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The Corvey Library Collection: A Short Report The Corvey Project at
Sheffield Hallam University


From BARS (British Association for Romantic Studies) Bulletin and Review No. 4, March 1993


Corvey Castle, situated on the River Weser in the easternmost part of North Rhine-Westphalia near Hoxter, contains one of the largest privately owned book collections in Germany. The library now belongs to Franz-Albrect Metternich-Sandor, Prinz von Ratibor und Corvey. The whole stock consists of 67,000 volumes, mainly purchased between 1790 and 1834. The bibliomanic ancestor of the present owner, the Landgrave of Hesse-Rotenburg, Viktor Amadeus (1779-1834), and his wife Elise von Hohenlohe-Langenburg (1790-1830) were the most important collectors of the library as it exists today. They were able to buy nearly every contemporary title, including books in all fields. Consequently, the library holds a unique collection of books from the Romantic period.

For more than a century the treasures of the library remained undiscovered. In 1985 Dr. Rainer Schöwerling, a professor of English at Paderborn University, drew attention to the enormous importance of this collection. With the end of Corvey's slumber a challenging bibliographical project started. Under the guidance of Prof. Schöwerling and Prof. Dr. Hartmut Steinecke of the German Department, Paderborn University was given exclusive rights to investigate and catalogue the Corvey Library. The aim of the project is to secure this rare collection and to make its resources available to scholars. This is currently being achieved by microfiching the main parts of the library. In addition, unique books will be issued as reprints.

One third of the holdings at Corvey consists of English, German, and French fiction. The significance of the holdings lies in the enormous representation of "trivial" genres, such as novels, travel literature, biographies, and memoirs, which offer new perspectives on literary history. Four research programmes deal with these genres: one on the German novel between 1815-1830 (Steincke, Paderborn); a second on German drama at the beginning of the nineteenth century (Oellers, Bonn); a third on the history of the library (Schöwerling, Paderborn); and a fourth on the reception of English novels in Germany (Schöwerling, Paderborn). At an international conference in 1990 first results of these research programmes were discussed.1 The next Corvey Symposium will probably be held at Paderborn in the autumn of 1993.

Two-thirds of a total of 3,300 English belles-lettres titles held in the library are novels. This vast accumulation of a special genre of the romantic era represents an outstanding stock of the book production in this period. An analysis by Peter Garside, University of Wales, Cardiff, shows that the library holds almost 80% of the annual production of English novels in the early 1800s and achieved nearly complete coverage of the market in the 1820s.

Based on this extraordinary collection, international co-operation between the Corvey Project and two British universities -- namely Cambridge and Cardiff -- was initiated. The aim of this co-operative effort is a comprehensive bibliography of the English novel between 1770 and 1830. For further information contact Projekt Corvey, Universität Paderborn, Warburger Str. 100, D-4790 Paderborn.

Angelika Schlimmer and Karin Wünsche
Universität Gesamthochschule Paderborn

1. See Rainer Schöwerling and Helmut Steinke (eds.), Der Fürstliche Bibliothek Corvey. Ihre Bedeutung für eine neue Sicht der Literatur des frühen 19. Jahrhunderts. Beiträdes 1. Internationalen Corvey - Symposions 25-27 Oktober 1990 in Paderborn (Munchen, 1992). (Corvey-Studien, Vol.1)