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The history of printing is a radical one. The invention of Johann Gutenberg’s movable type is generally referred to as a printing revolution. It quickened the spread of literacy in Renaissance Europe and contributed to the Reformation. Printing stands at the forefront of various revolutionary developments, both in a political and a socio-cultural sense.

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Seen from a different perspective, the printing trade has been at the forefront of the organised labour movement, creating trade unions, and being involved in the establishment of industrial relations practices. The art and skills of printing were relatively stable for a long time, but they have undergone many transformations since. At the end of the eighteenth century printing was still performed on wooden presses which were not only slow and cumbersome, but also produced an inconsistent impression. Attempts were made to mechanise the process. The use of a rolling cylinder to overcome manual strain and increase speed in printing was suggested as early as 1616 by Faustus Verantius in his remarkable study Machinae novae. It would take another two centuries before a practical printing cylinder machine eventually emerged.

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Printing House Square in the City acquired its name after the Great Fire of London when the King’s Printer settled there in order to publish official documents and the London Gazette, the official government journal of record. In 1785, John Walter began publishing the Daily Universal Register at the square which was renamed The Times in January 1788. In 1974 the paper moved to Gray’s Inn Road and then to Wapping in 1986. The fifty-four week Wapping dispute during the Thatcher era, along with the miners’ strike of 1984/5, has been one of the worst conflicts in British industrial relations. Target was the newspaper empire of News International (with its flagship publication The Times, and parent to The Sun, The News of the World, and others). Its owner, the Australian tycoon Rupert Murdoch, wanted to introduce technological innovations that would put 90% of typesetters out of work. It was a bitter and violent confrontation. This was not the first time that The Times had been at war with its employees. The introduction of advanced technologies and the restructuring of production processes have hit the workforce hard at times. The workers struck back. Faith in machinery was perceived as the danger; technology was the enemy. Work had lost its dignity; man was reduced to the level of a machine.

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In September 1712 a sea-sick German immigrant arrived on a yacht called the Peregrine in Greenwich from Rotterdam. He was fluent in French, but did not and never would speak a word of English. His name was George Louis, the Elector of Hanover – and the new Protestant king of Britain known as George I. The Glorious Revolution had brought William III to the throne. He created the Bank of England and attracted financiers from the Dutch Republic to settle in Britain. The officers in his army were predominantly French Huguenots. He also introduced a strong element of Continental aesthetics around Hampton Court and into the upper strata of society. Queen Anne did not produce an heir – enter King George. The Hanoverians created their own inner circle of German high-society around them, but the tone of their rule was pragmatic, business-like, and industrial. It acquired a Teutonic accent. The emerging industrial apparatus of the Hanoverian state was developed with the aim of strengthening Britain’s role in Europe. The dominant importance of an overseas British Empire emerged later. Amongst the more notable immigrants were industrialists, manufacturers, engineers, chemists, inventors, and skilled workers. Britain donned the hard hat and overalls. This general atmosphere continued under Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (they spoke German at home) and was exemplified in a spectacular manner by the Great Exhibition of 1851, the first international public display of manufactured products.

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One of the new arrivals in Britain was Friedrich Gottlob Koenig. The son of a farmer, he was born on 17 April 1774 at Eisleben, in Saxony. After school, he was bound apprentice for five years to printers Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, which today is the oldest surviving music publishing house (founded in 1719). Having spent a year studying physics and mechanics at Leipzig University, he started experiments to improve the art of printing. Not finding any interest in his work at home or elsewhere in Europe, he settled in London in November 1806. Britain was the place to be. Business was booming there. It was an open society, keen to accept bright minds from abroad, eager to accept and develop new technologies, and there were no restrictions to the movement of migrants. The presence of the Hanoverian court was an additional stimulus for young Germans to make the journey across the Channel.

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In London Koenig was introduced to Thomas Bensley, a prominent printer in Bolt Court, off Fleet Street, who was interested in improving the firm’s machinery. He brought in two other printers to help finance Koenig’s experiments: Richard Taylor (whose firm is still active under the name Taylor & Francis) and typographer George Woodfall. On 30 November 1807 they signed a business agreement. Koenig was joined by fellow countryman and engineer (watchmaker) Andreas Friedrich Bauer. Together they constructed and patented the first printing machine powered by steam. After some experiments, plans were drawn up and a patent was taken out in October 1811. The press was tested in trial runs at the Koenig & Bauer workshop. The first sheets printed entirely from cylindrical pressure were sheets (G & X) from Thomas Clarkson’s book on the Life of Penn (1814). The trials proved successful. Several newspaper proprietors were invited to see Koenig’s new cylinder machine, but only John Walter of The Times realised its potential. To avoid difficulties with his workers, Walter insisted Koenig & Bauer conveyed, in secrecy, the machine parts to a workshop adjoining The Times offices on Printing House Square. Here it was constructed away from the paper’s composing and press rooms in order to avoid any anti-mechanical demonstrations or angry machine bashing.

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The printing of the first issue of the paper was a clandestine affair, but nervous rumours were rife on Printing House Square, and the atmosphere at the workplace was tense. At six o’clock in the morning, Walter entered the press room and astonished his employees by announcing the issue of 29 November 1814 had already been printed by steam. He warned against industrial action and promised that wages would be paid until alternative employment could be procured. In the event, the edition passed into circulation with little agitation from the workforce. The strategy of surprise had been a success. Koenig’s cylinder press, the output of which was soon increased to 1,100 sheets per hour, initiated the industrial revolution in printing and the age of the popular press.

