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The Manuscript Collector's Quest

By Benjamin Truesdale, Department Head, Freeman's 

                                            Image Courtesy of Freeman's

    Freemans 1  For a certain tribe of collectors, there is no thrill greater than diving straight into a dusty, wrecked steamer trunk, or some other such vessel, and sifting through scraps of old paper, bond certificates, postcards, photos, and any other mixed-up fragments from an earlier age. This particular bunch finds the grittiness of excavation thrilling, as such, but even more essential is the persistent hope that something intact, something coherent, may emerge from the confused shards, rubble, and ruin. The form of the found object may even be irrelevant to manuscript collectors; it could be a ledger, a sentiment album, or a marked-up, yellowed typescript. What matters instead is the discovery of unattested documentary materials, written in human hand, which transport one directly to the lived experience of the past. Most prized of all are those documents which may expand upon, or better yet push back against, otherwise commonly accepted historical narratives.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Image Courtesy of Freeman's

Freemans 2

     One such example of the ideal manuscript “find”, to be offered in Freeman’s Books, Maps, and Manuscripts sale of February 17, is a
dossier of documents pertaining to the astonishingly prolific career of Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965). Schweitzer was by training a theologian, a medical doctor, and a concert organist, and he excelled in all of these fields. He published groundbreaking articles on music theory, and his early treatise of 1906, Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung (Quest of the Historical Jesus), proved to be one of the most significant works of systematic theology and historiography written in the 20th century; at the same time, he managed to balance his erudite (and often polemical) studies with a medical career, spending decades in West Central Africa as a missionary physician. Though his efforts were not without controversy, Schweitzer ultimately earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 for his humanitarianism, as well as for his intrepid and timely critiques of colonialism and nuclear proliferation.

     The collection charts a vast period of Schweitzer’s variegated career, and ranges from the late 1910s to the end of his life at his hospital in Gabon. It comprises approximately 20 photos signed and inscribed, many of them candid; 25 autograph letters signed; typescripts, sporadic jottings, exegetical notes, and other musings; and dozens of pieces of related ephemera. Relevant to collectors and scholars alike is the generally unified content of the material, which reveals in detail the long-term development of a profound intellect. One particular photograph, shot in 1958, bears Schweitzer’s self-reflective inscription concerning the genesis of another major literary work, Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben (Reverence for Life): “Auf dieser Insel im Ogooue…1915 mir die Idee der Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben aufging….” This photograph alone serves as a crucial primary source, insofar as it corroborates the selfsame recollection which Schweitzer had described decades prior in his 1931 autobiography; here, however, in the context of the present lot, it functions as but one very material link among many, in a longer narrative concatenation.

Within this broader narrative, most thrilling of all is the fact that nearly each piece is addressed or dedicated specifically to Dr. Schweitzer’s goddaughter, Toni Lenel (or “Toeneli”), for whom he had special affection.  The chain of correspondence begins, in fact, with Dr. and Mrs. Schweitzer’s congratulatory letter to their close friends the Lenels, dispatched on the occasion of Toni’s birth. Schweitezer’s early letters to Toni treat her education, with frequent comment on the current condition of youth; letters of the late 1930s discuss the Lenel family’s flight from Nazi Germany, and their relocation to the United States; letters of the 1940s discuss the conclusion of Toni’s graduate education, and subsequent career as a teacher of Germanistik; and mature letters of 1950s ff tend more toward metaphysical matters, such as grief, happiness, success and failure. Many pieces do also evince Schweitzer’s sometimes crabby, sometimes whimsical nature, e.g. his scathing critiques of American pedagogy, or his sarcastic diatribes against Thomas Mann.

Freeman's books department is very pleased to offer this important collection in its forthcoming Books, Maps & Manuscripts auction. With its provenance by descent of the Lenel family, and its re-telling of that family’s story; its multifaceted insights into crucial topics in the histories of race, gender, colonialism, and modern education; and its sheer abundance of social- and intellectual-historical documents, including Toni Lenel’s own contemporary journals, scrapbooks, transcriptions, and commentaries; it is no exaggeration to say that this lot epitomizes the manuscript collector’s quest. Benjamin Truesdale, Department Head, Freeman's

To be offered 02/17/17: Schweizer, Albert and Lenel, Toni. Archive of Autograph Letters Signed, Photographs Signed, Typescripts, and Related Material. Approximately 75 pieces in sum, ca. 1920-1965, chiefly addressed to Schweitzer’s goddaughter Toni Lenel. Wide-ranging topics including e.g. war, diaspora, persecution, pedagogy, literary criticism, colonialism, race, gender, and private family affairs.

*Passed Time would like to thank Freeman's and Benjamin Truesdale for letting us share this with our readers. 

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