January 23, 2014

Two Years in the French West Indies

Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904) was an international writer best known for his books about Japan. Born on the Greek island of Lefkáda, the son of an Irish father and a Greek mother, he was raised in England, Ireland, and France and immigrated to the United States at age 19. He lived first in Cincinnati, where he landed a job as a journalist, and then moved to New Orleans in 1877, where he wrote for several newspapers. His impressionistic writings about the city caught the eye of editors at Harper’s Magazine, which in 1887 sent Hearn to the West Indies as a correspondent. The first part of this book is an account of Hearn’s “midsummer trip to the tropics,” which took him from New York to the Lesser Antilles, with stops in Saint Kitts, Dominica, Martinique, Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad, Grenada, and Saint Lucia. Hearn was captivated by the French-ruled island of Martinique and its people, where he came to live for two years. The second part of the book consists of 14 sketches of the island, all with French or Creole titles. The book includes photographs, drawings, and an appendix that discusses the music of Martinique and reproduces the melody and lyrics of several Creole songs. In 1890, the year this work was published, Hearn traveled to Japan, where he eventually settled, married a Japanese woman, and became a naturalized Japanese citizen.

Europe, A Prophecy

The English poet, illustrator, and engraver William Blake (1757–1827) first published Europe, A Prophecy in 1794, one year after the appearance of his America, A Prophecy. In both books, Blake attempted to discern the pattern behind human history, and in particular in the momentous events occurring on both sides of Atlantic between the end of the American Revolution in 1783 and the outbreak of war between France and Great Britain in 1793. At first an enthusiast for the French Revolution, Blake saw a world of deprivation and misery emerging in Europe, as depicted in “Famine” (plate 9) and “Plague” (plate 10). The frontispiece (plate 1) includes one of Blake’s best-known works of art, “The Ancient of Days,” which depicts God the Father as a powerful figure, striking the Earth with a pair of compasses. Most of Blake’s books were not published in the traditional sense but were printed for special commissions by private collectors or London booksellers. As a consequence, they are extremely rare. This copy, from the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection at the Library of Congress, is one of only nine surviving copies of the work.


Mikhail Vrubelʹ (1856–1910) was a Russian painter known for his unusual style, which synthesized elements of native Russian art with Western and Byzantine influences. Born in Omsk to a Polish father and a Russian mother, he moved to Saint Petersburg in 1874 to study law. He abandoned his legal studies and in 1880 entered the Academy of Fine Arts. In a career cut short by mental illness and blindness, Vrubelʹ produced a body of work that included church murals and mosaics, book illustrations, stage sets, watercolors, and oil paintings. He was fascinated by The Demon, the long poem by Mikhail Lermontov, and created numerous images of the devil that are among his best-known paintings. He suffered a nervous breakdown and was placed in an insane asylum, where he lost his vision and eventually died. At his funeral he was eulogized by the great Symbolist poet Aleksandr Blok. This book, by the Russian art critic Aleksandr Pavlovich Ivanov (1876–1940), is an introduction to Vrubelʹ’s life, style, and artistic innovations. First published in 1911, it includes color and black-and-white reproductions of some of Vrubelʹ’s works. At the end is a complete listing of Vrubelʹ’s work, from 1881 to 1906.

To Modest Ment͡synsʹkyĭ from Prisoners of the Wetzlar Camp

This publication, dedicated to the opera tenor Modest Omeli͡anovych Ment͡synsʹkyĭ (1875–1935), was produced by the prisoners from the Wetzlar camp for whom Ment͡synsʹkyĭ gave a performance in February 1916. It contains essays and poems dedicated to Ment͡synsʹkyĭ as well as the program of his performance and the lyrics of the songs he sang, which included poems by Taras Shevchenko and Ivan Franko. During World War I, more than a million Russian army soldiers were taken prisoner, of whom several hundred thousand were ethnic Ukrainians. The Union for the Liberation of Ukraine, an organization of Ukrainian émigrés from the Russian Empire that promoted Ukrainian independence, worked with the German authorities to have Ukrainian prisoners gathered at special camps in Rastatt, Salzwedel, and Wetzlar. This book was published by the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine in the Wetzlar camp.

Eternal Wisdom, a School Play from Kiev

The school drama is a theatrical form that developed in Ukraine in the 17th and 18th centuries. Students would perform plays written by their teachers as a way of receiving religious instruction and studying the principles of drama. The genre was said to have developed from the dialogic verse of the Christmas and Easter cycles that were popular in Western Europe beginning in the 12th and 13th centuries and that spread to Ukraine in the late 16th–early 17th centuries. This book is a 1912 edition of a Jesuit school drama, Eternal Wisdom, dating from 1703. The first part of the book is a detailed critical analysis of the play by the scholar Volodymyr Ivanovych Ri͡ezanov (1867–1936). It includes a brief description of the plot, an analysis of the characters, a comparison with other Jesuit plays, and a discussion of the relationship of the play to other texts and sources, for example the Bible. Part two of the work contains the text.

A Collection of Songs of the Bukovina People

Bukovina is a region in southeastern Europe that is today partly in Ukraine and partly in Romania. Between 1775 and 1918 it was ruled by the Austrian Empire. It was annexed by Romania after World War I and divided between the Soviet Union and Romania after World War II. This book is a collection of song lyrics, gathered in the second half of the 19th century by the Bukovina journalist, anthropologist, and public figure Hryhoriĭ Kupchanko (1849–1902) for the Southwestern Department of the Imperial Russian Geographic Society. The selection was compiled and edited by the Kiev scholar Alexander Lonachevsky and published in 1875. The songs are arranged in six sections: religious songs; songs about personal life; songs about the family; and political, artistic, and educational songs. Within each section the songs are grouped by subject, with those that are similar in content placed together. Lonachevsky’s system of arrangement later was adopted by the important Ukrainian historian and political thinker Mykhaĭlo Petrovych Drahomaniv (1841–95).