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As St. Bartholomew’s Day is coming up this month, our Head of Bibliographic Services, Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros discusses wellbeing and welfare. Adapted from an article originally written for History Today.

In the 16th century two doctors from enemy nations were moved to write about personal wellbeing and social welfare. They were both compassionate, prominent in their field and had powerful connections but their temperaments, careers and the reasons that drove them to write the two books now held at The London Library were very different.

Timothy Bright (1550-1615) began his academic career at the University of Cambridge and later traveled to the continent to train in medicine. While in Paris he witnessed the massacre of Huguenots on St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1572 and only survived through the protection of Sir Francis Walsingham, who was English ambassador in France at the time. The experience strengthened Bright’s Protestant beliefs as well as his patriotism and was probably a factor in his decision to abandon medicine later on in favour of a career in the Anglican Church.

Bright had a brilliant mind but seemed to lack the discipline to train it on one subject at a time and whilst holding the title of Chief Physician at the Royal Hospital of St. Bartholomew he neglected his patients, spending most of his time devising a new system for shorthand or ‘characterie’ and writing on the nature of melancholy. His A Treatise of Melancholie: Containing the Causes thereof, & Reasons of the Strange Effects it Worketh in our Minds and Bodies, with the Phisicke Cure, and Spirituall Consolation for Such as Haue thereto Adioyned an Afflicted Conscience…. was first printed in London 1586. His interest in the subject may have been triggered by a personal tragedy: Bright and his wife had lost one of their seven children some months before the book appeared.  Bright understood that the reasons for depression could be physical as well as psychological and in the book he covers the role of both drugs and diet in the management of this devastating condition.

The work influenced not only other physicians and medical writers interested in mental illness; some Shakespearean scholars believe that the bard relied on it when writing Hamlet. There can be no doubt as to the importance of Bright’s contributions to shorthand, cryptography and psychiatry and perhaps he should have devoted his life to research.  His boyish enthusiasm for all manner of subjects was perhaps the reason why he could not commit himself to the service of others for any length of time. Even before he was sacked from St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, Bright became rector of Methley in Yorkshire and later received also the living of nearby Barwick in Elmet.  Unfortunately, he went on to neglect his parishioners in the same way that he had neglected his patients earlier.

This erudite great-great-grandfather of the dramatist William Congreve profited enormously from the patronage of Sir Francis Walsingham throughout his professional life, both as a physician and as a rector. In return, it is likely that Bright’s knowledge of cryptography would have been employed by the Elizabethan spymaster in his efforts to gather information on England’s enemies. The very next day after the English fleet and the Spanish Armada clashed off the Isle of Wight, Queen Elizabeth granted Bright a fifteen year monopoly on the teaching and publishing of shorthand.

Our second author served on one of those doomed ships Spanish. Cristóbal Pérez de Herrera (1558-1620?) was “Protomédico de Galeras”, the most senior physician of the ‘invincible’ Armada. Comparatively little is known about Pérez de Herrera. During his naval career he played an active and heroic role in many sea battles, capturing several enemy flags and surviving being shot through the shoulder.  When he was not busy carrying out courageous feats the swashbuckling doctor was a daily witness to the horrific conditions suffered by galley slaves. The practice of condemning men to long years of rowing in war ships, often after committing only minor offences was very common at a time when Spain had a pressing need to find the necessary manpower for a growing navy.

This frequent interaction with the galley slaves had a profound effect on Pérez de Herrera. After leaving the Armada he devoted himself to charitable works. He wrote several treatises on improving the lives of the most vulnerable people in 16th century Spanish society.  In 1598 he published Discvrsos del Amparo de los Legítimos Pobres, y Redvcción de los Fingidos : y de la Fundacion y Principio de los Albergues destos Reynos (Discourses on the Protection of the Legitimate Poor and Reduction of those Feigning and on the Foundation and Principle of Shelters in these Realms). In the book he describes the ideal location and layout of a shelter in Madrid where the poor could live in clean and healthy conditions, be taught good examples and given daily structure to engage them in useful occupation: an intriguing illustration in his book has the caption ‘with eyes in their hands and [hands] busy with work they will have better habits’.