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Critiques of mass culture, and of the press in particular, began emerging during the late eighteenth century. Writers such as Goethe attacked the banal diversions offered by the newspapers, noting that they were merely a means of escape from social reality. Journalism promoted passivity and conformity. Others offered more positive appraisals of the value of mass media. Karl Marx saw the press as a means of promoting democracy and civil liberties. The press became a contested terrain, with both fervent defenders and severe critics. Some saw it as an instrument of enlightenment, while others rejected it as a vehicle of banality and mass deception. Søren Kierkegaard was a relentless critic of the press. In 1854 he stated that if ‘I were a father and had a daughter who was seduced, I should by no means give her up; but if I had a son who became a journalist I should regard him as lost’. The role of an irresponsible and/or bias press remains a hotly disputed topic to this very day, recently fueled by the deplorable level of reporting leading up to the Brexit disaster.

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Friedrich Koenig in the meantime returned to Germany in 1817 where he established a printing press in Wurzburg. The firm was called Koenig & Bauer, after both inventors, making it the oldest printing press manufacturer in the world, as it is still in existence today.

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During the Second World War, radio was a vital tool of political power. By 1936, four million French citizens possessed a wireless in their homes with the choice of various main and local stations. After the invasion, the Nazis took hold of the dominant Radio-Paris, and Vichy gained control of stations in the south. To win the war of the radio waves (‘la guerre des ondes’) was judged as important as dominating the battlefields. From 1940 to 1944 Radio-Londres broadcast up to five hours a day from the BBC to occupied France. The station was operated by Charles de Gaulle’s Free French who had established their headquarters at no. 4 Carlton Gardens, Westminster. It opened its daily transmissions with the legendary words: ‘Ici Londres! Les Français parlent aux Français’. De Gaulle himself had made his famous appeal to the nation on 18 June 1940 to rise against the occupation. Radio-Londres was the voice of the French Resistance.

A group of young Free Frenchmen, including actor Jacques Duchesne (real name: Michel Saint-Denis, founder of the London Theatre Studio in 1935), painter Jean Oberlé, journalist and politician Maurice Schumann, entertainer Pierre Dac, Romanian-born composer Francis Chagrin and others (all close to De Gaulle) broke with broadcasting traditions and produced programs peppered with personal messages, satirical sketches, songs, and jokes. Jean Oberlé’s jingle ‘Radio-Paris ment, Radio-Paris ment, Radio-Paris est allemand’ (sung to the tune of ‘La Cucaracha’), first broadcast on 6 September 1940, was particularly memorable. Of deep significance was the contribution made by singer and songwriter Anna Marly. Born Anna Yurievna Betulinskaya on 30 October 1917 in St Petersburg she was a Russian refugee in France who made a successful career as a performer. After capitulation, she fled to London with her Dutch husband, Baron van Doorn, whom she had met whilst performing at The Hague. In London she joined up with the Free French. There she came across Emmanuel d’Astier de La Vigerie, a leading figure in the resistance, who had heard her sing the ‘Chant des partisans’ in Russian. He requested a translation of the song with the intention of using it as a replacement for ‘La Marseillaise’ which had been banned by the Nazis. It quickly established itself as the surrogate anthem of the French resistance both in France and Britain.

Radio-Londres broadcasts would begin with some ‘personal messages’ which were often amusing, confusing, or without apparent context. They were coded communications to underground agents. The station strongly supported the V for Victory campaign as an act of subversion. The idea was launched by the liberal politician and broadcaster Victor Auguste de Laveleye who was spokesman for the Belgian government in exile at Eaton Square, Belgravia. He also acted as newsreader for Radio-Belgique (Radio-België) which became the voice of Belgian Resistance. In a broadcast of 14 January 1941, he asked all Belgians – Flemish and Walloons – to choose the letter V as a symbol of unity in adversity: V for ‘Victoire & Vrijheid’. It was the start of the ‘Campagne des V’, which saw V graffity appearing in many urban settings in Belgium and the Netherlands. By July 1941, the emblematic use of the letter V had spread through occupied Europe. The campaign was endorsed by Winston Churchill in a speech of 19 July 1941.

Illustrator Maurice Van Moppès was born on 6 January 1905 in Paris, the son of an antiquarian. Between 1940 and 1943, under the initials MVP, he wrote a series of parodies on famous songs in which he ridiculed the German invaders and their French collaborators. Published as a booklet in 1944 entitled Chansons de la BBC, it was parachuted by the RAF into France in order to raise morale and encourage resistance. It included such songs as ‘La Chanson du Maquis’ (written together with Francis Chagrin). During the blitz on London, he wrote lyrics to the opening bars of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony calling it ‘La chanson V’ (the opening motif of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony became a powerful symbol for the Allied forces: the short-short-short-long rhythmic pattern correspond in Morse code to the letter V). It was broadcast on Radio Londres on 1 June 1944 when the Allied forces sent the first messages to occupied France of an imminent invasion. Shortly before the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944, Radio Londres read out the first stanza of Paul Verlaine’s poem ‘Chanson d’automne’ to let the resistance know that the invasion would begin within twenty-four hours: ‘Les sanglots longs / Des violons / De l’automne / Blessent mon coeur / D’une langueur / Monotone’. The final three lines of the poem were a specific call to action to the French Resistance.

It would be tempting (but unjustified) to suggest that the legendary entertainer and Free France broadcaster Pierre Brac came up with the idea of Verlaine’s poem as a coded message. Born André Isaac in Châlons-sur Marne on 15 August 1893 into an Alsatian Jewish family (his father was a butcher), young Brac mastered the violin. Unfortunately, his left arm was injured in action during World War I (his brother Marcel died in action) and he was obliged to forget his musical hopes and ambitions. Dac became a cabaretier known as ‘Le roi des loufoques’ (The king of crackpots). Having escaped France via Spain, he joined Radio-Londres, broadcasting bitingly satirical songs, and deriding Nazi ideology and the German war machine. Pierre Dac was an unlikely hero of the French Resistance.

