Mrs Felix Yaniewicz and the Chambers’ Circulating Library, 1829

Sometimes the stars seem to align when going research. For Books and Borrowing, the configuration of the arrival and transcription of the Chambers’ Borrowing Register and the identification of one of its borrowers has been almost spooky for me in the case of Mrs Yaniewicz.

Mrs Yaniewicz took a ‘New Books’ quarterly subscription from the Chambers’ Circulating Library on 24 September 1829 giving her address as 84 Great King Street. The Edinburgh Post Office Directory (1828-1829) lists one ‘F. Yaniewicz, teacher of music’ at this address.

Detail from Mrs Yaniewicz’s page in the Chambers Borrowing register

‘Teacher of music’ is a very modest description for the composer, violin virtuoso, entrepreneur, and impressario Felix Yaniewicz. Born Feliks Janiewicz in 1762, Yaniewicz had a brilliant career in Poland, Austria, and France, hobnobbing with royalty and the great musicians of his day, including Mozart and Haydn. He fled the French Revolution and settled in London. There he met and worked with fellow music teacher, composer, and virtuoso Muzio Clementi. The musicians developed their own-brand instruments and published their compositions and arrangements.

Yaniewicz toured the British Isles and established a music warehouse in Liverpool. It was in Liverpool that he met and married Eliza Breeze – our ‘Mrs Yaniewicz’ in the Chambers’ register – in 1799. The couple had three surviving children, Felicia, Pauline, and Felix. Their daughters became noted musicians while their son became a dental surgeon.

photograph of square piano on display in the Georgian House, 7 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, July 2022

Restored Yaniewicz & Green square piano, c. 1810 on display in the drawing room of the Georgian House, 7 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh

Yaniewicz first came to Edinburgh in 1804 to perform at a series of subscription concerts. He and his family moved to Edinburgh in 1815 when he co-founded the first Edinburgh Music Festival. He retired from performing in 1829. The Edinburgh Post Office Directory for 1830-1831 lists him as ‘teacher of music’, but in subsequent years he is designated only as ‘esq.’

Sheet music (note Felix Yaniewicz's initials in manuscript in the bottom right corner of the sheet on the left). The piano's label reads: New Patent Yaniewicz & Green 49 Leicester Sqr London & 25 Lord St Liverpool

Sheet music (note Felix Yaniewicz’s initials in manuscript in the bottom right corner of the sheet on the left). The piano’s label reads: New Patent Yaniewicz & Green 49 Leicester Sqr London & 25 Lord St Liverpool

From Felix’s well-documented life we have been able to fill in details about his wife. We now have her first and maiden names. We know that she came from Liverpool and settled in Edinburgh with her husband. From her borrowing record we know a bit more about her as an individual.

Mrs Yaniewicz, c. 1799, currently on display at the Georgian House. Image courtesy of Josie Dixon of the Yaniewicz Project.

Eliza borrowed many of the novels, periodicals, and travel books stocked by the Chambers’ Circulating Library. She used her subscription well, making 52 loans.

Among the books, we find issues of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and these may have informed her further reading. Issue 158, for example, for October 1829 included a review of Lady Sydney Morgan’s The Book of the Boudoir (London, 1829) which Eliza later borrowed. The review was not favourable:

‘There is scarcely a conceivable subject, of literature, of politics, of science, of domestic affairs, of public events, of men, of women, of children, from the palace to the cottage, from the bedchamber to the kitchen, of things in general and of things in particular, which she does not write about; and, with perfect sincerity we can add, which she does not write about equally well…’ (p. 634) [and] ‘…we are ourselves great admirers of this tag-rag and bob-tail style of writing…but we are afraid that the majority of mere English readers prefer English’ (p. 635).

Perhaps this ‘so bad, it’s good’ approach piqued Eliza’s curiosity.

Eliza’s borrowings of novels include Jane Austen’s Emma and Persuasion, and Chambers’ borrowers’ favourites, such as James Ballie Fraser’s The Kuzzilbash (1828), Gerald Griffin’s The Collegians (1829), Anna Jameson’s The Loves of the Poets (1829) and The Diary of an Ennuyée (1829), Elizabeth Strutt’s The Borderers (1812), Lady Caroline Lucy Scott’s A Marriage in High Life (1828) and Eyre Evans Crowe’s Histoiriettes, or Tales of Continental Life (1827). She also borrowed travel books, such as Richard Robert Madden’s Travels in Turkey, Egypt, Nubia, and Palestine in 1824-27 (1829) and Reginald Heber’s Narrative of a journey through the Upper Provinces of India from Calcutta to Bombay 1824-25 (1828).

Mrs Yaniewicz's page of borrowings in the Chambers register

Mrs Yaniewicz’s page of borrowings in the Chambers register. Copyright Chambers family. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Licence’ .

Now for the spooky bit. I’ve been a volunteer guide at the National Trust for Scotland’s Georgian House at 7 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, for more than a decade. This summer the House is hosting an exhibition on Felix Yaniewicz’s life and legacy. This includes items which have been treasured by the descendants of Felix and Eliza and are on now show for the first time. As one of the volunteers looking after the exhibition, I have been able to come as close as I (probably) ever will to one of our Books and Borrowing borrowers. Right place, right time: sometimes the stars align.

  • ‘Music and Migration in Georgian Edinburgh: The Story of Felix Yaniewicz’ is at The Georgian House until 22 October 2022. The admission charge includes entry to the House.
  • A programme of events accompanies the exhibition.


Felix Yaniewicz: music and migration in Georgian Edinburgh

Felix Yaniewicz Project