Tomasz Szwaciński


In the margins of The Inventory of Manuscripts from the Załuski Library in the Imperial Public Library, Warsaw, 2013, National Library of Poland, 612 pages.


The Załuski Library (known from 1774 as the Library of the Commonwealth Also Called Załuski) was one of the major achievements of Polish culture throughout its entire history. The idea dates back to 1732, becoming a public library open to everyone fifteen years later, and in 1780 it took on the features of a modern national library. It was one of the initiatives that paved the way for the “intellectual revolution in Poland” and facilitated the “building of a new Polish life” during the reign of King Stanisław August. 

Upon the Third Partition of Poland and the annihilation of the Polish state by Russia, Prussia and Austria, the book collection was removed to St. Petersburg. Following the Treaty of Riga of 1921, when Soviet Russia undertook to restore the cultural heritage plundered from Poland, most of the manuscripts and a large proportion of the prints were returned to Warsaw. A huge portion of these collections were burned by the German Nazis after the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Thus, the history of the first Polish national library book collection reflects both glorious and tragic moments of the nation’s history. 

The founders of the library, brothers Andrzej Stanisław and Józef Andrzej Załuski, apart from collecting books, supplemented their holdings immensely with manuscript resources whose amount (in 1795) is sometimes estimated at as many as 20,000 items. Slightly more than a half of the manuscript collection was taken away to St. Petersburg, from which – apart from a few hundred items – the majority was reclaimed back to Warsaw, later to be destroyed by the occupiers. 

Naturally, the irrevocable loss of a tremendous part of the Załuski Library manuscript collection did not exempt researchers from investigating this collection. Apart from studies on the surviving part of the manuscripts, researchers have aimed to gather as much information as possible in order to describe the collection as a whole, at least in general terms. This has been hindered by the fact that no data is available on the manuscript catalogue of the Załuski Library covering the entire collection,1 as the selective hand-written catalogues have been burned,2 while all the printed descriptions, although valuable, fail to reflect the entire collection.3

This seemingly insuperable problem was mitigated thanks to the library aids of the Imperial Public Library (IPL), where the manuscripts of the Załuski Library had been stored for over a hundred years, and where a small part are still held up to this day. In the years 1806–1807, the collection was transferred to the Manuscript Depot of the IPL managed by Peter Dubrovsky. It was then that the first systematic lists of the codices brought from Warsaw were drawn up in Russia, under the general title Registre des ouvrages et volumes des manuscripts livrés à Monsieur le Conseiller de Collège et chevalier Doubrowsky [Register of works and manuscript volumes delivered to the honourable collegiate councillor and chevalier Dubrovsky]. 

Two researchers of the National Library of Russia (the successor to the IPL), Olga Bleskina and Natalia Elagina, undertook an edition of this valuable source for any research concerning the Załuski Library collection, in close collaboration with two researchers of the Manuscript Department of the National Library in Warsaw, Sławomir Szyller and Krzysztof Kossarzecki.

The publication opens with an introduction written jointly by the directors of the two libraries, Tomasz Makowski, PhD, and Anton Likhomanov, PhD, who underscore the good will on both sides of the project. This seems noteworthy, considering the troublesome historical experiences dividing Poles and Russians, especially since the Załuski Library is one of the more painful elements. To this day, both nations disagree in the evaluation of many past events, therefore without their good will, joint initiatives such as this seem hard to attempt. 

The article by Olga Bleskina (in three languages: English, Russian and Polish, pp. 11–79) The Revival: International Project for the Reconstruction of the Załuski Library Manuscripts tells the history of the book collection from the moment it was taken from Warsaw to St. Petersburg, including the circumstances of the creation of the 47 volumes that form the Register.4 The overview describes its editorial principles, and the Author has also analysed the source material on which this edition is based.