By late 1944, Allied victory in France sounded the end of Radio-Londres. What stands out in this period is the European spirit that was emerging amongst those who had been exiled in Britain. To them, London was a catalyst. Most refugees returned home, grateful towards their host country, and with one resolution in mind: this shall never again. Europe must unite. Churchill agreed. In a speech delivered at the University of Zurich on 19 September 1946 he called on European countries, including Germany, to form a regional organisation for security and cooperation on the Continent. Today, that unifying spirit has evaporated. Memories are short and political egos overbearing. Darkness has fallen. The Brexit Betrayal has killed the flame and reduced Europe to the level of trade figures, car sales, currency fluctuations, and the V fingers that signify ‘fuck off you foreigner’. The dogs are loose. Prejudice barks, bigotry bites. Crackpots are back in charge. Bring out the violins. This shall never happen again.

 

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[The images in our blog are always anonymous. I make an exception for the first and the last image. The last is a photo of Jewish musicians who were forced to play while the victims of the Nazis were marched to the gas chambers. The first image shows a nice portrait of the infamous Farage. I honor the musicians, what I think of Farage, well … – Paul Dijstelberge]


With the passing of the Aliens Act of 1905, Britain was the first European state to establish a system of immigration control at the point of entry. It defined certain groups of migrants as ‘undesirable’. The Act was passed in response to anxieties about the impact of ‘aliens’, particularly Jews fleeing from persecution in Tsarist Russia, who were said to have introduced unprecedented levels of criminality.  Traditionally, crime had been associated with poverty among indigenous urban populations. By the 1890s, increasingly, criminal behaviour was seen as a result of liberal attitudes towards immigration. The cause of crime in Britain’s large cities was to be found in the racial character of foreign arrivals. In the public imagination a toxic mix was brewing of fear of terror, anxiety about anarchism, and antipathy towards foreigners. The rise of racism was imminent.

Militant anarchism caused panic. Newspaper headlines spread news of bombings and murders across Europe and in America (Chicago). Governments feared the spectre of an internationally coordinated anarchist revolution. International terrorism made an explosive appearance. The word terrorism was first used in English in 1795 in a specific sense of government intimidation during the Reign of Terror in Paris. With the 1798 Irish Rebellion the term acquired a broader interpretation, referring to the ‘systematic use of terror as a policy’. By the mid-nineteenth century, terrorism began to be associated with non-governmental groups. A few decades later it was generally understood as the use of indiscriminate violence in order to achieve a political or religious aim.


In the 1840s movements for democracy swept the Continent. Italy, France and Poland stood on the brink of revolution. Activists encouraged uprisings and failed. Many European revolutionaries ended up in exile in Britain. London became the home of other nation’s ‘terrorists’. One of the earliest groups to utilise urban guerrilla techniques was the Fenian Brotherhood, founded in 1858. Irish nationalists planted bombs on the inner circle tube line in 1883 and 1885, but it was the 1897 Aldersgate explosion that had fatal consequences – killing one and injuring sixty. Anarchist theorists had developed the concept of ‘propaganda of the deed’ (physical violence in order to inspire mass rebellion). Attacks by various anarchist groups led to a number of assassinations, including that of the Russian Tsar. During the nineteenth century, powerful and relatively stable explosives were developed. The use of dynamite became synonymous with terrorism and central to anarchist strategic thinking. In fact, the word ‘dynamitist’ preceded that of terrorist.


Fitzrovia, a district bounded by Oxford Street to the south, Great Portland Street to the west, Euston Road to the north, and Tottenham Court Road to the east, had been a centre of international radical politics for some time. Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man was published during his residence at no. 154 New Cavendish Street in reply to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. The author lived at no. 18 Charlotte Street. The area was a hotspot of Chartist activities after the Reform Act of 1832. After the failed 1848 revolutions, waves of German and Russian revolutionaries settled there. Swiss and Italian immigrants added to its cultural mix. It was a choice destination for French political exiles. From France, there were two main waves of migration separated by a generation. The first were supporters of the Revolution of February 1848 when the Second Republic was founded by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte. The second group of about 3,000 refugees arrived in the early 1870s after the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871. Many of these ‘compagnons’ remained in London until an amnesty in 1895 allowed some to return to France. 


Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was the first political philosopher to call himself an anarchist. Although various thinkers have contributed to the formulation of the doctrine (including William Godwin), nineteenth century anarchism retained a strong Gallic flavour. Between 1880 and 1914 a considerable number of French-speaking anarchists lived in exile in London. These individuals had escaped intense post-Commune repression. Until the 1905 Aliens Act, Britain maintained a liberal approach to the containment of radicalism which, to a certain extent, allowed French residents in Fitzrovia to remain politically active. Charlotte Street and Goodge Street were the main axis of anarchism. Political refugee and author Charles Malato, a French anarchist of Neapolitan descent, described the area as a small anarchist republic. There were, however, plenty of worries amongst the local population about that ‘foreign lot’. 


Myths surrounding potential terrorist activities were reported endlessly by the popular press which led to poisonous public debates surrounding the asylum granted to international anarchists. Police spies, known as ‘Les Mouchards’, regularly patrolled the streets of the area. One of their prime suspects was the bookseller Armand Lapie at no. 30 Goodge Street. His shop was the main meeting point of French anarchists in the capital. In his book Van anarchist tot monarchist Alexander Cohen, the Dutch Francophile, has left a lively retrospective account of this shop where every early evening anarchists gathered to wait for the owner’s return from the depot with a load of French, Italian and Spanish newspapers. Gallic anarchists also brought their passion for eating and drinking with them. If London was a taste, it was not to the liking of French refugees.


