A table!

Gastronomy is the art of using food to create happiness, wrote the English historian, sociologist and philosopher Theodore Zeldin. I’ve never ever doubted it….at least until yesterday evening and my unexpected idea to bury myself in one of the most long-lasting and fascinating cookbooks in history: De re coquinaria by Apicius. This famous gourmet, who lived in the first century, is well-known as the cooker of the Emperor Tiberius but also as the writer (even if his best-known work is in fact a compilation made by an anonymous editor in the fourth century AD) of the most complete cookery book to survive from this period. However, cookery-books seem to have been numerous in antiquity.

Some of Apicius’ personality traits are related by different sources; Athanaeus, for instance, a Greek gourmet celebrated for his Deipnosophistae, a treatise on food and food preparation written in the end of the 2nd century BC. As for the poet Martial, he wrote about the unconventional motive for Apicius the gourmand to commit suicide: “Apicius, you had spent 60 million (sesterces) on your stomach and as yet a full 10 million remained to you. You refused to endure this, as also hunger and thirst, and took poison in your final drink. Nothing more gluttonous was ever done by you, Apicius”. The Kitchen Table, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin:

jean-baptiste-simeon-chardin-table-de-la-cuisine-n-4038048-0So, why was I uncertain about finding culinary delight with this book? Well, let’s say that I was just not prepared for such a cuisine and it was not really in my intention to cook “wombs from sterile sows, skin, fillets, ribs and trotters” or flamingo’s tongue either. Anyway, here is a recipe that caught my attention. It is a snail one. I love snails. But wait a minute. Snails feed on milk? “Take the snails, clean with a sponge, remove the membrane so that they may come out (of their shells). Put in a vessel with the snails milk and salt for one day, for the following days add only milk, and clean away the excrements every hour. When the snails are fattened to the point they cannot get back into their shells fry them in oil”. Slightly disconcerting.

Let’s try another one…A boar recipe. Sounds good, I’m very fond of this big game. According to what I’m reading, I should boil the meat in sea-water with sprigs of laurel until it is tender. And then take off the skin. Well, I will think of it next time even if it’s a bit perplexing. Foie gras was already known by Romans, Apicius provided us with a recipe about pig’s liver fed on dried figs. Besides I should be honest and confess that lots of recipes in this book seem to be delicious and I will try them, if only I can manage to find the herbs and spices mentioned. You at least need honey, wine, pepper and liquamen, a condiment sauce used almost everywhere, a fermented fish sauce that we might nowadays replace by nuoc-mam. The most simple and easy recipe that you can find in the book is probably the following: “Meat roasted plain in the oven, sprinkled with plenty of salt. Serve with honey”. Believe me; this is worth trying with any kind of meat.

After this mise en bouche, I was wondering what I might discover in our collections about cookbooks. At the manuscript department, I’ve found some writings from the 17th century. One manuscript, bought by the library in 1994 in Stockholm at an antiquarian shop, is particularly interesting. This collection of various recipes was owned by Christina Oxenstierna (1651-1711), member of one of the most illustrious noble families of the country, and is mainly written in Swedish and German. The curious reader will find many and varied cooking and beverage recipes but also remedies, the two things being commonly gathered at this time. Lemon Sorbet, if you can understand the old Swedish:

P1110874The 17th century breaks with the Medieval Ages and the profusion of spices and sweet and sour blending, especially in France. This is the beginning of the French Grande Cuisine and its influence. In the 18th century, the French way of cooking is imported in all the great tables of Europe, Stockholm being one of them. Arthur Young (1741-1820), Englishman, is a witness of this passion and enthusiasm:

One of the most amusing circumstances of travelling into other countries is the opportunity of remarking upon the difference of customs amongst different nations in the common occurrences of life. In the art of living, the French have generally been esteemed by the rest of Europe, to have made the greatest proficiency, and their manners have been accordingly more imitated, and their customs more adopted than those of any other nation. Of their cookery, there is but one opinion; for every man in Europe, that can afford a great table, either keeps a French cook, or one instructed in the same manner. That it is far beyond our own, I have no doubt in asserting. We have about half a dozen real English dishes that exceed anything in my opinion, to be met with in France (…). It is an idle prejudice, to class roast beef among them; for there is not better beef in the world than at Paris. Large handsome pieces were almost constantly on the considerable tables I have dined at. The variety given by their cooks, to the same thing, is astonishing; they dress an hundred dishes in an hundred different ways, and most of them are excellent (…). A regular dessert with us is expected, at a considerable table only, or at a moderate one, when a formal entertainment is given; in France it is as essential to the smallest dinner as to the largest. (…) The whole nation is scrupulously neat in refusing to drink out of glasses used by other people.

As Arthur Young notice, French cooks were to be found in kitchens all around Europe. In 1741, Ulrika Lovisa Tessin, wife of the Swedish Ambassador in France, has a more modest favour to ask to her husband. After a stay in Paris, she was back in Sweden alone because the lifestyle was too expensive in Paris and at the court of Versailles. Both the count and the countess were Swedish but they were, a usual habit at this time in the European aristocracy, corresponding in the language of Molière. I’ll try to translate this 18th century French as best I can:

« I’m not satisfied at all with my housekeeper who is unable to accommodate a single piece of good food (…). My project is for you to bring me some apprentice or boy that is more affordable than great Chef, it seems to me that it won’t be wrong because with this one it is impossible to have a living soul for dinner or supper and we even told me that it’s an unobtainable good here (in Sweden) to have a housekeeper who knows how to cook.” The Bourgeois kitchen by Jean-Baptiste Lallemand:

