Documents penned by Lessing himself rarely go up for sale and so it is all the more pleasing that the friends’ association Gesellschaft der Freunde der Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel e.V. has assumed the acquisition costs for the winning bid at an auction held by the Berlin antiquarian bookshop Stargardt.

The HAB houses part of Lessing’s estate of handwritten documents in its collections. The author was the librarian in Wolfenbüttel from 1770 until his death in 1781. During this period, he conducted research in the holdings and wrote a number of works including the famous plays Emilia Galotti and Nathan der Weise (Nathan the Wise). This is HAB’s most significant new Lessing-related acquisition since the purchase in 2008 of a letter by the author about the process of writing Nathan.

The recently acquired letter shows Lessing from a very personal angle. On 20 March 1777 he wrote to his sister Dorothea Salome, who lived in their home town of Kamenz, concerning their mother’s death on the seventh day of that month. Lessing thanks his sister for the care she had devoted to the deceased. ‘The best way to mourn her, I believe, is to not forget that you made the final years of her life so bearable by sacrificing yourself to your sense of duty on behalf of us all.’ He sends greetings from his wife, Eva König, and expresses hope that his brother Theophilus will visit them in Wolfenbüttel at Easter.

For all those who are interested in the letter, a facsimile will go on display in the Lessinghaus from 25 May 2023 onwards. Moreover, a digitised copy of the letter and a transcription of the contents will soon be available online in the Herzog August Bibliothek’s manuscript database.

Übergabe des Lessingbriefes von der Gesellschaft der Freunde an die HAB (links: Dr. Ulf Kapahnke und Ulrike Andrulat von der GdF, rechts: Prof. Dr. Peter Burschel und Dr. Christian Heitzmann, beide HAB (Foto: HAB)
The Lessing letter is handed over to the HAB by the friends’ association Gesellschaft der Freunde (left: Dr Ulf Kapahnke and Ulrike Andrulat of the GdF, right: Prof. Peter Burschel and Dr Christian Heitzmann of the HAB (photo: HAB)