He wanted to help the genuinely needy: wounded and disabled war veterans, the sick, the elderly, prisoners, orphaned children, impoverished students, and even ‘vagabond and delinquent women’.  He spent the rest of his life fundraising, even begging when necessary, in order to realize his vision in the Atocha district of Madrid. His shelter later became the site of the first general hospital in the Spanish capital.

A work on depression from a distracted mind

A work on depression from a distracted mind

The naval hero turned author and welfare campaigner

The naval hero turned author and welfare campaigner

Idle hands do the Devil's work

Idle hands do the Devil’s work

Storks, bees and ants exemplify compassion, good government and order

Storks, bees and ants exemplify compassion, good government and order

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Posted by on in Bibliographic Services

Is love a gentle emotion that inspires sonnets, an all-consuming passion that drives people to desperate actions, an enigma that defies explanation, an absurdity that deserves to be ridiculed or a dangerous affliction that should come with a health warning? By Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros, Head of Bibliographic Services at The London Library, adapted from an article originally written for History Today.

Judging by some of the earliest books in the London Library’s collections writers in the 15th and 16th centuries believed that love was all of these things. The approach to love in these books ranges from sentimentality to cynicism.

Among these are two volumes of love poems by fairly obscure and unlikely figures who couldn’t be further removed from the ideal of the romantic poet.

Caio Baldassare Olimpo Alessandri (1486-ca. 1540) from Sassoferrato was a member of the Franciscan Minorite order and a ‘most acute bachelor’. Encouraged by his friends he composed love poems to rest his ‘fatigued mind’ after years of studying philosophy. He even recited his poetry accompanying himself with a lute, just as the young man depicted on the title page of this edition of his last work, Aurora (printed in Venice in 1536), though in his friar’s habit Alessandri probably did not look quite so dashing.

Giovanni Bruni (1474-1540) from Rimini suffered a great loss when his first love and muse died in 1500. Still, his broken heart soon mended and in 1501 he married and went on to father ten children.  He was a ‘passionate dilettante and a mediocre poet’ and that may be the reason why the Venetian printer who produced this 1533 edition of his Rime Nuove Amorose felt the need to ‘spice things up’ by decorating the title page with suggestive vignettes. Any buyer who purchased the book looking for titillation would have been sorely disappointed to discover its chaste content. The work was nevertheless quite popular and was reprinted many times both in Venice and Milan.

In  Cárcel de amor (Prison of love) we have a stunning example from the pen of Diego de San Pedro (fl. 1500) of a Spanish sentimental novel in the best tradition of courtly love. Cárcel de amor, first printed in Seville in 1492, proved an instant bestseller and was translated into many languages. The London Library copy, printed in Venice in 1530, is the first Italian translation of this tragic story of unrequited love.

Leriano is in love with Laureola, daughter of the king of Macedonia and professes his love to her in his numerous letters. Laureola does not return his love but she does accept his letters and even writes back.

When a love rival tells the king that his daughter has dishonoured herself the furious father locks her away. Even after Leriano rescues her Laureola remains indifferent .

Rejected and desperate, Leriano commits very slow suicide by refusing food and drink. With his dying breath he proclaims his love for Laureola and his admiration for all women.  Just before dying, Leriano who cannot bear to destroy Laureola’s letters or to leave them behind, tears them up, places the pieces in a cup of water and drinks the mixture.

In marked contrast to this uncontrolled and even comical passion we have the cerebral analysis of León Hebreo, the Jewish physician, poet and philosopher born in Lisbon around 1460. Hebreo was a religious exile forced to leave first Portugal and then Spain to settle in Italy where he spent most of his life. His most influential work, Dialogues of Love, attempts to explore the true nature of love through the conversations of two characters, Philo (Love) and Sophia (Wisdom).  The work opens with a dialogue on the difference between love and desire. Philo begins by telling Sophia that meeting her awakens both love and desire in him and Sophia replies that these are mutually exclusive. She maintains that we only desire that which we do not have and that once we obtain it, love replaces desire. Hebreo is believed to have written his Dialogues in Italian and the first edition, printed in Rome in 1535, was probably a posthumous one. The London Library copy is a Spanish translation printed anonymously in Venice in 1568.