086[amolenuvolette.it]1701 1800 jean-baptiste lallemand- la cuisine bourgeoiseHer husband – you can find some of his letters at the manuscript department – was ready to do anything to please the one he called “his Queen”. The couple was really in love which was not that common at that time and even surprised people at the French Court according to the testimony of Ulrika Lovisa Tessin. The count is firstly quite annoyed by the request because it is the summer and at this time of the year, all of good society leaves Paris and Versailles to go to their provincial estates. Thus, his answer is the following: “I will see to find a cook; it is as you know, the most difficult thing in the world, especially at present that everybody needs them in their Countryside. Those who stay in Paris are abysses.” However, he quickly managed to grant the wish of his wife to whom he wrote with satisfaction a month later: “Bohlin will bring you a Cook (…). I did not try him, but as long as he knows how to make a soup, a boiled lump and a stew, it is enough for us. Isn’t it my Queen? Besides, it seems to me to be kind and obliging (…). I want you to be pleased with him, otherwise he would have just come all this way to go back”.

Another tasteful option was to send young men in France to be taught at the French cuisine. We know, for instance, that the count of Creutz, Swedish Ambassador in France between 1766 and 1783, was hosting some young cooks in Paris sent to him by the count von Fersen, father of Axel von Fersen, renowned lover of the queen Marie-Antoinette.

In Sweden, the first cookbooks are adaptations of French works written by male chefs to other male chefs. And it is something paradoxical in the history of cooking. Women were traditionally taking care of the food, making in the everyday life, but chefs were men, and it is mostly they that wrote books. However, the tradition was different in Sweden where a great amount of cookbooks writers in the 18th century were actually women. I won’t go further in the historical description but I can only illustrate my words with two books sheltered at the Cultural Heritage Group…without paying any attention to the remarks of the Swedish author August Strindberg (1849-1912) that wrote, in his essay The Inferiority of Women, that cookbooks can have authority only if they are written by men.

hicks-thomas-_-kitchen-interior.1297162425.thumbnailCajsa Warg (1703-1769) is definitely the most famous Swedish author. In 1755, she published her best-seller Hjelpreda I Hushållningen För Unga Fruentimber that can be translated to Assistant in Housekeeping for Young Women. It was indeed very common to stir together recipes and household guidance. We keep an edition from 1773 of this Swedish culinary Bible in the Hammarby collection (the attentive reader probably remembers that I’ve written an article about this collection: https://uppsalalibraryculturalheritage.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/the-hammarby-book-collection/). We also keep some writings of Anna Maria Rückerschöld (1725-1805), another Swedish author.

If cookbooks are not enough to ignite your imagination and awaken the great Cook you were surely born to be, you can also ask us to have a look at the Henriik Svanfeldt’s collection. This man (1876-1964) used to be the director and Head Sommelier of Flustret, a restaurant in Uppsala created in 1842 and still open. He collected thousands of menus from various restaurants and events and assembled them in seven massive and heavy volumes. Refined menus. A menu for the birthday anniversary of the Japanese Emperor written on silk paper. Good wine, turtle and champagne sorbet…

It is an invitation to a sensory voyage of discovery into the world of gastronomy. By reading these menus one can almost get a whiff of delectable dishes. It is to be noted that most of them are written in French. But quite often, even French won’t be able to decipher the poetic charm of the menus. Saumon gai à la vieillard d’Halmstad  avec sauce capricieuse:

P1110887A delicious mystery… until the plate is finally within sight…and mouth! And don’t forget what Harriet Van Horne (1920-1998) said, “Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all”.



Ship of fools

I’m walking distractedly in the maze of corridors and drawn-out bookshelves. I stop a moment gazing at a small 15th century white parchment volume. I have to find a subject for my next article and I have no idea what I’m going to write about. I’m starting to become very frustrated with this lack of inspiration. Come on Charlotte, you are surrounded by tens of thousands of books and manuscripts and you are not even able to get an idea. Terribly demoralizing. And you, with your leather bind320px-Carl_Spitzweg_021ing, stop staring at me with your shelves neighbors. I’m not able to read ancient Greek or whatever silly language you are probably written in; so leave me in peace. Discouraged by my literary meandering, that is until my eyes catch a poster in a wall. A very ordinary one, not even a good quality one, probably just hanged here to brighten up the place. I often pass it, I often look at it, but today I won’t overlook it, you bookworm!

Bookworm is indeed the title of a painting, the one in the poster, by the German Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885), depicting a bibliophile in his library. It is interesting to analyse the imagery of what an English speaker would call a bookworm. In German, the name of the painting is Bücherwurm. Metaphorically, the book-lover is also embodying by this lovely invertebrate that would gnaw a book with pleasure. In Swedish, the term used is bokmal. This time, the book addict is compared with this incredibly attractive insect: the moth. The ones who greedily eat your clothes and food. As for the French native, the book-lover is nothing less than un rat de bibliothèque. Another kind of lovable, noisome parasite. The poor poet and his books, another painting by Carl Spitzweg:

the-poor-poet-1837.jpg!BlogAlleluia! I get it! I won’t offend the reader by writing an article about a plain poster. But what about saying some more words about bibliophilism? “Read in order to live” once wrote Gustave Flaubert to his correspondent Mlle de Chantepie.

