Tomasz Makowski The Zamoyski Family Library in Warsaw as an Institute of Polish History

Under these circumstances, control of the estate was assumed by Tomasz Franciszek Zamoyski (1832-1889), the 14th Ordynat. In 1868, he erected a new building to house the BOZ collections. He hired the poet Gustaw Ehrenberg (1818-1895) as the librarian, and the archivist Leopold Hubert (1832-1884) became his plenipotentiary. However, they failed to cope with the duties and both were dismissed in 1870, a fate that also befell their successor, Professor Władysław Okęcki. Only the new librarian nominated in July 1872, Professor Józef Przyborowski (1823-1896) - a philologist, historian and former director of the Main Library in Warsaw - managed to organize the collection, assisted in this task by his helper Feliks Miński, a library employee since mid 1871 (he died in 1897). Call numbers were assigned, and over 50 thousand books, etchings, maps and atlases were entered in the inventory books. The team also catalogued the collection of manuscripts (around 2,000 volumes) and the uncatalogued part of the archives. The arrangement of the inventories and stacks developed under Przyborowski’s direction was preserved until World War II. This is not, however, the example that I will use to convince you of the exceptional role of libraries in the 19th century.

In 1897, after Przyborowski’s death, the new Ordynat, Maurycy Zamoyski (1871-1939), appointed a new librarian to the Zamoyski Estate, Tadeusz Korzon (1839-1918), the founder and most eminent representative of the Warsaw historical school. After Feliks Miński, who died a year after Przyborowski, the post of librarian’s helper was assumed by the then already well-known writer, Stefan Żeromski (1864 - 1925).

Under Korzon’s management, BOZ became an important scholarly  centre, and as Bogdan Horodyski rightly put it, “an unofficial and clandestine institute of Polish history.”1 The BOZ source material - crucial for the exploration of the past – plus an excellent collection of historical works, convenient conditions of access, and the authority of the librarian attracted the intellectual elite, while on Wednesday evenings Warsaw intellectuals turned up at the Professor’s flat. Korzon took BOZ over as a recognized scholar, following the publication of his greatest work, Wewnętrzne dzieje Polski za Stanisława Augusta [The Internal History of Poland under King Stanisław August] (1882-1888), and his criticism of the Cracow school, which he disparaged in the paper Wady historiografii naszej w budowaniu dziejów Polski [Shortcomings of our Historiography in Building the History of Poland] (1889). Historiography has adopted the view that he “stood aside” as a “loner in the [Warsaw] historical milieu.” This view finds no confirmation in the preserved fragment of Korzon’s correspondence - probably never quoted up to now - which plainly indicates that he was in the midst of numerous scholarly and social initiatives. Likewise, no confirmation has been found for the opinion that he obstructed access to the holdings. Some scholars were indeed sent away with the words “Darling, there is nothing of interest for you here.” However, this was not due to his ill will but rather to his excellent knowledge of the holdings.

In Przyborowski’s and Korzon’s times only two people worked at BOZ – Przyborowski and Korzon themselves together with their helpers, and a janitor. That was the entire staff on whose shoulders rested first of all the organization of the existing resources, followed by acquisition work, frequent purchases of huge collections (such as those of Władysław Trębicki or Karol Beyer), access and reader supervision, and queries for the Ordynat and members of the Zamoyski family. Tadeusz Korzon described one day (Monday, 14th June 1903) in a letter to Stefan Żeromski: “Moreover, since yesterday Professor [Jan] Czubek, dumped here from the Academy [of Skills in Cracow], has made himself at home in the Library. Also unusual visits occur. Today, as we were both in the course of rewriting a funeral speech, in tandem and in great haste, Deotyma [Jadwiga Łuszczewska, a well-known writer] entered, followed soon after by Marya Gorecka [a writer and daughter of Adam Mickiewicz].” 2

According to Jerzy Maternicki’s estimates, around 500 historians worked within Poland’s territory in 1905-1914, including ca. 320 in Galicia, and ca. 115 in the Russian partition.3 It was only the regaining of Poland’s independence in 1918 that principally affected the geography of Polish scholarly life. It was then that Warsaw gained most of the positions for historians engaged in scholarly activity.

Visits of historians at BOZ were indeed meetings of a scholarly nature, or seminars, where the librarian himself was a professor, while his helper was a professor’s assistant. Whether Żeromski was a suitable person for the position of assistant or not is a completely different matter. It is hard to agree that there was a growing tension in their relations.4 The situation should rather be associated with a change in the writer’s attitude, who during his work at BOZ published Ludzie Bezdomni (Homeless People) and Popioły (Ashes).5 These novels not only paved his way into the literary elite, but first of all ensured him financial independence. Korzon watched this with understanding. However, he did not intend to do the work which Żeromski was obliged to perform. There is no trace in the historical sources of any confrontation between the two gentlemen. It seems that Korzon had a soft spot for Żeromski. Even in the case of an evident offence, when Żeromski took a valuable book to Nałęczów without obtaining Korzon’s permission, Korzon showed a far-reaching tolerance.6 They shared an interest in history. Tadeusz Korzon is considered to be the person who inspired Żeromski’s vision of the Polish past,7 although one should remember the difference in sensitivity – for the historian, truth was a matter of principle.8

1 B. Horodyski, Zarys dziejów Biblioteki Ordynacji Zamojskiej [History of the Zamoyski Family Library. An Outline] in: Studia nad książką poświęcone pamięci Kazimierza Piekarskiego [Studies in Book Science Dedicated to the Memory of Kazimierz Piekarski], Warszawa 1951, p. 336.

2 A letter of Tadeusz Korzon to Stefan Żeromski of 15th June 1903 – BN, MS 17218 vol. 18.

3 J. Maternicki, Warszawskie środowisko historyczne 1832-1869 [The Warsaw Historical Milieu 1832-1869], Warszawa 1970, p. 125.

4 M.Ruszczyc, Praca biblioteczna Stefana Żeromskiego [Library Work of Stefan Żeromski], in: Bibliotekarz, 31, 1964, No. 7/8, p. 223.

5 Korzon read Ashes at the beginning of August 1903. He was hardly enthusiastic about it. “Amongst idle playing, almost every day I hold a session of reading Ashes out loud and each time I evoke loud symptoms of indignation and condemnation.” 

6 The letter of Tadeusz Korzon to Stefan Żeromski of 15th June 1903 – ibid. Żeromski used the book while writing Ashes . See A. Grodzicki, Źródła historyczne “Popiołów” Żeromskiego [Historical Sources of Żeromski’s “Ashes”], in: Rocznik Wydziału Filozoficznego UJ, 1, 1930-1934 (copy, Kraków 1935), p. 78.

7 K. Wyka, Żeromski jako pisarz historyczny [Żeromski as a Historical Writer], in: Stefan Żeromski, Warszawa 1951, pp. 167-168; A. Hutnikiewicz, Żeromski, Warszawa 2000, p. 209. Cf. S. Zabierowski, Udział Askenazego i jego szkoły w genezie „Popiołów” [The Role of Askenazy and His School in the Genesis of “Ashes”], in: Pamiętnik Literacki, 56, 1965, f. 1, pp. 216-217.

8 See the letter of Tadeusz Korzon to Wanda Prószyńska of 6th August 1903 – BN, MS II 5947 f. 18.