If Hebreo was able to write dispassionately and evenly about love, our next two authors seem to be openly against it.

Martial d’Auvergne (ca. 1430/35-1508) was a French jurist and poet who indulged his wicked side when he wrote Arrêts d’amour (Judgments of love). In it he parodies both love and the judicial system by presenting fifty one cases tried in a fictitious court of love. The cases presented to the court, such as that of the young woman who complains that her lover objects to her choice of clothes for being too revealing, would not be out of place in a modern day reality TV show. The Arrêts, first written in the early 1460s, were enormously popular as our edition printed in Paris in 1544 proves.

Martial uses satire to poke fun at lovers’ behaviour while Battista Fregoso (1453-1504) carries out a frontal attack on love itself in his Anteros (Anti-Cupid). This Genoese Doge, who had written about Christopher Columbus’ attempts to gain support for his transatlantic travels and produced a series of books on remarkable and memorable facts, also wrote this unequivocal caution where he warns of the harmful effects of erotic brooding, which he likens to a disease.  To prevent falling prey to the illness he advocates an avoidance of ‘lascivious sounds’, bawdy songs, and love stories, which may cause dangerous sensual stimulation. The work was first printed in Milan in 1496 and once again our 1581 Parisian edition attests to its lasting appeal.

Love as therapy. The overworked and celibate Alessandri composed and recited love poems to help him relax.

Love as therapy. The overworked and celibate Alessandri composed and recited love poems to help him relax.

The extreme and silly side of love. Leriano composes endless love letters to Laureola who does not return his feelings but is happy to engage in this correspondence.

The extreme and silly side of love. Leriano composes endless love letters to Laureola who does not return his feelings but is happy to engage in this correspondence.

Love as a marketing tool. Despite the misleading illustrations on the title page Bruni's poems did not include sexual content.

Love as a marketing tool. Despite the misleading illustrations on the title page Bruni’s poems did not include sexual content.

Love makes us heroes. When Laureola's father is told about the letters he locks her up but Leriano rescues her.

Love makes us heroes. When Laureola’s father is told about the letters he locks her up but Leriano rescues her.

Love – or the lack of it – can kill. Laureola's continued indifference drives Leriano to his deathbead where he ingests her torn letters just before dying.

Love – or the lack of it – can kill. Laureola’s continued indifference drives Leriano to his deathbead where he ingests her torn letters just before dying.

Love in perspective. Leon Hebreo takes a detached and balanced approach to love.

Love in perspective. Leon Hebreo takes a detached and balanced approach to love.

Love ridiculed. Martial finds parallels in the absurdities of the legal system and of couples' relationships.

Love ridiculed. Martial finds parallels in the absurdities of the legal system and of couples’ relationships.

The dangers of love and lust. If love requires a health warning Fregoso is happy to provide it.

The dangers of love and lust. If love requires a health warning Fregoso is happy to provide it.

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As we reflect on the commemorations of World War I which began 100 years ago this month, The London Library’s Head of Bibliographic Services Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros explores the fascinating, turbulent five-century history of a rare volume in the Library’s collections that has literally been ‘in the wars’. Adapted from an article originally written for History Today.

Books often contain stories of dramatic events but we seldom come across a book that has a turbulent history of its own and it is even rarer for that history to be well documented.  A volume from the London Library speaks eloquently of its former owners and of the events that caused it to travel from the Swiss city of Basel to London via war-torn Netherlands, Coventry and Tunbridge Wells.

The story of this large quarto edition of the complete works of Saint Basil, bishop of Caesarea (329-379), begins in 1552, when it was printed in one of the Basel workshops of Hieronymus Froben (1501-1563), a member of the family of Swiss scholarly printers.

Saint Basil wrote on monasticism and so it is hardly surprising to find an inscription both on the title page and the end leaf telling us that the book found its way into the library of a monastery in the town of Doesburg, in the Netherlands. The monastery was probably home to the Brethren of the Common Life, a semi-secular order founded by the Dutch preacher Geer Groote (1340-1384) and later blessed by the Vatican.