After investigation, here I am again in front of a white parchment book. This one was printed in 1498 in Lyon. It is a Latin version of the Narrenschiff, in English, Ship of Fools, a satire written by the humanist and German theologian Sebastian Brant (1457-1521), first published in 1494. It was a real best seller published many times during its author’s lifetime and translated very quickly into Latin and French and then into English. Wonderful! Now I have in my hands another edition in Latin, also from 1498 but printed in Basel. The Cultural Heritage Group sheltered four books of this masterpiece published in the 16th century and several others from later centuries. Our two editions from 1498:

P1110776In this tale, Brant produces a portrait of 112 fools: from the clerk to the wise man passing by the traveler or the bad parents. No one is spared under his sarcastic pen. Whether discussing complacency, adultery, usury or many others sins, foibles and faults, his biting descriptions are full of humor. And you don’t even need to read the book from the beginning to the end (I mean no one will judge you…will we?) You can just quite simply open it and choose what type of fool you want to read about. And for those lazy readers, good news for you: this is a picture book so you can even just enjoy the splendid woodcuts that depict each fool. Whatever it is, you will, for sure, be delighted and amused by Brant’s analysis and allegorical idea of gathering all his characters in a ship for a journey to the land of Narragonia, a fictitious country.

P1110831And do you know who the first to join the ship is? The bookish fool, of course!

If on this ship I’m number one

For special reasons that was done,

Yes, I’m the first one here you see

Because I like my library.

Of splendid books I own no end,

But few that I can comprehend;

 cherish books of various ages

And keep the flies from off the pages.

Where art and science be professed

I say: At home I’m happiest,

I’m never better satisfied

Than when my books are by my side. (…)

P1110825The illustrations are actually as exquisite as the text, which is not really surprising when you know that it was realized by the great Albrecht Dürer (1471-1428) among others.

The bookish fool is sitting at his reading desk, wearing a nightcap and a fool´s hood with bells, studying one of his innumerable books. On his nose sits a pair of glasses, a classical attribute of the book reader, symbolizing the prestige of reading but also its excesses. This scholar is not seeing the world with his own eyes but by peering at printed words.

If the woodcuts of this book are truly admirable, I also was pleasantly surprised to discover some annotations made in olden times on our Lyon´s edition. Well, it is very common to find marginal notes but here it is actually mainly drawings. Winsome pictures that seem to have been made by a young boy or at least in a very childish fashion. Not to say that I would do any better, in fact, because my drawing skills leave something to be desired. Besides, I wouldn´t draw on my books anyway.

One might reasonably assume that a place such Carolina Rediviva, full of librarians, is also a lair for bibliophiles. Indeed, there is always this tricky moment where you have to reveal your real identity to your colleagues: “you know I’m not a librarian but an historian…” Puzzled faces. “But I do love books, I really do!” Reassured faces.

Book-lovers cannot help but read, passionately, intensely. The Englishman Richard de Bury (1287-1345) was one of them. He wrote, in Latin, The Philobiblon, a collection of essays concerning the acquisition, preservation, and organization of books:

“Books delight us (…). How highly must we estimate the wondrous power of books, since through them we survey the utmost bounds of the world and time, and contemplate the things that are as well as those that are not, as it were in the mirror of eternity. In books we climb mountains and scan the deepest gulfs of the abyss; in books we behold the finny tribes that may not exist outside their native waters, distinguish the properties of streams and springs and of various lands; from books we dig out gems and metals and the materials of every kind of mineral, and learn the virtues of herbs and trees and plants, and survey at will the whole progeny of Neptune, Ceres, and Pluto”.

The bookworm, and it is an important fact, is not to be confused with someone who cannot help but buy books. Although the book-lover might also be a collector, he first and foremost likes to read books, which is not necessary the case with bibliomaniacs.

438px-Arcimboldo_Librarian_StokholmRegardless, I highly recommend that you take a trip to Skokloster Castle, only 50 kms from Uppsala. This baroque masterwork keeps in his stately walls a painting by the famous Giuseppe Archimboldo (1527-1593) called the Book man or The Librarian. We recognize in it the whole art of the Italian painter. It is a still-life painting and, in apparent self-contradiction, a portrait. A lover of books made up of books: his glasses are book cabinet keys while the duster in animal tails has been transformed into a beard. But behind this work, one might discern a possible critique of collectors that only wish to own books instead of reading them.

As for the bibliophile, he can quite naturally read anywhere but the book must fit the situation. There is the book you read in your armchair, the one you devour in your bed. Another one is tailor-made for kitchen reading or train getaways. But the latter cannot be the one you will enjoy in the gloomy attic or the blossoming garden. As far as Marcel Proust is concerned, it is the toilets which appear to be a perfect reading location and much more than just a place for vile bodily usage: “for all my occupations which required an inviolable solitude: reading, reverie, tears and sensual pleasure”. This statement is quite obviously shared by Henry Miller: “All my good reading was done in the toilet. (…). There are passages of Ulysses which can be read only in the toilet if one wants to extract the full flavor of their content”.

Each and every person has his or her own favourite reading spot but the most important thing is to read, wherever it is and whatever it is because, as Voltaire brilliantly wrote it in his satirical pamphlet Concerning the Horrible Danger of Reading, books, “dissipate ignorance, the custodian and safeguard of well-policed states”. Elegant women in a library by Edouard Gelhay (1856-1939):

Ed. Gelhay elegant women in a librabryCharlotte

The book-lovers should watch the movie 84, Charing Cross Road starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WxA856czQY

L’amour des livres written by Jules Janin: http://www.bmlisieux.com/curiosa/janin05.htm

The Atlas Collection (15th-18th centuries)

« Listen to me, Dick, and cast your eyes over that map. »
Dick glanced over it, with resignation.
« Now, ascend the course of the Nile. »
« I have ascended it, » replied the Scotchman, with docility.
« Stop at Gondokoro. »
« I am there. »
And Kennedy thought to himself how easy such a trip was—on the map!
Five weeks in a Balloon, Jules Vernes.