Political exiles introduced gastronomic delight to Charlotte Street and to no. 67 in particular. There, in a three-story building, Victor Richard ran a grocer shop named ‘Bel Épicier’. He kept a shop in Paris when he was caught up in the events of the Commune. Although in his fifties, he fought bravely on the barricades, but in the brutal aftermath he was forced to flee. He settled in Charlotte Street. This colourful figure made a roaring success of his business, stocking Anjou wines, coffee, mustards, pâtes, and cornichon from his native Burgundy. His shop took on a central position among the community of refugees, many of whom were either destitute or in dire financial trouble. They knew that they could expect help in one way or another from the ‘generous Burgundian’. 

In political philosophy, anarchism advocates the idea of a stateless society. The state is harmful to the individual. Politicians are parasites. Education of the masses would cause government to wither away as a superfluous entity. Anarchism in practice, however, demands firm structures and a strict organisation. The London congregation of anarchists proved the value of tight networks and practical minds. This was exampled during the early 1890s by the international school for refugee children at no. 19 Fitzroy Square. The school was run by Louise Michel, the ‘grand dame’ of anarchy, who had fought on the barricades in defence of the Commune. This former Parisian teacher was exiled to London where she lived at no. 59 Charlotte Street. The guiding committee of the school included the exiled Russian Prince Peter Kropotkin, Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta, and English socialist William Morris. Staff and members of the committee aimed at keeping children away from religiously oriented state schools. The ideal was to produce broad-minded and creative youngsters who respected the freedom of others. The curriculum consisted of French, German, and English, as well as music, drawing, sewing, and engraving. The school was closed down when the police raided the school in 1892 and found bombs in the basement. They had been planted there by Auguste Coulon, a school assistant who turned out to be a police spy. To the authorities, the end justified the means.


Notorious among local Continental immigrants was the figure of Tours-born Martial Bourdin. He had moved to London around 1887 to join his brother Henri who worked as a tailor in a workshop at no. 18 Great Titchfield Street. Martial attended meetings at the Autonomie Club in Windmill Street, the chief refuge of foreign anarchists arriving in London. For a time Bourdin was secretary of the French-speaking section of the club. Having spent time back in France and later in America, he returned to London where he resumed his lodgings at no. 30 Fitzroy Street in late 1893. In the afternoon of Thursday 15 February 1894 he entered Greenwich Park and walked towards the Royal Observatory with a parcel under his arm. The bomb exploded prematurely. He died at the nearby Royal Naval Hospital. Bourdin’s act caused panic. Home Secretary Herbert Asquith, fearing that the funeral at St Pancras cemetery might be turned into a demonstration, gave orders to prevent any procession from following the hearse. Speeches at the graveside were forbidden. Public opinion demanded an immediate change in immigration policy.

Modern interest in the fate of this French anarchist derives from Joseph Conrad’s remodelling of him as Stevie in The Secret Agent (1907). The novel sustained his dubious reputation as the man who tried to blow up the Observatory – which seemed an odd target even by terrorist’s standards. Conrad confirmed in fiction what many at the time had come to accept as a fact: a terrorist is a mentally unstable anarchist who carries a parcel wrapped in brown paper (i.e. a bomb) under his arm. 


The family name Gollancz originates from the town of Golancz in west-central Poland. It is also the name of a prominent Jewish dynasty of London immigrants which has a varied but distinct literary reputation. 

Rabbi and scholar Hermann Gollancz was born at Bremen on 30 November 1852. He came to England when his father was appointed rabbi of the Hambro Synagogue in Leadenhall Street, City of London. Hermann was the first Jew to obtain the degree of Doctor of Literature at London University. In 1902 he was elected Goldsmid Professor of Hebrew at University College London. He was the first British rabbi to be granted a knighthood. On retirement he presented his valuable library of Hebraica and Judaica to the University (which is housed as a separate collection within the splendid Mocatta Library). 


His younger brother Israel Gollancz was born in London. A Shakespeare scholar, he was Professor of English Language and Literature at King’s College from 1903 to 1930, and a founder member and the first Secretary of the British Academy. He edited the so-called ‘Temple’ Shakespeare, a uniform edition of the complete works in pocket size volumes. It was the most popular Shakespeare edition of its day. 

Hermann and Israel were brothers to Alexander Gollancz, a wholesale jeweller, who was father to publisher Victor Gollancz, born on 9 April 1893 at no. 256 Elgin Avenue, Maida Vale. Having rejected the orthodoxy of his parents, Victor became an independent thinker and an advocate of women’s rights. In 1918 he joined the publishing house of Benn Brothers (founded by the liberal politician John Benn: Gollancz recruited H.G. Wells for his employers), before starting his own firm in 1928. His publishing methods were revolutionary. 


In collaboration with Stanley Morison, he devised a striking typographical dust jacket featuring black and magenta on a brilliant yellow background, which was used on most of his titles. Gollancz was primarily an educationist, and his main concern as a publisher was to encourage an awareness of current affairs and, above all, send a socialist message. In 1933 George Orwell issued his debut novel Down and Out in London and Paris with Gollancz, his first publisher.


A significant undertaking that involved Gollancz was the foundation of the Left Book Club (LBC) in 1936. Housed at no. 14 Henrietta Street, it aimed at combating the dual threats of Nazism and Fascism in which authors like Arthur Koestler and George Orwell took part at a time when the need for the dissemination of left-wing politics was keenly felt among British intellectuals. The venture was an immediate success on its establishment, with 6,000 subscriptions after a month and a membership of 40,000 by the end of its first year. Gollancz was also actively engaged with a number of German writers in exile in London during the war (including Hilde Meisel).


