6 October 2021
‘Strangely unhinged and filled with thousands of ideas’ is the kind of note that Ludwig Rudolph, the youngest son of Herzog Anton Ulrich, occasionally jotted down in 1712 about his reading matter during a visit to his brother-in-law Albrecht Ernst II of Oettingen-Oettingen (1669–1731). We find a hotchpotch of terms, sayings, authors’ names and titles of books, including the quotation in the heading here from the popular fairy tale Le nouveau Gentilhomme bourgeois ou les fées à la mode (Amsterdam 1711) by Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy, which Ludwig Rudolph read between 28 January and 1 February 1712. The original French version stated, ‘Sa tête étoit étrangement féleé et remplie de mille sortes d’imaginations.’ The detailed impressions recorded in Ludwig Rudolph’s diary give us a rare glimpse into the reading habits of this royal figure.
Ludwig Rudolph had actually aspired to a military career, and in his younger years he had ‘more desire for war than for books’ (Cod Guelf 217a Blank, p. 4), as he pointed out in his autobiography. However, his physical condition and lack of success on the battlefield thwarted all notions of a stellar military career: while he remained largely detached from contemporary political events, he did develop a lively interest in reading. He diligently loaned books about history and religion from the Bibliotheca Augusta in Wolfenbüttel and started compiling his own collection of books. In 1712, Ludwig Rudolph spent most of his stay in the duchy of Oettingen-Oettingen with an extensive supply of reading material. The trip to southern Germany, accompanied by his wife Christine Luise and his youngest daughter Antoinette Amalie (1696–1762), would not, however, have been motivated by a desire to read or to undertake a simple visit to his wife’s family. At that time, Emperor Charles VI (1685–1740), who in 1708 had married Ludwig Rudolph’s eldest daughter Elisabeth Christine (1691–1750), was in the southern part of his empire for the imperial coronation, and the two met up in Nuremberg in early 1712. But visiting his Oettinger relatives undoubtedly left a little spare time for diversion and distraction far removed from the court at home, and it was over six months later that Ludwig set off on his return journey, which was described in his diary in similar detail.
By the time of his departure Ludwig Rudolph had ticked nearly fifty books and tracts off his reading list. He consulted some of them multiple times, particularly theological devotional works such as the book his confessor Eberhard Finen had compiled for him under the title of Heylsame Seelen-Artzeney (Braunschweig 1711). In order to satisfy his hunger for reading matter on his journey, Ludwig Rudolph had brought a number of books along in his luggage. Yet a large portion of the works he read, such as a treatise on the history of the Principality of Oettingen-Oettingen, were very likely to have come from his brother-in-law’s well-equipped library. In Schrattenhofen Ludwig Rudolph regularly spent entire days engrossed in books. In April and early May, for example, he read all six volumes of Giovanni Paolo Marana’s L’espion dans les cours des princes chrétiens (Cologne 1711), a collection of fictional letters written from the perspective of a Turkish envoy commenting on life during the reign of Louis XIV. Like most of the books and tracts that Ludwig Rudolph read, it was written in French (followed in numerical terms by German and Latin), a language that he had learned as a young boy and perfected while on a grand tour through France. In his diary he frequently noted down French expressions and idioms that he had presumably not been familiar with, as well as the names of quite a few authors and books that he would like to own and read.
While he restricted the notes jotted down in his diary to a few key words, the surviving excerpt books show that he engaged deeply with what he read. During his stay at Schrattenhofen he excerpted over a hundred pages from Casimir Freschot’s treatise État ancien et moderne des duchés de Florence, Modene, Mantoue & Parme (Utrecht 1711, Cod Guelf. 176 Blank. and Cod Guelf. 162b Blank.). Overall, his reading matter in Oettingen-Oettingen was extremely diverse: Ludwig Rudolph consumed works of entertainment, religious devotional literature, and treatises on contemporary political events. Nonetheless, his personal preferences are still clearly reflected in the preponderance of historical and political books. These included legal texts, with Ludwig Rudolph noting down, for example, a maxim that was at the time frequently cited as a justification for absolutism but had its roots in Roman law: ‘Princeps sit solutus Lege potestativa … non tamen est solutus a dictamine rectæ rationis, nec a jure naturali’ (The prince is released from positive law but not from the dictates of virtuous reason and not from natural law) (Cod. Guelf. 286 Blank. p. 43). This, like the many other excerpts that Ludwig Rudolph wrote down, show that his reading was not simply for his pleasure or his edification but also served ‘Connoissance esseuree’ (p. 4): to deepen his knowledge.
What also surfaces is Ludwig Rudolph’s ‘bibliomania’ (p. 14), a term taken from French which he apparently noted down on 21 February 1712, but without giving the direct source. This bibliomania meant that once Ludwig Rudolph had returned from his journey, from 1714 onwards he systematically started expanding the library in Blankenburg that he had first started collecting in 1709; by the time of his death in 1735 he had amassed at least 15,000 volumes.
And so, in a similar manner to his grandfather August the Younger, he left a testament to what Paul Raabe called the ‘Baroque desire for books’. In the mid-18th century large sections of it were transferred to the ducal library in Wolfenbüttel, where it is still in the ‘Mittlere Aufstellung’, in some cases still bearing his Ex Libris.
Image: Johann Konrad Eichler, Portrait of Herzog Ludwig Rudolph zu Braunschweig-Lüneburg, 1731, shelf mark: B 92.