A map encourages you to travel, pressed you to grab your backpack and to go down the road to new horizons. By opening an atlas, a voyager won’t resist at the call of the sea and adventure while a homebird will enjoy travel randomly, according to the atlas he is looking at, around his library, cosily settle down in his armchair. As for a prince, he will cherish a map as a tool of power. Louis XVI giving La Pérouse his instructions:

Louis_XVI_et_La_PérouseThe last three months, Lucile Haguet, French book curator and doctor of History specialized in the western map-making of Egypt in the Early Modern time (impressive, isn’t it?), worked at the section for maps and pictures. She was in charge of cataloguing a part of the atlas collection: 88 atlases printed before the 19th century: “I had to identify the atlas and the author, its provenance, date it, count the number of maps by atlas, note the size, and evaluate the binding. It is a meticulous work and it’s not always simple, especially when you are working on a volume with a title three km long written in Danish!” But all this prized effort informs us about the story of the collection. The atlases were mainly acquired in three different ways: by purchases, donations or war-booties.

Theses atlases, symbol of the appropriation of earth by man, were mostly fading from memory because they were still uncatalogued. And yet, such a collection! The oldest one is an incunabula printed in 1475. If the first atlases were published in Germany, they were afterwards notably published in Netherlands and then, in the 18th century, in France. By the way, do you know who the father of the Atlas was? Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594) was really the first one to use this term in 1595. Good information to impress your friends.

When I asked Lucile what was her favourite atlas in the collection, she was hesitant for a while: “I love them all, it’s not easy to answer…Well, I was really filled with emotion to have a Ptolemy in my hands, an atlas from the beginning of the 16th century representing America and its unknown territories. But I also love this small atlas portabilis, a lovely atlas in miniature. And I’m not even mentioning the Atlas Maior”. The latter, the final version of Joan Blaeu’s atlas, is indeed a treasure. It is the largest and most expensive book ever published in the 17th century.

If an atlas is sometimes a real masterpiece, it might also be a common map of a town that is not aesthetically pleasing but very useful. Some of them try to present the entire world while others are more specialised to a period or location. There are even maps representing some fantasy lands. However, there are no such maps in this collection because these atlases were mainly owned by scholars and intended for study, we remained, and it goes without saying, an academic library.

In some of these atlases we can find ex-libris and handwritten annotations made by readers. It gives us keys to unravel the life history of these books and understand how they were used. One of them was probably owned by a woman and was given, according to the dedication, as a “sign of eternal love”. You should give an atlas to your lover if you are short of inspiration next time.

Another one, a copy of the famous Theatrum by Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), founder of cartography with the aforementioned Mercator, used to belong to a Jesuit order. Thus, an illustration of women initially depicted with naked breasts has been decorously covered with inks by a pious reader.

Theatrum Ortelius

Someone else has been more impudent towards an atlas, either he was very bored by the book and geography or a joker…anyway; he decided to add sophisticated moustaches to the feminine figures. Priceless amusement after a hard working day, I promise.

Land Atlas Keulen

However, we should not forget the work of the map-maker and send him our regards. This geographer, sometimes also a true artist, was often working in the confinement of his cabinet, which Lucile Haguet illustrates perfectly in an article by using the expression “an armchair map-maker”. Indeed, I beg the reader not to believe that the cartographer was either a daring traveller or an intrepid adventurer. Most of the time, he was drawing the contours of the world through others’ eyes, explorers and sailors.

Zeespiegel 17e siècleWhen Jacques Cartier officially discovered Canada in the 16th century, he described in a diary his discoveries. He encountered, for instance, what he then named “dogs of the sea” using his own vocabulary to depict a seal of something of the kind. But, the map-maker, preparing a beautiful map probably addressed to a prince, has never been to this exotic place and so, take Cartier’s word, and innocently represented a dog in the sea. Charming incomprehension!

In the 18th century, maps became more and more accurate; monsters and chimera of all kinds disappeared gradually. It is the Age of Enlightenment, scientific travelled are now legion, the Englishman James Cook or the French Jean-François de La Pérouse sailed with as many seaman as scientist on board. Portrait of James Cook:

480px-CaptainjamescookportraitDo not forget to have a look at our exhibition room when you visit the library. Here you can have a look to a 15th century world map from Ptolemy’s atlas, this Greek astronomer, mathematician and geographer who worked in Alexandria during the 2th century AD. His influence as a geographer would last for centuries especially when his writings were rediscovered in Western Europe in the early 1400s.

But we started with Jules Vernes, so let’s conclude this article anew with the explorer Samuel Fergusson, dreaming of exploring Africa…or the map of Africa:

“I can skim it like a bird! I can advance without fatigue; I can halt without need of repose! I can soar above the nascent cities! I can speed onward with the rapidity of a tornado, sometimes at the loftiest heights, sometimes only a hundred feet above the soil, while the map of Africa unrolls itself beneath my gaze in the great atlas of the world. »


Lucile’s article : 


A photographic journey to The Land of the Blue Sky

A journey to a faraway land. Here is an invitation to journey in time and space, a captivating ride through an immense territory of steppes and mountains, in a country that was at one time the cradle of the largest Empire in human history. Mongolia: a single word that kindles your imagination.

Pilgrim on his way westwards

The country, surrounded by Russia in the north and China down south, has been independent since 1911 and became a democracy in the early 1990’s, after the fall of the Soviet Union. Indeed, Mongolia came quickly under Russian influence, being what we called a satellite state. One might deservedly wonder why on earth I am, while chewing dried curds made on yak and camel milk, talking about this and how it can be related to the Cultural Heritage Group.


Throat singing (Khöömii), a tradition in Mongoliahttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXoVcZDkAHQ

Ny bild1

Ny bild123

In 1985, about 800 hundred negatives of photographs were donated to Uppsala University Library by a 95 year old man named Joel Eriksson. Although blind at the end of his life he was able to depict each picture about his personal experiences and adventures in “the Land of the Blue Sky”.

