Ludwig Tieck’s Library: A History

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The investigation of poets’ libraries has already formed its own tradition; in the German-speaking countries, the bibliography by Roland Folter (1975) is considered authoritative. Scholars’ libraries have also been the focus of research. At the end of his life, Ludwig Tieck was one of the most famous bibliophiles of the 19th century which is the more remarkable as he neither inherited a book collection nor possessed a fortune of any importance. If Tieck’s father owned a small number of books, only a few titles and no exact descriptions have come down to us. Moreover, what books a rope maker may have owned was certainly not comparable with Johann Caspar Goethe’s private library, which is being reconstructed in Frankfurt/Main because of its supposed effect on the upbringing of his son. Young Tieck’s intertextual archive, however, must be sought rather in the collections of his teachers and friends at the Friedrichswerdersches Gymnasium and in the Berlin libraries that were in the 1790s open to the public, especially the Royal Library. One cannot know when exactly Tieck started to buy and classify books and complete his collection systematically. Presumably, his growing interest for medieval poetry around 1800 made the physical possession of manuscripts or early prints for the first time imperative. Possibly the friendship with Brentano animated him to become a book hunter, along with the sudden flood of ancient books as a consequence of the secularization of church patrimony.
His study years in 1792-94, including in particular the Göttingen university library as well as a visit paid to Wolfenbüttel, must have given Tieck ideal images of libraries that bore a considerable influence on the philological side of his life achievement. There can be no doubt that his journeys (Bibliotheca Vaticana, St. Gallen in 1804-6; Munich and Vienna in 1808-10; Paris, London, Oxford, Stratford in 1817) may be seen as Bibliotheksreisen (cf. Becker, 1980, 1361-1534) that were also used for the purchase of books which were difficult to obtain in Germany. Thus the foundation of his collection presumably had already been laid before his poetic vein grew temporarily weaker and he took to living mainly in Ziebingen near Frankfurt/Oder. By that time his erudition had widened to a real European horizon. In 1819 he moved his home to Dresden where he had declined the post of head librarian as early as 1812. The domicile on the Altmarkt must have comprised several rooms for the book shelves, because at that time allusions (e.g., by his daughter Dorothea) become frequent to regular and important acquisitions at book auctions. Therefore, one can assume that the main body of his collection consisted of books bought in the 1820s and 1830s, one financial source being the substantial revenues from his novellas, another the private capital of his companion Henriette von Finckenstein. In addition, Tieck had his editors send him books instead of royalties, asking for some extra gifts from their newest publications. Even dedicatory copies and items swapped with the Dresden library contributed to an ever growing private collection. But despite of all the testimonies from letters, book orders or other references, the provenience of his books has up to now only been clarified for a small number, prominent though the former proprietor may have been: in 1823, Tieck was the highest bidder for some books from J. J. Eschenburg’s famous collection; in 1824, he acquired nearly 100 volumes from E. v.d. Malsburg’s library. After the death of his daughter Dorothea and his wife Amalie, Tieck moved along with his books to Amalienstr. 15 in Dresden (with the book transport taking six days), then on to Berlin. There, the historical auction took place at the end of 1849, where his estimated 16.000 volumes were sold.
Tieck was a lover of books. And he was convinced, as he explained in a letter to Wilhelm Konrad Hallwachs on 14 August 1836, that a scholar had to own important books rather than borrow them, especially if he – like Tieck – was accustomed to marking the most important passages and to write his own marginalia. Tieck was especially fascinated by auction catalogues, which he read like fine literature. The magic resulting from a large number of books is depicted in his fiction, e.g. the novellas Der Gelehrte (“What a mass of books, she cried, like in enchantment” [Tieck, Schriften, Vol. 22, 1853, 13) or Des Lebens Überfluss, in which Heinrich talks about his early love of books and auctions: “In my early youth, book auctions were my passion; and even though I mostly failed to purchase the works I loved, I nevertheless enjoyed to hear them offered and to think about the possibility that I might possess them. I would read the auction catalogues like my favourite poets […]” (Tieck, Schriften, Vol. 26, 1854 37-38). Tieck’s library was apparently that of a philologist and literary historian with an interest in comparative literature. It contained, besides contemporary literature, presents from admirers and friends and specimen copies of his own works, mainly German literature from the early modern period, English literature with a focus on Shakespeare and his successors, and especially a collection of Spanish drama of the 17th century in original prints. The philologist Tieck proceeded on the assumption that a solid understanding could only arise from examining literally hundreds of texts of the same type. Among his papers left to the Staatsbibliothek Berlin a memorandum about Spanish drama reads: “All in all there are about 3500 old plays in print, so far I own 1200, therefore 2300 are still missing.” (Hölter 1989, 109; cf. Hewett-Thayer 1934, 15) Furthermore, the numbers of the collected prints show Tieck’s interest in authors like Dante, Boccaccio and Cervantes. The collection also contains a remarkable number of works of literary history, and, in addition to belles lettres, many books on history and art. This is where Tieck’s library promises to provide the fullest source of information for commentaries on his novellas.

For further information: Ahicm Hölter & Paul Ferstl: „Die Bibliothek Ludwig Tiecks und ihre Rekonstruktion. Mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der an die K.K. Hofbibliothek verkauften Bestände.” In: Biblos. Beiträge zu Buch, Bibliothek und Schrift 64.1 (2015), S. 85-95.

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