesced…’
The barber is gleaning the scatterings in a white towel,
Murmurs excuses – but under the crop that remains
New rhythms and phrases are stirring, as down in the park
The tentative fronds are uncurling around the oak’s roots.
Yes, one slip of hair is a sacrifice he can afford,
In thanks to the Fates who have spared him their shears – just for now.

by Susan Reynolds

Read the blog post on Goethe’s Hair here.

 

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