University of Erfurt

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The Private Library of Prince August (1747-1806)

About Prince August of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg and his literary and scientific interests

Prince August, the youngest of six children of the Duke and Duchess Friedrich III and Dorothea Louise and brother of the reigning Duke Ernst II, was not meant for the takeover of government offices. He first pursued a military career in a Gotha Infantry Regiment, standing in the Dutch service, resigned his commission in 1772 and already had lived all his passions for art and literature. His two trips to Italy left lasting impressions, of which the last he returned in 1778. In his Gotha Palais August gathered a nice intellectual circle and was considered as a man with cosmopolitan and modern attitudes. Herder, Goethe and Wieland were among his interlocutors.

Origin, Extent and Morphology of the Private Library

In one of his Italy Travel Diaries Prince August reported of libraries, which he had visited, including those "where the books made the least, and the gilding made the most". His books, however, are simply furnished, the shelfmark "Auguste" or "Prince August", recognizable by their red back-plates or the bright blue book section. In some books August encounters us as an attentive and compassionate reader, as in the traditional copy of the first edition of Lessing's "Emilia Galotti," which he had worked on through 1805. August's private library seems to have been consumed to a large extent into the private library of his brother, Duke Ernst II. In the course of the integration of the private ducal collections into the Gotha court library, they were taken over in the 1820s either during this or sorted out as doublet and sold.

Character and Structure of the Private Library

The catalogue of the private library holds 2,015 titles. Although the collection of literary works shows its distinct Francophilia and a far greater interest in contemporary German literature, he even tried himself as a writer. August was considered a connoisseur of Voltaire's writings and the early German Enlightenment, which are also gathered in his library. In addition, however, he also acquired theological, legal, and - as usual for a nobleman of his time - historical literature, which has found its expression in the creation of library catalogues.

The Catalogues of the Private Library

When the three Catalogues (FB Gotha Chart. B 1200, Chart. B 1247, Chart. B 1213) of the private library of Prince August have been created, and by whom, is not yet known. Under the headings "Belles Lettres", "Théologie, Jurisprudence, Philosophy" and "Histoire" they list without further factual structure and according to formats structured by author, title, place of publication and print year of each work. Works belonging to an anthology are characterized each with a pen stroke as belonging to the volume.

Used Literature

  • Eckardt, Götz (Hrsg.): Das italienische Reisetagebuch des Prinzen August von Sachsen-Gotha-Altenburg, des Freundes von Herder, Wieland und Goethe. Stendal 1985
  • Raschke, Helga: Die Reise des Prinzen August über die Alpen 1777/78, in: Hessische Blätter für Volks- und Kulturforschung NF 35 (1999), S. 125-137.
  • Unger, Thorsten: "Es ist theatralischer Unsinn". Die Emilia-Galotti-Lektüre des Prinzen August von Sachsen-Gotha und Altenburg, in: Lessing Yearbook 31 (1999), S. 11-37.

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