What does come as a complete surprise is the decoration of the original leather binding, which depicts nude women dancing, or perhaps just crouching, and men brandishing what look like scimitars. In the 16thcentury books were often sold in temporary paper or parchment bindings and were bound by the owners rather than the booksellers. It seems unlikely that the Brothers of the Common Life would have chosen this type of decoration and we can only surmise that  that the book must have had another owner before it was acquired by the Brethren.

It is at this point that the book’s peaceful existence comes to a crashing end.  A very faint inscription on the title page, ‘1586 Aug Sep. 1. Ex Dono Robert Arderne’, hints to its fate while a handwritten paragraph on the end leaf gives us a fuller account.

Here we read about a city on the bank of the river IJssel, presumably Doesburg, being surrounded and conquered by the ‘illustrious Earl of Leicester’, governor-general of the Netherlands. The inscription goes on to tell us that the book was taken from the spoils of the city and given by Robert Ardern (this time without an ‘e’ at the end) to Humfredus Fen of Coventry on September 1st.

We do not know who Robert Ardern, or even Arderne, was but Humphrey Fenn (1543/4-1634) was a nonconformist Church of England clergyman. He had already clashed with the establishment by the time he accompanied his patron, Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester, to the Netherlands in the capacity of chaplain. Fenn must have had a front-row seat from which to witness the English and Dutch forces laying siege to Spanish-controlled Doesburg at the end of August 1586. We know that Doesburg surrendered on 2 September and our book is proof that the victorious English were already helping themselves to the spoils of one of its monasteries on 1st September. After securing and plundering Doesburg, Leicester and his troops attacked the larger garrison at Zutphen where Sir Philip Sidney, Leicester’s nephew and heir, was mortally wounded.

Fenn brought the book with him when he returned to England and was soon at loggerheads with the religious establishment once again. In 1590 he found himself deprived of his living as pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Coventry and was incarcerated for the second time in his life. He was released two years later and what became of him afterwards is less than clear but judging by the next piece of information on our book it would seem that he was not restored to his Coventry vicarage, or if he was he did stay there long.

The bone label nailed to the front cover does confirm that the book was a gift made on 12 April 1602 by Humphrey Fenn, a Cambridge MA and ‘formerly most worthy pastor of Holy Trinity in this city’, which would imply that he gave it to someone also in Coventry but doesn’t say to whom. This question is answered by a note written in pencil and inserted in the book, which reads: ‘Presented to Coventry School Library 1602.’

There is nothing to indicate that the book did not spend the next 300 years in Coventry but we do know that by 1910 one J.F. Tattersall, resident of Longwood, Tunbridge Wells, was making enquiries regarding the Doesburg monastery.

Preserved inside the book is the postcard sent to him from Holland on 6 July 1910 by H. van Alphen, confirming the existence of the Brethren’s monastery and the fact that it was burnt by the English in 1586. H. van Alphen was Treasurer of the Sidney Memorial Committee in Zutphen and writes to Tattersall that he would oblige him very much if he would kindly tell his friends about the memorial dedicated to Leicester’s nephew.

This astonishingly rich trail of evidence ends with a label on the book’s inside cover telling us that J.F. Tattersall presented it to the London Library in March 1912.

It is enormously satisfying to know so much about the book’s history but unanswered questions still tease us: Who commissioned the incongruous binding? Who was Robert Ardern and did he ‘rescue’ the book from the burning monastery himself? Could he in fact be Robert Arden, son of Edward Arden, High Sheriff of Warwickshire and a Catholic, prosecuted by Leicester for an alleged assasination plot against the queen? How did J.F. Tattersall come to own the book?

The book’s battered cover is evidence that this volume has literally been through the wars

An unknown first owner chooses an unusual binding

An unknown first owner chooses an unusual binding

Unusual binding detail

The volume arrives in the monastery between 1552 and 1586: Liber domus fratrii in Doesburch.

The volume arrives in the monastery between 1552 and 1586: Liber domus fratrii in Doesburch.

