June 15, 2005 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on June 15, 2005.
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The Bibliothèque Humaniste, at Sélestat in Alsace, is one of the great libraries of Europe. We now have an excellent Bibliothèque Humaniste website, providing information about and digital access to the Sélestat treasures:
-- see particularly the very interesting "service educatif" of the library, offering well-done pdf files intended to help with school visits of various educational levels, files which can give even the online user an "interactive" idea of the resources --
And this summer a special exhibition of bindings in the collection has been mounted at the Bibliothèque Humaniste: "a meeting of two eras, the 16th c. and the 21st -- 20 examples of remarkable bookbinding work, most from the personal library of Beatus Rhenanus, together with modern works by Anne Giordan".
The Bibliothèque Humaniste offers famous ancient collections of the religious communities of its region, and 15th-16th century collections from the period during which the city was a leading center of the Humanism movement in Europe. Most well-known is the collection of Beatus Rhenanus: [tr. JK]
"The 20th of July, 1547, saw the death of the savant Beat Bild, known as Beatus Rhenanus, friend of Erasmus who called him his alter ego. He was interred in the église Saint-Georges.
"Born at Sélestat on the 22nd of August, 1485, Beatus at the age of six became the student of Craton Hofmann. The library preserves his student notebook from the years 1498-1499: in its pages one can discover both the richness of the instruction provided and the intelligence of the pupil.
"After brilliant studies at the Sorbonne from 1503 to 1507, under the direction of Lefebvre d'Etaples, Beatus became a proofreader and philologist, first at Paris with the printer Estienne, then with a Strasbourg printer originally from Sélestat named Mathias Schurer, finally at Basel with the printers Jean Amerbach and above all Frobenius. So Beatus came into contact with the most learned people in the Europe of his time.
"He began to assemble his library when he was very young. The wealth of his father, Antoine Bild, Burgomaster, enabled him to acquire 57 volumes even prior to his admission to the university in 1503: works of grammar and of rhetoric (Alexandre de Villedieu), and works of the humanists (Nicolaus Perottes, Franciscus Niger). During his university studies at Paris he collected 188 volumes: among these 20 treatises of Aristotle, editions of the classical Latin authors, and first editions of works of the Fathers of the Church.
"At age 22 Beatus already owned 253 books, which was a considerable library for that period. His long literary career enabled him to acquire the numerous Parisan editions, and editions by Frobenius, which form one of the unique characteristics of his library. Also he purchased numerous copies of editions on which he himself worked as proofreader and philologist: Tertullian, Eusebius, Sozomenos, Seneca, Quintus-Curtius, Velleius Paterculus, Pliny the Elder, Titus-Livius, etc.
"Beatus received numerous works which carry the ex libris of the previous owner on the title page. He exchanged many of his own editions with those of his friends. Each of his books carries, nearly always, the manuscript ex libris of Beatus: one of these shows how dear to him his library was -- he marked on a title page, "Sum Beati Rhenani Nec muto dominum" -- "I belong to Beatus Rhenanus and I will have no other master".
"Ennobled by the Emperor Charles V, in 1523, Beatus had many of his bindings decorated with his armorial crest. Now 222 volumes form the collection: each may contain up to 30 different texts, most of them covered with marginalia, the variety often resulting from the inclusion of a manuscript discovered in some other library.
"And don't forget the correspondance of Beatus: 255 autograph letters from his friends are preserved in the library here at Sélestat..."
The collections Sélestat offers are ancient, and distinguished:
"About 70,000 documents are available, divided among various collections: a collection of money and medals, currently being inventoried, and collections of postcards, prints, engravings, music scores. The most precious of the documents are writings divided into specific groups: the fonds humaniste, the fonds ancien général, the fonds d'alsatiques, and others.
"Since the opening of the Médiathèque Intercommunale in 1997, the Bibliothèque Humaniste de Sélestat has been focussed on a mission of study and research. In addition to the encyclopedic collections already acquired by that date, it now puts at the disposition of researchers current acquisitions concerning the Middle Ages, Humanism, and the Renaissance, and the History of The Book.
"The library's important fonds ancien -- composed of 464 ancient and modern manuscripts, 550 incunables, and more than 2,000 printed works of the 16th century -- attracts numerous researchers from the four corners of Europe, who by their labors contribute so much to our intellectual life. The catalog of manuscripts is accessible at the Bibliothèque Humaniste. For the incunables, one may consult the catalog compiled by the Canon Walter, of the city of Sélestat: 'catalogue général de la Bibliothèque municipale, t. III : incunables et XVIe siècle, Colmar, Alsatia, 1929.' The library continues to acquire, regularly, works intended to enrich its collection of printed works of the 16th century, records of which are accessible via the online public access catalog.
"The Bibliothèque Humaniste de Sélestat also preserves an important collection of the music scores of Alsatian composers, trying constantly to increase this through donations. The music library of the Abbé Martin Vogeleis (1861-1930), or Bibliotheca Alcediana, is the most significant of these collections: it contains about 3,000 titles, and includes books of chant, scores, diverse music studies, and both ancient and recent Alsatian works."
(look for the place Gambetta at the north end of the interactive map)
Any era transfixed by notions of religion and nation-state and empire, as our own appears to have become -- "Axis of Evil" & "Fundamentalism", "Europe" & "Globalization" -- might do well to re-read the Humanists. They are where our thinking on this began.
Beatus Rhenanus lived from 1485 to 1547, Erasmus from 1466 to 1536, Thomas More from 1478 to his foreshortened 1535... The terrible Wars of Religion lasted from about 1559 to 1598. And the Thirty Years War ran from 1618 to the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, marking the founding of the very modern nation-state idea which now seems to be crumbling around its edges a bit.
The Europe which followed Humanism learned bitter lessons, then, the hardest way, about religious excess and nationalism -- lessons which might profitably be dusted-off today, by all of us.
A few bits of recent bibliography:
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