The Free German League of Culture (FGLC = Freie Deutsche Kulturbund) was founded in 1939 at an informal meeting held at the Hampstead home of the Jewish refugee lawyer and painter Manfred [Fred] Uhlman. Aiming to represent all German exiles irrespective of religion or race, it was the foremost cultural and socio-political organisation representing anti-Nazism in Britain during the war. On arrival, these refugees were considered enemy aliens and most of them had suffered the pain of internment, either in the Isle of Man or as far adrift as Canada or Australia. At its peak, the League had some 1,500 members. It included a youth wing, the Freie Deutsche Jugend; it created a university in exile, the Freie Deutsche Hochschule; and it formed the core of the Free German Movement which planned for a democratic post-war Germany. The League was formally constituted at a meeting on 1 March 1939, when Uhlman was appointed chairman (later that year he was replaced by the novelist Hans Flesch-Brunninger), and four honorary presidents were elected: the painter Oskar Kokoschka, the drama critic Alfred Kerr, the novelist Stefan Zweig and the film director Berthold Viertel. The FGLC was advertised as politically neutral (to avoid interference from the British authorities), describing itself as an ‘anti-Nazi, anti-Fascist, non-party, refugee organisation’. From December 1939, the FGLC had premises of its own, at no. 36a Upper Park Road, Belsize Park. It was wound up in 1946.


In 1960 Gollancz published Fred Uhlman’s autobiography The Making of an Englishman whose ironical title points to the author’s struggle, as a Jewish intellectual from Stuttgart, to adapt to a life of exile in a British environment that felt completely alien to him. The book contains a vivid account of his internment experiences as an enemy alien at Hutchinson camp, Isle of Man (where he befriended Kurt Schwitters), a description of the depression and frustration he suffered, which was fuelled – even in retrospect – by a sense of outrage at the injustice of his treatment.

A prominent member of the German League was the communist author Jan Petersen. Born Hans Schwalm on 2 July 1906 in Berlin, he led a resistance group of anti-Fascist writers between 1933 and 1935. Being placed on the Nazi death list, he was forced to emigrate to Switzerland, France, and then to England. He was deprived of his German citizenship in 1938. Between 1940 and 1942 he was interned in Canada as an enemy alien by the British authorities. 

Petersen is remembered for an extraordinary act of bravery. In 1934 he had finished the manuscript of his novel Unsere Strasse, a true story about life on Wallstrasse in the Berlin district of Charlottenburg and an account of left wing resistance to Nazism just before Hitler’s ascension to Chancellor. To get this ‘explosive’ manuscript safely out of Germany was a huge problem. He made two copies, sending one to Hamburg where it was to be taken to England by a German soldier, but was eventually thrown into the Channel to avoid discovery. Friends failed to smuggle a second copy into Czechoslovakia. Finally, Petersen pulled off a dangerous trick himself. Dressed in ski clothes to look as though he was going on holiday, he set off for Prague. At the border, the SS guards searched his rucksack, only to find two tasty fruit cakes. Baked inside was the manuscript which remained undetected. The creative process demands courage and commitment. Few authors would have pushed the limits as far as Petersen dared. Translated into English as Our Street, the novel was published in 1938 by Gollancz’s Left Book Club. Petersen returned to East Berlin in 1946 where he was awarded a number of literary prizes in the course of his career. There he died in November 1969. His novel was republished by Faber & Faber in 2010.


Historically, public hangings were a festive occasion for Londoners. A rowdy and drunken mob followed the procession through the streets from the prison to Tyburn, pelting the convicted criminals with rotten vegetables. Executions drew large number of spectators. It was a profitable day for publicans, pie merchants, pickpockets, whores, and broadside sellers. At the place of punishment there was a lot going on. The condemned person was allowed to make a ‘gallows speech’. Then a prison chaplain would urge the criminal to repent in a final prayer. The hangman appeared, the noose was adjusted, and a bag drawn over the criminal’s head. The horse would be lashed to move the cart and leave the criminal hanging in the air. There was another, less reported aspect that may have contributed to the excitement.
Seventeenth century observers at public executions noted that some male victims developed an erection and occasionally ejaculated when being hanged.

This post-mortem erection (angel lust) has been attributed to pressure on the cerebellum created by the noose. This is a different mechanism from that of auto-erotic asphyxia which seeks to increase arousal by restricting the oxygen supply to the brain by tightening a noose around the neck. In 1990, the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction published an influential New Report on Sex. It describes auto-erotic asphyxia as ‘the deliberate reduction of oxygen to the brain – temporary suffocation. The belief is that it enhances orgasm, but no research has ever verified this effect’.

Journalist and translator Pierre-Antoine Le Motteux [Peter Anthony Motteux] was born ‪on 25 February‬ 1663 in Rouen into a Huguenot family. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes ‪on 18 October‬ 1685, Motteux took up residence in London. He was made an English citizen ‪on 5 March‬ 1686. An able man, Motteux established himself rapidly in his adopted country, soon securing himself a place at the centre of its literary culture. He made his literary début as the editor and publisher of the Gentleman’s Journal (1692/4), a general magazine modelled on the Mercure Gallant. The journal contained poetry, literary and theatrical criticism, songs, enigmas, tales, burlesques, translations, essays, and scientific discoveries of the time. It has been called the ‘first English magazine’. One of its issues (October 1693) was devoted to ‘Pieces written by Persons of the Fair Sex’.


Motteux’s greatest literary successes were his translations of the works of Rabelais and of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1700/03). His version of the latter work was widely admired throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for its lucidity and wit (although future translators would be far more critical of his effort). He was also active in the 1690s and early 1700s as a dramatist and librettist. During this period he produced a series of occasional poems, songs, prologues, and epilogues. Among his miscellaneous works, A Poem in Praise of Tea (‘the Nectar of the Gods’) published in 1701, is the best known. His literary output declined considerably in his later years. ‪From around 1705‬ he traded in East Indian merchandise and works of art. The last activity was the principal occupation of his final decade, and his ‘India warehouse’ in Leadenhall Street, City of London, became a fashionable meeting place. On his fifty-fifth birthday, in good health and full of life, he donned his famous scarlet cloak, and went out on the town. He picked up Mary Roberts, a prostitute, and after some dalliance returned to her bordello at Star Court, near Temple Bar, where he died in February 1718 from assisted erotic asphyxia.