In 1586 the tome is ‘liberated’ and given to Humphrey Fenn

Fenn presents the Coventry School Library with a gift in 1602

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With holiday season well and truly underway, our Head of Bibliographic Services Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros heads to exotic climes to explore three important, first-hand tales of travel from the 16th century housed in the Library. Adapted from an article originally written for History Today.

Three books at The London Library are proof that voyage narratives were a very popular genre as early as the 16th century. At a time when there was still so much left to discover and ‘tame’ it is hardly surprising that many Europeans jumped at the chance to travel far and wide in search of territories to survey, shrines to visit and ‘heathens’ to save. Many more literate Europeans could then share in their adventures by reading their accounts and gazing in wonder at depictions of exotic lands and peoples.

The first of these three books is Vier Bucher von der Raisz und Shiffart in die Turckey (Four books on the travel and navigation in Turkey) by Nicolas de Nicolay, printed in Antwerp in 1577. Nicolay was a French mercenary, diplomat, royal cartographer, artist and, according to some, spy who travelled to Turkey as part of the French embassy to the court of Süleyman the Magnificent in 1551. He was tasked with surveying the lands he visited but his book is remarkable for containing over 60 woodcuts of men and women he encountered. These include striking images of a Turkish noblewoman perched on platform footwear perhaps to keep her magnificent gown away from the dirty ground or maybe as a symbol of her elevated social status. Others depict a member of a religious sect wearing a chastity ring (this image is often mutilated in surviving copies of this work), a cook in a wonderful chef’s hat carrying exotic fruits and vegetables and a very sober and respectable-looking Arab merchant. The French original, first published in Lyon in 1568, was translated into five languages and Shakespeare scholars believe the English edition, which was based on this Antwerp version, was a source for the Merchant of Venice.

In Il devotissimo viaggio di Gerusalemme we read about the pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1586 by Errol Flynn lookalike, Jean Zuallart, a traveller from the Low Countries, who was also an historian, voyager, judge, knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and self-taught artist. His book was printed in Rome in 1587 and its romantic landscapes with towers, domes, minarets and palm trees nestling in sun-scorched sand dunes became the template that many other artists imitated. Zuallart’s drawings were not only beautifully evocative. Architectural historians today still refer to them for their detail and accuracy. The work was very well received and during its author’s lifetime it was translated into French and German.

By the 16th century travel was no longer restricted to the Old World. Our final book, Histoire d’un voyage fait en la terre du Bresil, autrement dite Amerique, tells the story of an ill-fated mission to the New World by the French Calvinist pastor Jean de Léry. After a theological dispute soon after reaching their destination a few of the more orthodox missionaries, with Léry among, them leave the mission and spend over a year living with the cannibal Tupí tribe while waiting for a ship in which to return to Europe. The experience becomes a journey of self-discovery for Léry whose religious beliefs and European ideas of civilization are tested. While he never fully understands or condones all of the Tupí customs he does grow to admire and respect their beauty, self-reliance and honesty. Léry returned to France after a gruelling voyage during which all supplies where exhausted and the men on board were reduced to eating the parrots and monkeys they had intended to bring back as living mementoes (the parrots were to serve as recordings of the Tupí language) as well as every scrap of leather on the ship.

Léry describes and portrays the flora and fauna of Brazil as well the physical beauty of the Tupí people. While he continues to refer to his hosts as ‘savages’, which is only to be expected from a 16th century European traveller, he does remark upon the humanity and compassion he witnesses during a Tupí funeral. Needless to say, Léry and his companions failed to convert the Tupí. The manuscript recounting his fascinating story of failure was lost and Léry had to write his adventures again from memory. The narrative was finally printed in La Rochelle in 1578, over 20 years after the journey took place. The London Library copy, printed in Geneva in 1594,  is a 3rd edition, ‘revised, corrected, and enlarged greatly’, complete with a printer’s note praising the work as well as several testimonials, proof of how well it was received.

A Turkish noblewoman and her remarkable footwear.

The price of abstention.

A cook modelling his spectacular headwear.

The dashing traveller.

The sun rises over the desert.

A beautiful and precise depiction of Jerusalem.

