The city of Tîrgu-Mureş boasts the first public library in Transylvania and one of the most valuable in the country: Teleki Library. A quintessence of the Enlightenment spirit, it brings together the most significant scientific and humanistic editorial productions since the invention of printing and the richest treasure of publications contemporary with the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Rare books, bibliophile editions of classical world literature, incunabula, valuable manuscripts, luxury editions of the Bible translated into various languages, they are all housed in the superb high edifice built in the 18th century with the specific purpose of a library.
Its founder, Count Samuel Teleki (b.1739 – d.1822), was essentially a man of the Enlightenment. A memorable historical figure, he had a political career the apogee of which was the position of Chancellor of Transylvania, which he filled from the death of Emperor Joseph II, whose personal adviser he had been, until the end of his life. However, it was not so much his political career that ensured his fame, even though, remarkably, Count Teleki was the first Protestant nobleman who held such a high Aulic rank in the Habsburg Empire, which was prevalently Catholic. His face is immortalized on the frontispiece of the Samuel Teleki Palace of Culture, along with other Hungarian cultural figures, because of his passion for education and culture, and for his role as a Mecena. The descendant of a Calvinist family belonging to the high nobility in the Principality of Transylvania, Samuel Teleki inherited, on the one hand, the title of nobility and a considerable wealth, the largest in the principality, acquired by his grandfather, and, on the other hand, he carried on the preoccupations of his father for supporting school education. He was an erudite scholar, received a distinguished humanistic and scientific education at the best universities in Europe, where he was inspired by the encyclopedic and rationalistic spirit of the time, and above all, he had a great passion that animated him his entire life. Samuel Teleki was a great lover of books. A refined, elevated bibliophile, with strong ties at the Court of Vienna, the Transylvanian count became, early in his youth, a collector of books who was intellectually competent and financially potent. For 60 years he systematically acquired – from leading publishers and booksellers in 25 European cities – the most significant works published since the establishment of printing, in the most elegant editions, which attest today the exquisite art involved in creating the masterpieces of older European books.
In the cultural history of Transylvania, his undertaking can be compared, in terms of its magnitude, with the collections of Governor Samuel Brukenthal, housed in the museum that bears his name in Sibiu. Count Teleki’s bibliophile passion was shared by his wife, an aristocrat who had an impressive library which today is fully preserved in the Teleki Library funds. The bibliophile affinities of the couple attest to the immense value that books had in the past centuries and to the symbolic capital of private libraries. For the 18th-19th century aristocracy, personal libraries represented the hallmark of their elitist social status. However, more than a cultural crest or an aristocratic hobby, Count Teleki’s love of books was a vocation. Biblio-philia meant then not only erudition and intellectual delight, but also clear vision, social responsibility for the cultural destiny of the nation, generosity, and even sacrifice.
For Count Teleki, his library was a treasure: “I have nothing more dear than my life, wife and children”, he confessed. (Jakó Zsigmond, Philobiblon Transilvan). Teleki catalogued the books himself, and the systematic inventory of his collection, published between 1796-1819, in four volumes, in Vienna, was the first of its kind in our country, a landmark in library science. The thought of donating his precious library “for the benefit of the homeland, which is suffering from a lack of books”, accompanied him for a long time. In 1799 he had a building erected, specifically designed with the destination of a library, which he endowed with his collection from Vienna, brought home to Târgu Mureş. From 1802, in keeping with his will, Teleki Library became public, serving the readers in town and elsewhere, who are interested in its valuable collections, even today. Samuel Teleki turned his patronage of the arts into program of life and his bibliophile passion into an institution, Bibliotheca Telekiana, which endures and grows over time, today consisting of a stock of 250,000 books. Bibliotheca Telekiana not only serves as a museum and library, but is also home to a number of cultural events and programs throughout the year.
Tue- Fri: 10:00-18:00
By Sidonia Grama
(From the special edition of TB 86 – „ENJOY TRANSYLVANIA!” – May/June 2019)