Manuscripts in Our Collections
In somewhat simplified terms, you could say that the manuscripts are our non-printed, written cultural heritage.
Detail of the manuscript of A Dream Play by August Strindberg.
Acquire, describe, make available, and preserve manuscripts, especially in the Swedish language, by Swedish authors or about Swedish conditions; so reads the Swedish government’s formal instruction to the National Library of Sweden. But the manuscript collections are actually more diverse than that sounds. They represent many subjects and cultural areas covering almost two millennia of human history.
The National Library’s oldest manuscript is a papyrus circa 300 CE. Via medieval manuscripts, Old Swedish, Old Icelandic, manuscripts in other languages, and 17th and 18th century manuscripts, we arrive at the major personal archives of the 20th century and even, for instance, the hard disks of the modern age. A manuscript can take a variety of forms: a medieval book written on parchment, a diary from the 18th century, a typewritten manuscript, or e-mail correspondence – they all count as manuscripts. The National Library's manuscript stacks contain no less than 4 000 meters of manuscripts.
Many Roads Lead to the National Library
The manuscripts have come to the National Library through purchases, gifts, and spoils of war. Many of the important medieval manuscripts came to Sweden as booty taken in the Thirty Years’ War. One example is the 13th century Codex Gigas – the Devil’s Bible.
Queen Christina purchased a large collection of manuscripts, including a very valuable 15th century Villon manuscript and a manuscript written by Marco Polo circa 1350 that once belonged to King Charles V of France. Codex aureus, a magnificent manuscript of the four Gospels, was written in Canterbury circa 750 and came to the National Library as a gift of Johan Gabriel Sparwenfeld nearly a thousand years later in 1705.
The National Library has benefited from several major donations over the years. William Peppler’s donation, which made it possible to acquire Strindberg’s manuscript of Engelbrekt, is one example from more recent years.
Katinka Ahlbom, e-mail: email@example.com