Léry observed the trial and execution of a prisoner of war who was then eaten by the tribe.

The only thing the Tupí feared was an evil spirit they called Aygnan and Léry depicts it here as a tormenting flying demon.

Léry admired the beauty of the Tupí people.

A moving scene of a Tupí funeral.

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June marks the month in which the Sami Act of 1987 granted cultural autonomy and democratic representation for the indigenous Sami people of Norway.  Our latest blog by Head of Bibliographic Services Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros explores the 18t century linguist and ethnologist Knud Leem who devoted his working life to the Sami people and their language.  Adapted from an article originally written for History Today.

The missionary and linguist Knud Leem was born in 1697 in Haram, eastern Norway. He read theology at the University of Copenhagen between 1713 and 1715 and after completing his examinations he began to study the language of the indigenous people of Lapland. The Sami people, formerly known as Finns and Lapps, inhabit a region of northern Scandinavia that includes territories in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Norway has always had the greatest Sami population, concentrated in the northern region of Finnmark (‘Sami country’).

The eighteen year old Leem was very interested in the Sami people and hoped to work as missionary in Finnmark but realising he was too young he began his professional life working as a tutor and as an assistant to senior clergymen in the town of Møre in Western Norway. He first applied to the Missionary Board for a post in Finnmark in 1723 but he had to wait another two years before a position became vacant. Finally, in 1725 Thomas von Westen, the ‘apostle to the Lapps’ who was in charge of the mission to the Sami from 1716 to his death in 1727, sent Leem to Porsanger, in Finnmark.

Leem spent the next ten years among the Sami people of Finnmark, leaving Porsanger to become a pastor in Alta-Talvik in 1728, where he expanded his knowledge of their language, their beliefs and their way of life. When in 1735 he left Finnmark to take up the post of pastor in Avaldsnes, southern Norway, his quest to educate Norwegian missionaries in Sami culture and to improve the spiritual and material life of the Sami had just begun. In 1748 his En Lappisk Grammatica Efter den Dialect, fom Bruges af Field-Lapperne udi Porsanger-Fiordenwas published in Copenhagen. It was a grammar of the Karasjok dialect, the language spoken by the mountain Sami in the Porsanger Fjord. The work was completely original, based on Leem’s own observations and not relying on earlier grammars published in Sweden. The book was aimed at fellow missionaries and in writing it Leem fulfilled one of the classic roles of the Christian missionary: to break down language barriers in order to facilitate religious conversion. Although considered by some to be inferior to the earlier Swedish Sami grammars it remains the first surviving scientific work on the Sami language published in Norway: earlier works produced in the Trondheim seminary under the auspices of Thomas von Westen were destroyed in a fire in Copenhagen in 1795.

Having completed his grammar, Leem lived in Copenhagen for a year and began work on his magnum opus, the Lexicon Lapponicum Bipartitum. The first part of this great Sami encyclopaedia was published in Trondheim in 1768 while the second was published posthumously in Copenhagen in 1781.

Flying the flag for the Norwegian Sami people was not an easy task. The Kalmar Union of 1397 had brought Norway, Denmark and Sweden together under a single head of state. In practice this meant that while foreign policy was dictated by the monarch each country retained a great degree of legal and administrative autonomy, which inevitably led to tension and conflict. In 1523 Sweden left the union and in 1536 the Kalmar Union was formally ended when Denmark took over control of Norway. The Danish domination continued until 1814 when after the defeat at the Battle of Copenhagen Denmark was forced to sign the Treaty of Kiel and effectively hand over control of Norway to the victorious Sweden.  As professor Gutorm Gjessing of the Universitetes Etnografiske Museum of Oslo wrote in 1947 “ … the historical development of the country has provided too good a soil for cultural isolationism and national self-communion.” In other words, a nation struggling with the daily reality of being ruled by a foreign power will have little sympathy for or interest in a “primitive” ethnic minority that inhabits a remote corner of the country.