Based upon contemporary case notes, the medical case of Motteux’s demise has been reconstructed by later researchers. By contrast, the court case dealing with the death in London of an immigrant musician towards the end of the eighteenth century hit the headlines. Composer and double bass player František Kocžwara was born in Prague about 1750. He seems to have been an itinerant musician in Germany and the Netherlands, but had moved to England by 1775. He lived in various places, including London and Bath. In 1783 he travelled to Dublin, where he played violin in the band at the Smock Alley Theatre, Temple Bar. While in Ireland he composed his most popular work, The Battle of Prague: a favorite sonata for the piano forte, with an accompaniment for the violin & bass (op. 23). His compositions are mainly piano works and chamber music for piano and stringed instruments. He had returned to London by May 1791, as he played in the Concerts of Ancient Music and the Handel commemoration in Westminster Abbey that month. Kocžwara is more famous for the spectacular manner of his death than for his musical output. On 16 September 1791 prostitute Susannah Hill was tried at the Old Bailey for the composer’s murder. At her trial, she described how, on 2 September 1791 at a house of ill repute in Vine Street, near Piccadilly, Kocžwara had drunk a great deal of brandy and asked to be hanged in order to raise his passion. When she cut him down minutes later he was dead. She was accused of his murder. However, the case was dismissed at the Old Bailey and she was acquitted.

In the historical literature males have figured more prominently than females (although various such cases have been reported), beginning with the death of Kocžwara. In medical science, however, erotic asphyxia was not defined for another two hundred years. The death of the Czech composer led forensic psychiatrist Park Elliott Dietz in Auto-Erotic Fatalities (1983) to suggest the term ‘Koczwarraism’ for behaviour utilizing asphyxial augmentation of the sexual response. The theme was touched upon in literature much earlier. In the same year as the composer’s death, Marquis de Sade published his notorious novel Justine which includes a graphic description of an episode of sexual asphyxia. In James Joyce’s Ulysses (chapter 12) Bloom explains ‘scientifically’ why hanged men undergo sexual erections at the moment of execution. Strangling oneself or others for erotic pleasure is depicted in William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959) and features in In the Realm of the Senses, a Japanese film of the notorious Sada Abe story, first shown in 1976. Both book and film were received with a sense of shock. The novel was originally published in Paris in July 1959 by Maurice Girodias, founder of the Olympia Press. Because of American obscenity laws, a complete edition by Grove Press did not follow until 1962. The film also generated fierce controversy during its release. In general, auto-erotic asphyxia has remained a taboo subject. It is one of social history’s better kept secrets.

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The nomadic lifestyle of the artist is a recurrent theme in contemporary literature and aesthetic thinking. Modern philosophy of art tends to depict the artist as a citizen of the world, a global mind, as the eternal traveller. This view is a relatively recent one. In Classical culture, he would have been identified as the inhabitant of a specific polis or city. Even during the humanist era outspoken cosmopolitanism remained the exception.

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The term cosmopolitanism first appeared in the sixteenth century. Guillaume Postel visited the East on the orders of François I to collect manuscripts for the French Royal collection. In De la République des Turcs (1560) he gave a detailed and sympathetic account of Turkish culture. The book itself was signed by Guillaume Postel Cosmopolite (to later historians he became known as ‘le Gaulois cosmopolite’). One may find use of the word on occasion during the seventeenth century, but it was not until the Enlightenment that intellectuals came to regard themselves as proud members of a transnational ‘Republic of Letters’. In the eighteenth century, cosmopolitanism indicated an attitude of intellectual sophistication and open-mindedness. A cosmopolitan mind was not a follower of a particular religious or political authority, but an independent thinker and a man of the world. More often than not, he was a multi-lingual person who was at home in all European capitals. The 1789 Declaration of Human Rights was the result of cosmopolitan modes of thinking.

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Artistic migration before and even during the Enlightenment was motivated by much more mundane considerations. The artist moved away from home out of economic necessity and in search of patrons. He had to make a living. Traditionally, London had been a destination for those who were artistically gifted. In Tudor times, Continental artists and musicians were lured to sell their skills to royal and aristocratic households. During the reign of Charles I and particularly since the Restoration a seemingly unending number of Flemish and Dutch painters, engravers and sculptors joint the court or aristocratic estates. The ‘glorious’ seventeenth century produced too many artists in the Low Countries and not enough clients. The market simply was too small for such an overwhelming presence of talent. It was a period of cultural overproduction. For many young artists there was only one solution to their predicament: relocate, move elsewhere, and find a more equal playing field where their talent would be acknowledged. Or, to put it more crudely, find a place where they could earn money, get some commissions, and make a living. And move they did. They moved in their hundreds. They headed for Italy, Sweden, Germany, even for Russia – most of them crossed the Channel. It is interesting to note that English ambassadors in the Low Countries regularly functioned as ‘scouts’ who informed the court and gentry about the talent they had spotted whilst performing their diplomatic duties. Or they tried to encourage artists to move to England with the promise and prospect of employment and/or commissions.

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The courts of Charles II, James II, and William and Mary employed numerous foreign artists and craftsmen, and as a result English late seventeenth-century taste in interior decoration was decidedly Continental. In March 1709, a competition was announced to decorate the dome of Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral. The most coveted contemporary commission, it attracted bids from British and foreign artists. In March 1709, a competition was announced to decorate the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

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By 1710 the field of competitors was narrowed down to two candidates, James Thornhill and Venice-born Antonio Pellegrini (a director of Godfrey Kneller’s newly founded art academy in Queen Anne Street, 1711), each being required to execute their proposed designs on a model of the cupola. On 28 June 1715 Thornhill was awarded the commission by a Whig dominated committee.

