A Farm called ‘Maloi Jaroslawitz’, or, A Dutch Melancholy Hussar

Image of a farmhouse with a high hedge in front of it.

Contributor: Asker Pelgrom

Location: along the provincial road N330 between Hummelo and Zelhem (The Netherlands), 52°00’25.1″N 6°15’12.8″E

Description: In the rural area of the Achterhoek, in the eastern part of the Netherlands, along the provincial road between the villages of Hummelo and Zelhem, travellers encounter a nineteenth-century farmhouse carrying a fascinating legend: ’18 Maloï Jaroslawitz 60’. To military historians, this name immediately rings a bell: it refers to the battle of Maloyaroslavets that took place on the 24th of October 1814, between the Russian army commanded by Marshal Kutusov and parts of the corps of Eugène de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s stepson, under General Delzons. Five days earlier, Napoleon had evacuated Moscow and marched south with his Grande Armée, De Beauharnais leading the advance. The bloody battle (10.000 casualties) ended in victory for the mainly French and Italian forces. However, Kutusov’s deliberate retreat forced Napoleon northward, a direction he had wished to avoid. We all know the dramatic outcome. In a way, Maloyaroslavets thus marked the beginning of the end of the Grande Armée. But why does a rural farmhouse in the Netherlands carry this name? And why do many other farms in the same area bear other names that refer to Napoleon’s Russian campaign and the battles fought in its aftermath: Jena (1851), Bautzen (1852), Lützen (1854), Montmirail (1856, since 1943 called Grevenkamp), Beresina (1857), Düben (1858) and Briënne (1860)? The colours of the painted shutters point to the answer.

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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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Kościuszko’s Mound

Image of Kościuszko's Mound in the distance surrounded by trees

Contributor: Monika Coghen

Location: Sikornik Hill, also known as the Hill of Blessed Bronisława, Kraków, Poland

Description: Kościuszko’s Mound (constructed 1820-1823) is an earthen barrow built on the hill called Sikornik in the west of Kraków (1). Following Kościuszko’s death in 1817, it became a matter of national urgency to construct a memorial to honour his memory. Kościuszko was recognized not only as the commander of the last military effort aimed at preserving Polish statehood, but also as a national spiritual leader urging progressive social reform. Kraków, where Kościuszko’s Insurrection broke out in 1794, was an obvious choice for the location of the monument. Wawel Cathedral, the burial site of the Polish kings, was the most appropriate place for his remains. Its role as a shrine for national heroes was inaugurated in 1817 by the funeral of Prince Józef Poniatowski, the commander of the Polish troops under Napoleon. Kościuszko was buried beside him in 1818.

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A Ha’pennyworth of Sedition, 1796

Image of a metal coin with the bust of John Thelwall in profile on one side and a figure in chains and a padlock on the other

Contributor: Alice Rhodes

Location: The British Museum, London, UK

Description: In the 1790s, Britain was quite literally short on change. Insufficient supply of official coinage from the Royal Mint, combined with high levels of counterfeit money, led many business owners to issue their own coins, in order to pay increasingly large workforces. These private tokens, also known as commercial coins or Conder tokens, quickly became far more than currency. Free from official regulation, capable of being stamped with almost any design, and specifically intended to be circulated locally, they were soon used to advertise almost everything, from menageries to lawyers. And it was these same qualities which made them apt to carry political messages. This 1796 token, minted by Thomas Spence in the wake of the 1795 “Gagging Acts” features an image of radical orator John Thelwall on one side and an image of a “Free-born Englishman”, with shackled limbs and padlocked mouth on the other. But what can this coin say in 1796 that a “free-born Englishman” can’t?