Ny bild65

When I came upon this collection, I was instantaneously mesmerized by the faces and landscapes, these moments of life captured through the eyes of a sensitive and undoubtedly talented photographer who stayed around 25 years in this country, which is still nowadays the one of the least densely populated in the world.


A young prince (1936)

Tibetan Buddhism, which was subjected to religious repressions during the communist era, is the main religion in Mongolia. However, missionaries has been regularly sent there to try to spread the Christian religion.


1923-24 four children from an orphage

Joel Eriksson, Swedish citizen born in 1890 in a small village in the north of Uppsala, was one of these propagators.


In 1910, the Swedish Mongolian Mission (a protestant society founded in 1897) sent him to the Livingstone College, London, in order to acquire a missionary and medical education. Four years later, he arrived in Mongolia. On the train trip from Helsinki to Beijing he met Annie Almquist, a Swedish missionary too, that became his wife in 1918.




The expatriate and his family were highly appreciated among the Mongolians; Joel’s medical skills were especially well liked.





Blues master Paul Pena and throat singing master Kongar-ol Ondar : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVfzQVlVAUA

In 1938, Joel, Annie and their children returned to Uppsala. The Swedish Mongolian Mission was closed in 1942 because of the Japanese occupation.

Ny bild8

965Ny bild6

After the World War II, Joel Eriksson tried to reorganize the activities but the civil war in China made it impossible. He continued his work for the missionary society in Sweden and died in Uppsala 1987 at the age of 97.

Ny bild12

Don’t forget to have a look on the database where you can find few pictures of this wonderful collection.

Ny bild5

My warm thanks to Åsa Henningsson, head of the maps and pictures department, for her precisous help.



The cave of the yellow dog, a Mongolian/German movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xlan8eCU-sE

Leufsta Library

« I would go so far as to say that my dear mother has seen nothing in Sweden if she has not seen Leufstad”. Letter written by the future King Gustav III to his mother Queen Lovisa Ulrika in 1768.

5060In northern Uppland, somewhere in the forests, lies a treasure preserved by the Cultural Heritage Group. Une bibliothèque sur l’eau.

P1110235In 1738, in a little building close to his manor in Lövstabruk, estate that was at that time one of the world´s leading ironworks, Charles de Geer (1720-1778), then renowned as one of the foremost scientists in Sweden, created his library. There is nothing pompous or grandiose in this book haven, just a cozy and intimate, almost bewitching atmosphere where the time seems to have stood still.

P1110219Approximately 8500 books were acquired in 1986 by Uppsala University Library. Although the more valuable volumes are now kept in Uppsala, the layout of the book room has been preserved as it was in the XVIII century, when its industrialist / entomologist founder was relaxing and studying there.

charles de GeerCharles, who was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1739, at the age of nineteen, and a corresponding member of the French Academy of Sciences in 1748, owned an impressive collection of manuscripts and books on natural history. To cite only one example, he acquired the tremendous hand-drawn and hand-coloured illustrated work The Book of Flowers which consists of eleven massive volumes made by the scientist Olof Rudbeck the Elder (1630-1702) who had intended to depict (a wonderful but unrealized ambition) all the herbs of the entire world.

But Charles was also, judging from his library, quite the connoisseur of the Enlightenment. He subscribed to Diderot’s and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie and was reading influential works by Montesquieu,Voltaire and Rousseau among others. Moreover he was himself, like is wife Catharina Charlotta, a participant in the movement. The couple were among the first to inoculate in 1756 their children against the menacing smallpox virus. A pioneering initiative at a time when the technique was still highly controversial and faced a great deal of resistance in the kingdom.


The untouched character of the library invites you to daydream but soon the splendid Indes Galantes by Jean-Philippe Rameau awakens you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKvd4tMkFHc


Indeed, this lovely building also hosted the musical collections of the family. Charles de Geer was very passionate about music. Despite being born in the Swedish kingdom into a Huguenot family who had moved there in the 1620’s, he spent his childhood and early youth in the Netherlands. When he returned to Sweden to manage the industrial community of Lövstabruk, he brought with him a large amount of sheet music, for the most part printed in Amsterdam. Once established in his new mansion, he continued to collect music together with his son.

The collection, which is preserved by the Cultural Heritage Group, contains 84 prints and 99 handwritten pieces including some from the most famous composers of the period, such as Handel, Vivaldi or Telemann and others from less well known, more of less forgotten composers such as Jean-Baptiste Senaillé, a virtuoso violinist. Some are also anonymous.

Vivaldi RV 362, another musical treasure of Leufsta: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9isH30R-sM0

The Leusta’s musical treasure contains some rarities and several unique printed scores. It is also reflects the taste of the day and mirors the musical life of the manor where elegance and charm were embodied by keyboard and chamber music pieces in the galant style. If you decide to visit Lövstabruk, you will also discover a well-preserved organ constructed in 1726.

You can buy recordings of music from the Leufsta collection at the shop of Carolina Rediviva.


Louis Renard’s book of fantastic fish from the Leufsta collection: http://www.ub.uu.se/en/Collections/Early-imprints/Special-collections/Leufsta-Library/Louis-Renards-book-of-fantastic-fish/

If you want to learn more about caterpillars, butterflies and insects of all descriptions you could browse Charles de Geer’s work. Proficiency in French is required: http://books.google.se/books?id=dYFIAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Memoires+pour+servir+a+l%27histoire+des+insectes&hl=fr&sa=X&ei=U0KKUeb3BonPhAfB34FQ&ved=0CEQQ6AEwAw

Mysterious ciphers

The Cultural Heritage Group regularly receives persons who want to discover some parts of the collections. Last week, two researchers, from the University of Southern California and Uppsala University, visited the manuscript department. In 2011, this international team cracked the « Copiale cipher » a famous encrypted manuscript that deals with a secret society in the XVIII century.

