University of Erfurt

Welcome to the Gotha Research Library

The Private Library of Duke Ernst II (1745 - 1804)

About Ernst II of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg and his literary and scientific interests

Ernst Ludwig received a thorough education by his mother, Duchess Luise Dorothea (1710-1767). After travelling through the Netherlands and England in 1769, he married Charlotte Amalie of Saxe-Meiningen (1751-1827) and took over in 1772 the Gotha government. Due to budgetary rigor Ernst succeeded until 1797, to remove the high indebtedness of the court which was also created in consequence of the Seven Years' War. He promoted trade and renewed the insurance sector. Like no other Duke he promoted education, science and the arts in the Duchy. He supported the establishment of the Schnepfenthaler educational institution under Johann Gotthilf Salzmann and renewed the Gotha school illustre. He erected the first observatory in Germany on the Seeberg and organized 1798 the first Astronomers congress in Gotha. Ernst made for the first standing ensemble of actors of the Gotha court under Ekhof Conrad (1720-1778) and promoted a number of visual artists.

Ernst II and the Court Library

Beginning 1775, Ernst II annually provided a fixed amount from his private income for the court library. The, from his means acquired volumes are usually provided with the dedication mark "Donum Serenissimi". He bought 50 valuable medieval manuscripts and incunabula from the French Benedictine Jean-Baptiste Maugérard (1735-1815), who was acting in nearby Erfurt. Outstanding acquisitions are the hymnological collection of the Superintendent Johann Christoph Olearius of Arnstadt (1668-1747), the legacy of the Gdansk botanists Jacob (1637-1697) and Johann Philipp Breyne (1680-1764) as well as the animal and plant drawings of Georg Forster (1754 -1794).

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Origin, Extent and Morphology of the Private Library

From 1775 Heinrich August Ottokar Reichard (1751-1828) led the private library, but Ernst II carried out the selection of literature himself. By the end of his life, It included about 20,000 volumes and was placed directly above the court library on the third floor of the east tower of the castle Friedenstein. The surviving volumes of his collection are largely characterized by a stamped "E" on the back of the title page, as well as the page shelfmark of the private library catalogue.

Character and Structure of the Private Library

In the library, you will discover especially the scientific interests of Ernst II. 31% of the collection consists of mathematical and scientific writings, 27% historiographical works, followed by philological and philosophical (17%) and belletristic literature (15%). Widely available are European magazines and Academy series. Among the philosophical writings are those of Voltaire and those, covered by the German philosopher Christoph Meiners (1747-1820). Ernst II’s passion for the game of chess, on which he published smaller contributions, is demonstrated by numerous chess books.

The Catalogue of the Private Library

Abbildung: Portrait des Bibliothekars Heinrich August Ottokar Reichard

The private librarian of Ernst II, Heinrich August Ottokar Reichard, who supervised the library after the death of Ernst and up to 1815, first submitted an alphabetical catalogue in two volumes (FB Gotha Chart A 2319). In 1815 the management of the collection went over to the librarian Friedrich Jacobs (1764-1847), who in the period from January 2nd,1816 to January 28th, 1817 created a subject catalogue (FB Gotha Chart A 2321). After the manuscripts the printed works are listed according to the folio, quarto and octavo formats. Within the formats the titles according to subject groups are arranged, each starting with the theological, legal and medical writings.

The "American Library" of Ernst II

In the wake of the French Revolution Ernst II was planning to emigrate to Switzerland or the United States. For this he had to purchase land and have a country house designed. From his private library, he put together books of his favourite subjects, mathematics, physics, astronomy and geography, (Friedrich Jacobs) that were covered by a "peculiar permanent cover". Although no separate catalogue of the "American Library" is available, the numerous blue-gray cardboard or paper envelopes in which Ernst's favorite reading is bound in until today, suggest that they belong to this library.

Used Literature

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