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Falun Copper Mine [Falu Gruva]

Painting of miners in Falun Mine

Contributor: Cian Duffy

Location: Falun, Sweden (60°35.56N’ 15°36.44’E)

Description: Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001, Falun Mine, in Dalarna, Sweden, was, during the eighteenth century, one of the largest copper mines in Europe and a key locale for the development of mining technology. Many British Romantic-period travellers to Sweden wrote about visits to the mine and descents into its depths, although not Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97). Swedish visitors of note included the theologian and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) and the natural philosopher Carl Linnaeus (1707-78). However, Falun is probably now best known to scholars of the Romantic period as the setting for E.T.A. Hoffmann’s (1776-1822) story ‘Die Bergwerke zu Falun’ [The Mines at Falun] (1819), which Theodore Ziolkowksi, in his pioneering study German Romanticism and Its Institutions, describes as the ‘culmination’ of ‘the obsession with mines’ in German Romantic-period cultural texts (p. 55).

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A poster advertising the opening of William Cowper’s house in Olney as a museum, 1900

A poster advertising the opening of William Cowper’s house in Olney as a museum, 1900

Contributor: Nicola J. Watson

Location: Cowper and Newton Museum, Olney

Description: On 25 April 1900, the centenary of the death of the English poet and hymnodist William Cowper (1731-1800), his house Orchardside was presented by its then owner to the town of Olney as a public museum. Cowper’s house would become one of the earlier writer’s house museums in Britain, part of a cluster of such openings at the end of the century which included Dove Cottage in 1891. These came out of a strengthening desire to celebrate an intimate relation between literature and the national landscape, a Romantic mentality that had found its first widespread expression in Britain and Europe during Cowper’s own lifetime. The programme of celebratory events laid out here is eloquent of the meanings that the figure of Cowper had shed and accumulated over the century since his death. It is perhaps also inadvertently eloquent of the extent to which Cowper has since fallen out of the accepted canon of Romantic poetry.

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William Hayley’s Tribute Tea-Caddy

William Hayley’s Tribute Tea-Caddy

Contributor: Clare Brant

Location: Cowper and Newton Museum, Olney, Buckinghamshire, UK

Description: This tea-caddy sits among domestic objects in the Cowper and Newton Museum in Olney, Bucks UK, a house museum which for twenty years was the residence of the poet William Cowper (1731-1800). It was donated in 2019 by a family descended from Cowper’s relations though it was not one of Cowper’s own possessions.

The box was commissioned after Cowper’s death in 1800 by his friend and biographer William Hayley (1745-1820) as a way of celebrating Cowper’s life, work, sensibility and friendships.

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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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Mrs Unwin’s Spectacles

Mrs Unwin's spectacles

Contributor: Kathryn Sutherland

Location: Cowper and Newton Museum, Olney, Buckinghamshire

Description: With oval frames of honey-coloured horn and silver hinges, Mrs Unwin’s spectacles have a fashionable air. One sidepiece is missing and only one lens survives to indicate slight long-sightedness of the kind that comes with age. Prescription lenses were in use at this time but we do not know whether Mrs Unwin’s were prescribed or an ‘off-the-shelf’ purchase. Spectacles to correct long-sightedness are useful for reading and other close work such as the embroidery William Cowper describes as among the comfortable pleasures and ‘fire-side enjoyments’ of ‘The Winter Evening’, when beneath the flying needle a pattern grows of buds, leaves, and flowers ‘that cannot fade’ (The Task, 4. 150-8).

Their friend, Cowper’s cousin Lady Hesketh, describes another such evening by the hearth when she and Cowper spread themselves in two large chairs, ‘leaving poor Mrs Unwin to find all the comfort she can in a small one, half as high again as ours, and considerably harder than marble. However, she protests it is what she likes … Her constant employment is knitting stockings … She sits knitting on one side of the table in her spectacles, and he on the other reading to her (when he is not employed in writing) in his’ (Poems … with Anecdotes, 65-6). In art and life Mrs Unwin sits bespectacled, sewing, knitting, attending patiently to her ‘busy task’. As confirmation of the scene, her workbox and bobbin winder have also found space in the Cowper and Newton Museum at Olney.

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