Who hasn’t dreamt of secret method of communication and mysterious encoded documents ? Cryptography is a science based on linguistic and mathematics. The reader who knows me a little might be floored that I’ve decided to write about this topic since I usually faint at the simple evocation of the word mathematics. But my fondness for enigmatic subjects get the better of me against my fear of numbers.

P1110061An investigation into our collections became clearly unavoidable and it quickly appeared that the Manuscript department shelters some cryptic documents. Would you like to start with a fleeting medieval excursion ?

Welcome in Vadstena, Östergötland County, a monastery founded by Saint Brigitta – one of the six patron saints of Europe – and soon to be famous as the mother-house of the order she founded in 1346. Sweden is still a Catholic country, we are more than one hundred years before the Reformation. All around Europe, lots of men and women decided to leave in retreat, into a life of prayers, far from the everyday life.

A Musical journey with the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaroIcQ-cnM

Let’s walk wordlessly around the cloister and the scriptorium, the room devoted to the copying of manuscripts by monastic scribes, and open up one manuscript after another, rummage through the papers to find some curiosities. But here is a monk approaching. His name is Störkarus Thurgillus. Wait, he is handing a manuscript, the one that we now keep in the shelves of the Cultural Heritage Group.

P1110092He explains that he copied this volume in 1379 that contains religious treatises and sermons. But it’s impossible to talk further with this monk, we should inquire about it somewhere else. This manuscript is one of the very few that is currently known to contain cipher notations. There are indeed only about two dozen in Europe, a minuscule fraction of the medieval manuscripts.

It seems important to notice that nowhere in the medieval sources is any word equivalent to the English « cipher ». They are simply referred to as figures or numbers.

This small encoded note on our manuscript is a valuable proof that ciphers were known in Sweden in the late XIV century. According to the professor David A. King, the cipher might deal with magic and could be used as an invocation or more likely a curse involving devils. The mystery still partly surrounds.

P1110075I highly advise you to read the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and to watch the excellent adaptation movie by Jean-Jacques Annaud if you wish to extend the travel into the captivating world of medieval libraries and scriptoriums.

It is now time to jump through ages. A time warp to the XVIII century. At that time, cryptographic methods were abundantly used especially by diplomats for whom it was a necessary tool of communication. The different diplomatic representations were trying to hide their political secrets and never-ending plots of all types. Monarchs, ministers, ambassadors, they were all accustomed to refined ciphers.

Postal spying was ever-present and the letters were often unsealed. Thus, the French Countess of Egmont, correspondent of the Swedish king Gustav III, warned him that he should not, on any accounts, trust the postal service : « An even more important precaution is to only write by mail what you want to be publicly known (…) because it is certain that all the letters are unsealed, and even often not properly returned ».

Count Gustaf Philip Creutz, Swedish ambassador at the French court for 17 years, between 1766 and 1783, was exasperated by the bad habit of the Cabinet Noir, the office where the letters of suspected persons (but almost everyone was potentially a suspect !) were opened and read by public officials before being forwarded to their destination. This is why, as much as possible, Creutz sent his letters and dispatches by private route, taking for instance the opportunity of a friend or a close relation’s departure to the homeland. Here is the beginning of a letter he wrote to Gustav III :

« As this is by a sure hand that this letter will be delivered to Your Majesty, I take this opportunity to make him aware of some features that I would not even wish entrust to the postal service despite the cipher (…). I beg Your Majesty to burn this letter. There are spies everywhere and if ever the King here knew the contents of this letter, we should never ever think of France anymore ».

But the travelers were also controlled so cunning was compulsory : « Mr. Kling Sporr on which I can absolutely count will sew this package in his coat lining and so shirk it of all accidents ».

The use of a foreign tongue was also a good way to hide some information. The Count of Creutz often switched between French (most of his letters are written in the language of Molière) and Swedish for political news that he wanted to hide from curious people. It is also possible to mix in one sentence different languages and then encode it. It will be almost impossible to discover the meaning of it without the good interpretation key.
 Of course, There are thousands of different ciphers, each using different techniques .

P1110049The Manuscript department still has a sumptuous portfolio that contained various documents about French ciphers from the second part of the XVIII century. The perfect ambassador’s kit.

P1110046A technique, among many others, was to state the opposite of the reality. Pointed by brackets or other signs ascertained in advance, the meaning of the contained was actually diametrically reverse. An example : « The Queen is still ill but will recover soon » was to be understood as « she will pass away soon ». However, the common technique to protect writings from undesired eyes was to represent every letter and some words and proper noun by a number. See the picture, the queen of France was, in this case, encoded by the number 16.

If you don’t know what to do of your spare time, feel free to contact us, you can have a great fun trying to decode some political letters that might contains invaluable undisclosed data. And who knows, your training attempts might help you to be the first to unveil the secret of the Voynich manuscript, the world’s most famous mysterious manuscript.


Note: All the pictures are from our collections. A huge amount of Creutz letters are in the Gustavian Collection in the Manuscript department.