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Archbishop Thomas Tenison’s pronouncement ‘I am no judge of painting, but on two articles I think I may insist: first that the painter employed be a Protestant; and secondly that he be an Englishman’, may not have an identified source, but it does echo a growing patriotic (anti-alien) sentiment which was put into words in the Weekly Packet of June 1715 by suggesting that the committee’s decision will ‘put to silence all the loud applauses hitherto given to foreign artists’. Others would argue that it reflected growing confidence in British native ability. As a consequence, the number of immigrant artists was dwindling rapidly.

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At that time, foreign in painting meant Italian – more specifically: Venetian. Decorative and portrait painter Giacomo Amiconi [Jacopo Amigoni] was born in Naples of Venetian parents in 1682. By 1711 he had established himself as an artist in Venice. Having worked all over northern Europe, he arrived in London in 1729. As an architectural decorator Amiconi joined forces with Gaetano Brunetti working on Lord Tankerville’s house in St James’s Square in early 1730 and on the Duke of Chandos’s residence at Cavendish Square in 1735. He painted a Banquet of the Gods on the ceiling at Covent Garden Theatre as well as a fresco above the stage (lost with the 1782 renovation). He was identified with Italian opera through his close friendship with the castrato Farinelli who was resident in London from 1734, and his marriage in May 1738 to opera singer Maria Antonia Marchesini (known as ‘La Lucchesina’).

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Amiconi’s work was fashionable in aristocratic London, but the established taste for Italian opera and for Venetian Rococo painting had started to decline by that time. A movement was in the making in favour of a more robust style in music, theatre and art. His staircase decoration for the Spanish ambassador at Powis House, Great Ormond Street, sparked controversy in 1734. The artist was attacked by James Ralph in the Weekly Register as one of those foreigners who painted in an overblown manner, compared with the more wholesome qualities of English art. Amiconi left London for Venice in August 1739 having been supplanted by Hogarth as decorator of St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Foreigners were less welcome than they had been previously.

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Between 1732 and 1734, Amiconi occupied a house in Silver Street, Soho (now: Beak Street; the occupant is named in the rate books as James Amicony). When the latter encouraged fellow artist Antonio Canaletto to move to London, the latter settled in Silver Street as well. The Canal family, whose Venice lineage is traceable from the mid-sixteenth century, were ‘cittadini originari’, a class immediately below the patrician. Its most famous son was Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto.

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His first dated work is a large ‘Capriccio of Classical Ruins and a Pyramid’ (1723), which already surpasses anything in this genre produced by his contemporaries. It shows an imaginary landscape (capriccio means ‘fancy’) with arched Roman ruins supported by Corinthian columns, through which a church with a campanile can be seen while small figures are digging around. Further back a pyramid and Roman statue are depicted. From the start architecture and architectural elements played a dominant part in his paintings. Just like his predecessor Luca Carlevarijs, the first of the great Venetian view painters, Canaletto realised that the demand for prospects of the city among foreign visitors offered a viable commercial opportunity. Throughout his career, in creating his urban panoramas he took the liberty of including distortions in order to ‘improve’ reality for pictorial effect and, of course, saleability. He also developed the additional skill of depicting ceremonial events and festivals.

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From the late 1720s to the early 1750s Canaletto’s fortunes were bound up with the figure of Joseph Smith, British Consul in Venice. The latter was one of the foremost collectors in the city who, over three decades, acquired fifty paintings by the artist, which he housed in his impressive palace on the Grand Canal. They were eventually sold en bloc to George III in 1762, along with 142 of the artist’s superb drawings. By 1730, Smith was acting as an agent in the sale of Canaletto’s work to English collectors which resulted in a constant flow of commissions throughout the decade that marks the peak of the painter’s career. With the constant demand for Canaletto’s work came a need to delegate various tasks to assistants. One of those, in the late 1730s and early 1740s, was his nephew Bernardo Bellotto, the only artist to rival him as the greatest Italian view painter of the eighteenth century. Canaletto’s studio was turned into a factory of art. With the ever increasing demand for paintings, the artist’s studio was rationalised in a quite a remarkable manner. It became a kind of early industrialised work-floor with a proper division of labour amongst specialised employees who worked on a production line of art. Canaletto had learned from his predecessors. The example of Rubens’s studio is well documented. Similar ways of working were introduced by Anthony van Dyck or Peter Lely in their London studios. All this, of course, long before the notion of the ‘division of labour’ was discussed by the Scottish socio-economic philosophers of the eighteenth century.