Olga Bleskina is right to mention the dispersion of many prints and manuscripts during the evacuation of the collections from Warsaw and in the first years in St. Petersburg.5 Besides, the Bishop of Kiev estimated the number of manuscripts held in his book depository at 18,000.6 Even if this number is exaggerated, we must assume that a lion’s share of the collection has been lost. The Author emphasises that “over time” duplicates (which most likely refers to prints only) were being sent to other Russian depositories (pp. 57-58). It ought to be added that the holdings (including manuscripts) were also subject to planned dispersion between the time that they reached St. Petersburg and the year 1806.7 Consequently, those manuscripts that had been separated from the main collection were not included in the Register. 

1 P. Bańkowski, Rękopisy rewindykowane przez Polskę z Z.S.R.R. na podstawie traktatu ryskiego i ich dotychczasowe opracowania [Manuscripts Reclaimed by Poland from the USSR pursuant to the Treaty of Riga and the Related Studies to Date], Kraków, 1937, p. 23.

2 Spis historycznych katalogów zwróconych stronie polskiej [List of Historical Catalogues Restored to Poland], National Library of Russia (hereinafter referred to as NLR), Otdel Arhivnyh Dokumentov (Department of Archival Records, hereinafter referred to as DAR), F. 9, d. 30, f. 9v; P. Bańkowski, Rękopisy… [Manuscripts…], pp. 23-27; M. Łodyński, Z dziejów “Biblioteki Rzeczypospolitej Załuskich zwanej” w l. 1785-94, Warszawa, 1935, pp. 53, 59.

3 Polish researchers had at their disposal nothing but a list prepared by the Rev. B. Ussas, covering ca. 6,400 items, thus less than half of the Polish claims, Wykaz rękopisów odebranych z Ros. Biblioteki Publicznej w Piotrogrodzie za czas od 14 XI 1922 do 19 lutego 1924 włącznie, rękopisy polskie, łacińskie oraz różnojęzyczne [List of Manuscripts Reclaimed from the Russian Public Library in Petrograd for the period from 14/11/1922 to 19/02/1924 incl.; Polish, Latin and Other Manuscripts], BN rps akc. 4722. 

4 Volume 33 contains two lists (pp. 76-77 and 258-271), so the total number of lists is 48. Some of these have a joint, sequential item numbering. 

5 Let us add that T. Czacki was the one who most actively and illegally acquired manuscripts from the holdings of the Załuskis in the years directly following their removal from Warsaw, as he stayed in Russia in connection with the coronation of Paul I. The codices he obtained were subsequently transported to Poryck, and then (via Puławy) to the Czartoryski Library in Cracow: M. Антоновский, “Записка Михаила Ивановича Антоновского”, Русский Архив, vol. 23 (1885), part. 2, p. 168; A. Knot, “Czacki Tadeusz”, PSB [Polish Biographic Dictionary], vol. 4, Cracow, 1938, p. 145. The Cracow manuscript (BC 1287) bears typical Załuski marks. 

6 P. Bańkowski, Rękopisy… [Manuscripts…], p. 11. 

7 A draft report by M. Antovsky for A. Stronanov regarding the book collection brought from Warsaw reads: “Часть знатная сей библиотеки, а именно все медицинския книги, на всех языках, отдана по высочайшему повелению 1799 года в Медицинскую коллегию. Сколько же именно каких языков книг печатных и рукописных, всему тому прилагается валовая роспись под буквою В”, M. Antonovsky to A. Stroganov, St. Petersburg 15(26)/01/1800, NLR, DAR, F. 1, d. 1797/1, f. 9v. In a later version of this text, we can find the following information: “Из каличества разкласификованных книг по высочайшим повелениям, медицинския отданы в Медицинскую коллегию, а касающияся до наук преподававших в духовных училищях ныне требуются к отдаче во Святлейший синод, назначенным от онаго синодальным членам”, M. Antonovsky to A. Stroganov, St. Petersburg 26/01 (16/02)/1800, ibid., f. 65v.