USC Scientist Cracks Mysterious « Copiale Cipher »: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eam0Tk-1FyI

Library in the Name of the Rose: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSh0L_9qok8

The Book That Can’t Be Read, a documentary about the Voynich manuscript: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgALlSPlZC8

An atypical librarian

1789. Dux castle, Bohemia. A librarian of sixty-four years old, unlike any other, is taking care of a collection exceeding some 40,000 titles. He started to work there in 1785 at the request of the owner of the library’s castle, the count of Waldstein. Let me introduce you to the Chevalier de Seingalt. You think you don’t know him? But I’m convinced you do! Well, probably not as a librarian. Here is a description of the man written by the Prince Charles de Ligne who met our special librarian in 1794:

“There is always something weighty, new, piquant, and profound. He is knowledgeable, but he quotes Homer and Horace ad nauseam. His wit and his sallies are like Attic salt. He is sensitive and generous (…). In the aftermath of substantial disorder and a stormy youth, and career adventures, sometimes a little equivocal; he showed honour, delicacy and courage. He is proud, because he is nothing (…). Never tell him you have heard the story he is going to tell you (…). Never omit to greet him in passing, for the merest trifle will make him your enemy. His prodigious imagination, vivacity of his country, his travels, all the professions he carried, his firmness in the absence of all moral and physical goods, make a rare man, valuable to meet.”

Still does not ring a bell? You might know him as a diplomat, a scallywag, a clergyman, a musician or perhaps as a spy, a magician, a lawyer, a military officer or a trickster… and that’s not the half of it. Still no idea? Another clue: His name is now synonymous with womaniser. Yes, he is the great, the unique, Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798).


He was an atypical librarian, for sure. And yet, he spent the last thirteen years of his life in retreat, among books, far away from the world he strode across for more than three decades. The Capitals of Europe were indeed the stage of his affairs and adventures of all kinds. He visited Rome, Paris, Constantinople, Corfou, Dresden, Venise, Madrid, Amsterdam, Vienna, London, Moscow and Prague among so many others. It is said that Casanova travelled something like 60,000 kilometers over his lifetime. A constant meandering adventurer but the scenario was always the same: To seduce and be accepted by everybody, and especially nobility and powerful people, and then to amuse himself and make money, as much as possible – it is a way more exciting – with charlatan methods. And if he should find himself jailed after one of his schemes? The intrepid darer is capable of making an escape with ease!

To be involved in suspicious business and shine wherever he goes, was the everyday life of the Venetian citizen. Self-evidently, some of his meetings went wrong and Casanova was involved a couple of time in duels, the only way to properly clear ones name at that time. One might wonder how he is linked to the Cultural Heritage Group, putting aside the fact that Casanova was a librarian. I’m coming to that: our grand manuscript collection holds a letter written by him.

We don’t know from the missive where Casanova was when he wrote this letter and or which year it was. What can we learn? Casanova wrote it a Tuesday morning, the 18th of September, to a certain Michele Cavana. Obviously, the two pen-friends are not precisely friends but they rather seem engaged in a conflict. To summarize, this Michele Cavana eventually paid off a debt owed to him; which was appreciated by Casanova even if he reminded his correspondent that he was supposed to repay him the day before. Moreover, Casanova probably insulted Cavana in some way because this latter seems to propose a duel. Casanova, true to himself, is not dispose at all to apologize. On the contrary he maintains what he said with a pinch of arrogance. However, he flatly refuses the fighting request arguing that this Cavana is not a man of good reputation, nor a gentleman. The man used to spend some time in prison in Dresden because he stole some money and Casanova can certainly not be dishonoured by facing him. It’s the pot calling the kettle black…in regards of Casanova personal habit of spending some time in various jails.

P1110008This letter might have been written from Dresden since Casanova explains further that he will leave the place the day after to reach Prague. Or, in his own words, he was generally in Dresden before setting out for Prague. Anyhow, I’m not sure about the exact year. Casanova was in Prague many times but in his memoirs there is no date that clearly matches with the letter. However, after an investigation, I’ve found out that he was in Dresden in September 1753, and, according to the calendar, 18th of September was a Tuesday that year. During his last stay in Prague in 1788, it is said that Casanova met Mozart and help him to write Don Giovanni’s libretto. Whatever it was, this is a precious testimony and through this letter, the attentive reader can guess the nature of the figure. You can have a glimpse of the witty conversationalist he was but also foresee his casualness when he wrote that he will wait for Cavana in Prague where he will welcome him and kiss him with a discourse… and even give him back twice the amount of money Cavana just repaid him. Casanova underlines, to finish, that he appreciates the talents of the man and will not tell anyone all his weaknesses. Such delightful insolence!

Although this letter is written in Italian, the most famous of Casanova’s writings, his memoirs, Histoire de ma vie, were written in French. 3700 pages in an idiosyncratic Italianate in a splendid lively style. Casanova is undoubtedly a brilliant writer. In his preface he explains why he has chosen to write in French: “I have written in French, and not in Italian, because the French language is more universal than mine, and the purists, who may criticize in my style some Italian turns will be quite right, but only in case it should prevent them from understanding me clearly.” Somewhere else in the book we can read this (any similarities with the present situation is a mere coincidence): “The French have the tongue, palate, lips, chest and nose so well adapted to the sound, to the accent, to the prosody, to the consonance of their words […] that even when they really try, they never succeed to properly form sentences in the foreign language they are trying to speak and even less to pronounce.”

Casanova wrote this massive book at the end of his life while he was in Bohemia. Regardless, it’s hard to evaluate his work as a librarian. But we know that he did very little to collate and catalogue the collections. He was reading a lot but was more than anything writing letters and especially his memoirs: « I’m writing my life in order to laugh at myself and I am managing very well. I write 13 hours a day and they fly past like 13 minutes. I am enjoying myself because I invent nothing. What distresses me is the obligation I have at this point to conceal names, since I cannot divulge the affairs of others. » It was a good way for him to escape the routine of his solitude in this German-speaking place, a language that he hated very much.