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The outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1741 restricted travel to Venice. As a consequence, the number of commissions for painted Venetian views diminished. In May 1746 Canaletto moved to London. There he was to remain for ten years as a resident at no. 16 Silver Street. Although his English paintings vary in quality, he soon found himself as busy as he had been in the 1730s. Like many artists before him, Canaletto was an economic migrant. Art does not acknowledge borders, neither physically nor intellectually.
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Music in eighteenth century England was largely performed and taught by foreigners. There were Italian virtuosi, French dance masters, German music teachers, Dutch composers – all of them economically motivated immigrants. The fact that music was dominated by foreigners had much to do with the regard in which the art form was held in society. From Tudor times to the early seventeenth century, a spirit of Renaissance humanism had prevailed in English cultivated circles with regard to music. Henry VIII was a dedicated patron of the arts and of music in particular. He attracted many musicians from the Continent to his court and was a keen performer himself. His thinking was in line with Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (translated into English as Book of the Courtier in 1561 by Thomas Hoby and reprinted in London as late as 1724) where a gentleman’s participation in music was appreciated and encouraged. Written over a period of two decades, Castiglione had published his etiquette guide (what makes a perfect courtier?) in 1528 in the form of a set of fictional conversations taking place over the course of four evenings at the court of the Duke of Urbino. Music is frequently mentioned as being an integral part of aristocratic life.
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By 1693, John Locke completely reversed that judgment in his influential essay ‘Some Thoughts Concerning Education’. Locke gives music the lowest place amongst all those ‘things that ever came into the List of Accomplishments’. He rejects the pursuit or performance of music as a waste of a young man’s time. Puritans had traditionally attacked music as an affront to morality. In The Anatomie of Abuses (1583) Philip Stubbes considers music as a major danger to the manners and morals of his time: ‘I say of Musicke … that it is very il for yung heds, for a certeine kind of nice, smoothe sweetnes in alluring the auditorie to nicesness, effeminancie, pusillanimity, & lothsomnes of life’. Music and the playhouse were a threat in the Puritan mind because, as it was argued, they cannot be enjoyed without ‘evil communications’. Music was considered a species of effeminacy. A puritanical element always remained part of the argument of those who were critical about the role of music in society.
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In eighteenth century English society music increasingly functioned as a passive entertainment performed mostly by Continental professionals. England did not produce any outstanding composers during that era. Music being non-productive, it was considered a misuse of a man’s valuable time. The attitude is reflected in the pages of The Spectator where Addison (no. 18, March 1710/11) described music as an ‘agreeable entertainment; but if it would take the entire possession of our ears, if it would make us incapable of hearing sense, if it would exclude arts that have much more tendency to the refinement of human nature; I must confess I would allow it no better quarter than Plato has done, who banishes it out of his commonwealth’. Music’s social role, on the other hand, was valued in that it helped women fill their time. Music kept wives and daughters in the empty space assigned to them and hence contributed to the maintenance of domestic stability. The visual representation of music clearly shows a gender differentiation in instrumental application. Among the portrayal of girls with musical attributes the use of the tambourine is a popular image. This was considered a feminine instrument producing a gentle, non-aggressive sound. Boys on the other hand were depicted with infantry drums (Shakespeare’s ‘spirit-stirring drum’) which set aggressive rhythms preparing the youngster for a life of strife, power and conflict.

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London’s musical waste land was soon occupied by immigrants who made a substantial contribution in developing the noble art in Britain, including in the domain of music publishing. Music in London became a proper cosmopolitan affair. Francesco Cianchettini was born in Rome in 1765/6. He was in London by 1799 when he married singer and pianist Bohemia-born Veronika Dussek, sister of the virtuoso pianist J.L. Dussek. He joined forces with the talented Italian cello player Sperati and published a series of twenty-seven symphonies in score editions each month between 1807 and 1809, using the imprint ‘London: Printed for Cianchettini & Sperati Publishers and Importers of Classical Music, no. 5 Princes Street, Cavendish Square’. Apart from eighteen symphonies by Joseph Haydn and six pieces by Mozart, Beethoven’s first three symphonies were published here as score editions for the first time in a score type that would not be common on the Continent until the 1820s. The first edition in voices, published in 1804 by a Vienna publisher, served as master. Beethoven did not know about this edition and did not receive any remuneration. Neither was it Beethoven who dedicated the composition to Prince Regent George but the publishers. Francesco’s son Pio Cianchettini, composer and pianist, was born in London 1799. At the age of five, he appeared at the Opera House as an infant prodigy. A year later, Pio travelled with his father through Holland, Germany and France, where he was trumpeted as the ‘English’ Mozart. Britain has always been quick to assume ownership of the triumphs of its immigrant residents.
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Vincent Novello was the son of an immigrant Italian father of Piedmontese origins who had arrived in England in August 1771. Giuseppe Novello was a pastry cook and set up his own confectioner’s business having taken a lease of a small property at no. 240 Oxford Street. Vincent was born at this address. He became one of the leading contributors to the development of British musical life and education in the first half of the nineteenth century. As a boy, Novello was a chorister at the Sardinian Chapel in Duke Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where he learnt to play the organ. From 1796 to 1822 he became in succession organist of the Sardinian, Spanish (Manchester Square) and Portuguese (South Street, Grosvenor Square) chapels, and from 1840 to 1843 of St Mary’s Chapel, Moorfields. He acquainted himself with a large body of the (early) sacred repertory. At the time, this music was rarely performed and available only in manuscript. In an effort to disseminate it more widely, Novello published a ‘Collection of Sacred Music as Performed at the Royal Portuguese Chapel in London’ (1811). He was soon publishing other edited collections of sacred music. From these beginnings he established himself as a music publisher.

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Novello was one of the (thirty) founding members of the Philharmonic Society in February 1813. London at the time did not have a permanent orchestra nor an organised series of chamber music concerts. The aim was to promote the performance of instrumental music in the capital. Concerts were held in the Argyll Rooms until it burned down in 1830. The first concert, on 8 March 1813, reflects the European involvement in the project. It was presided over by Bonn-born composer, violinist and impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who became one of London’s prominent musicians. Highly rated virtuoso Muzio Clementi was at the piano and child prodigy Nicolas Mori (born on 24 January 1796/7 in London, the son of an Italian wig maker) was the lead violinist. They performed symphonies by Haydn and Beethoven.
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Novello’s great contribution lay in the introduction to England of unknown compositions by the great masters, such as the Masses of Haydn and Mozart, and the works of Palestrina. He was one of the pioneers of the Choral Harmonists Society (that was founded in January 1833 and lasted until 1851). This society involved amateur musicians in the performance of large choral works such as masses, madrigals and oratorios. Vincent’s son Joseph Alfred Novello had started his career as a bass singer, but became a regular music publisher in 1829. He was the creator of the business as we know it today. He established the publishing house at no. 69 Dean Street, Soho (no. 70 was added later to the company). The firm did not begin to publish contemporary music in a systematic way until the 1850s and 1860s. Edward Elgar signed to Novello and many others followed him, including Gustav Holst and Herbert Howells. The business is still going strong.
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