In the 18th century the Danish-Norwegian government was immersed in boundary controversies with the Swedish government and Sweden began to show an interest in the Sami people who lived in disputed lands. The Danish-Norwegian mission to Finnmark was therefore both a religious and political enterprise with the dual goal of making the Sami Christian and Danish. Whichever country could claim the Sami would have a much stronger claim to the land they occupied. However, different bishops had very different views on how best to achieve this aim. Peder Krog, bishop of Nidaros from 1689 to 1731 and his successor, Eiler Hagerup, both believed that the answer to the problem was to teach them Danish so their conversion to Christianity could be carried out in the national language, but others were completed opposed to this approach. Thomas von Westen defied Krog when in 1717 he opened a seminary in Trondheim where missionaries destined for Finnmark were taught the language of the Sami by the schoolmaster and translator Isaac Olsen, who was also Knud Leem’s teacher. Von Westen managed to keep the seminary going in the face of Episcopal disapproval but the school was closed the moment its founder died. Hagerup’s successor, Ludvig Harboe, who became Bishop of Nidaros in 1743, understood the need for priests and missionaries who could speak, read and write in Sami and so did Frederik Nannestad, who succeeded him 1748. In 1750, Nannestad approved a request from the Missionary Board to set up a new seminary, led by Knud Leem, where Sami could be taught. On Leem’s advice the location of the proposed new school changed from Alta to Trondheim and in March 1751 the Seminarium Lapponicum Fredericianum opened its doors. The need for Sami-speaking Norwegian and Danish missionaries became even greater when the border dispute with Sweden was finally settled that same year with the signing of the Strömstrad Treaty. The treaty gave the Sami people the right to roam freely across the agreed new border, making it easier for the Norwegian Sami to go to Sweden in search of Sami-speaking priests.

Leem devoted the rest of his life to running the seminary and its associated Latin grammar school. Much of his time was invested in trying to resolve the tensions caused by the fact that he admitted Sami students to be taught alongside Norwegian and Danish students. Gerhard Schøning, the rector of Trondheim Cathedral believed the Sami to be an inferior race and made a very public protest when he removed his cousin from the school. Nevertheless, with the support of Bishop Nannestad and his successor, the theologian and botanist Johan Ernst Gunnerus, Leem was able to keep the seminary and the school going and even found the time to continue to publish books on the Sami language and culture. In 1756 he published a Danish-Sami dictionary and in 1767 the work he is most remembered for, Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper. This comprehensive ethnological study of the Sami of Finnmark includes some notes on ornithology written by Gunnerus. The large volume, held by the London Library, contains over 600 pages of parallel Danish and Latin text and 101 leaves of beautiful illustrations depicting every aspect of the life of the Sami, their dwellings, costume, reindeer herding and fishing techniques. Because of this book, the man who had set out to bring a remote group of people closer to Christ is now remembered as one of Norway’s first ethnologists of the Finnmark Sami.

History repeated itself when Leem’s seminary closed its doors soon after his death in 1774 and for the next 200 years Norwegian attitudes towards the Sami worsened. Writing in 1953 Professor Gjessing cited a number of factors that contributed to the anti-Sami prejudice from the mid nineteenth century onwards. These included the rise of evolutionism used to support the notion of inferior races, a growing nationalism and “Norwegianization” of school education as a reaction to Swedish domination, the industrial revolution which created the notion that culture was synonymous with industry, and legislation that prevented non-Norwegian speakers from owning land in Finnmark. The situation did not improve when Norway finally obtained its independence in 1905: the Sami faced a more immediate problem when the profitable trade with the Russian Pomors began to decline at the beginning of the 20th century and then disappeared completely after the Russian revolution.

Norwegian attitudes changed after the Sami joined the Resistance during the German occupation of Norway, which began in 1940. In 1959 a change in the law allowed Sami children to be taught in their native tongue and the Sami are now recognised as the indigenous people of Norway. In 1989 the Sami Parliament was opened and in 2005 the Finnmark Act transferred property rights to land and water to the Sami people.

Sami skiing in Knud Leem’s Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper, 1767

Reindeer have always been key to the Sami way of life in Knud Leem’s Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper, 1767

A common mode of transport, suitable for snow and water in Knud Leem’s Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper, 1767

Undeterred by heavy snowfall in Knud Leem’s Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper, 1767

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