In 2010, the original version of his memoirs was purchased by the National Library of France, thanks to an anonymous benefactor, for the insignificant amount of $9.6 million: a new record for a manuscript sale. Since then, it is said that the library is the 123rd Casanova´s conquest. But there is no need to linger over his hundred feminine conquests, Casanova´s finest delight. It is actually very unfortunate that the figure is again and again reduced only to a lover with no morality. He is first and foremost an eclectic traveler who was full of joie de vivre that wanted to go everywhere and experience everything. And also a brilliant man of letters. But, if you insist, here is a description of women by Casanova …An original comparison with books:

« Woman is like a book, which, good or bad, must at first please us by the frontispiece. If this is not interesting, we do not feel any wish to read the book, and our wish is in direct proportion to the interest we feel. The frontispiece of woman runs from top to bottom like that of a book, and her feet, which are most important to every man who shares my taste, offer the same interest as the edition of the work. If it is true that most amateurs bestow little or no attention upon the feet of a woman, it is likewise a fact that most readers care little or nothing whether a book is of the first edition or the tenth. At all events, women are quite right to take the greatest care of their face, of their dress, of their general appearance; for it is only by that part of the frontispiece that they can call forth a wish to read them in those men who have not been endowed by nature with the privilege of blindness. And just in the same manner that men, who have read a great many books, are certain to feel at last a desire for perusing new works even if they are bad, a man who has known many women, and all handsome women, feels at last a curiosity for ugly specimens when he meets with entirely new ones. It is all very well for his eye to discover the paint which conceals the reality, but his passion has become a vice, and suggests some argument in favour of the lying frontispiece. It is possible, at least he thinks so, that the work may prove better than the title-page, and the reality more acceptable than the paint which hides it. »

Casanova has been all his life interested by books and libraries. He always travelled with books:

« The next day I started on my journey, and got to Rome in thirty-six hours. It was midnight when I passed under the Porta del Popolo, for one may enter the Eternal City at any time. I was then taken to the custom-house, which is always open, and my mails were examined. The only thing they are strict about at Rome is books, as if they feared the light. I had about thirty volumes, all more or less against the Papacy, religion, or the virtues inculcated thereby. I had resolved to surrender them without any dispute, as I felt tired and wanted to go to bed, but the clerk told me politely to count them and leave them in his charge for the night, and he would bring them to my hotel in the morning. I did so, and he kept his word. He was well enough pleased when he touched the two sequins with which I rewarded him. » 

He was with any doubt a regular reader. One day, while he was visited a monastery with an abbot; he has the extravagant and unexpected idea to become a monk:

« As for the library, if I had been alone it would have made me weep. It contained nothing under the size of folio, the newest books were a hundred years old, and the subject-matter of all these huge books was solely theology and controversy. There were Bibles, commentators, the Fathers, works on canon law in German, volumes of annals, and Hoffman’s dictionary. « I suppose your monks have private libraries of their own, » I said, « which contain accounts of travels, with historical and scientific works. » « Not at all, » he replied; « my monks are honest folk, who are content to do their duty, and to live in peace and sweet ignorance. » I do not know what happened to me at that moment, but a strange whim came into my head—I would be a monk, too. I said nothing about it at the moment, but I begged the abbot to take me to his private chamber (…). I sat down before him and for three consecutive hours I narrated scandalous histories innumerable, which, however, I told simply and not spicily (…). All that was needed to secure my happiness seemed a library of my own choosing, and I did not doubt but that the abbot would let me have what books I pleased if I promised to leave them to the monastery after my death.

According to his memoirs, Casanova is a regular libraries visitor, public or private one:

“He ended by asking me to dine with him the following day, adding that if I cared to examine his library he could give me an excellent cup of chocolate. I went, and saw an enormous collection of comments on the Latin poets from Ennius to the poets of the twelfth century of our era. He had had them all printed at his own expense and at his private press, in four tall folios, very accurately printed but without elegance. I told him my opinion, and he agreed that I was right.”

Thus, libraries is a way to pass his spare time, satisfy his curiosity or refine one of his new swindle, like to write a fake document with the assistance of a dictionary. But the adventurer also wants to content his thirst for learning which is not always easy. But in the end, the man always gets what he wants. An example in Roma:

“Two or three weeks after my arrival he heard me complaining of the obstacles to research in the Roman libraries, and he offered to give me an introduction to the Superior of the Jesuits. I accepted the offer, and was made free of the library; I could not only go and read when I liked, but I could, on writing my name down, take books away with me. The keepers of the library always brought me candles when it grew dark, and their politeness was so great that they gave me the key of a side door, so that I could slip in and out as I pleased.”

It seems that free access to these collections would be a privilege, unfortunately, we are not so lucky today. I will have to just accept this and confess that you won’t be allowed to borrow our medieval manuscripts at the Cultural Heritage Group and bring them home to examine yourself. However, Casanova certainly enjoyed these opportunities:

« I went to Wolfenbuttel with the idea of spending week there. I was sure of finding amusement, for Wolfenbuttel contains the third largest library in Europe, and I had long been anxious to see it. The learned librarian, whose politeness was all the better for being completely devoid of affection, told me that not only could I have whatever books I wished to see, but that I could take them to my lodging, not even excepting the manuscripts, which are the chief feature in that fine library. I spent a week in the library, only leaving it to take my meals and go to bed, and I count this week as one of the happiest I have ever spent, for then I forgot myself completely; and in the delight of study, the past, the present, and the future were entirely blotted out. »

In those days, to be considering tasteful, you needed to be witty, a good table, a wine cellar and, naturally a well-furnished library. What else?


You can find the Casanova letter in the Waller Collection. Feel free to contact the Manuscripts and Music section if you have any questions or request: http://www.ub.uu.se/en/Collections/Manuscript-Collections/Autograph-Collections/Wallers-Manuscript-Collection/

You should really read Histoire de ma vie. The original manuscript is online on Gallica, the digital library of the National Library of France.