Review: Ich kenne den Zauber der Schrift (Manuscripts)

  • Manuscripts
  • 21 March 2006

Review in: Manuscripts, Vol. 58, No. 2 (Spring 2006) p. 149-152
Reviewer: William Butts

Matuschek, Oliver (editor). Ich kenne den Zauber der Schrift: Katalog und Geschichte der Autographensammlung Stefan Zweig. [I Know the Magic of Handwriting: Catalogue and History of the Autograph Collection of Stefan Zweig.] Vienna, Austria: Antiquariat Inlibris, 2005. Small 4to. Blue cloth. 432pp. Frontispiece, illustrations. Euros 68 (circa $82.52).

The Magic of Handwriting

One of the most significant autograph titles of 2005 – an exciting, important, long-overdue volume - is Ich kenne den Zauber der Schrift (I Know the Magic of Handwriting), subtitled Katalog und Geschichte der Autographensammlung Stefan Zweig (Catalogue and History of the Autograph Collection of Stefan Zweig).

Regrettably for many English-language only readers, it will also be one of the more inaccessible titles of 2005, as it is almost entirely in German. But before you commit the reader's equivalent of channel surfing and skip over to the next review, consider: 1. Austrian writer Zweig (1881-1942) was one of the most important collectors of European music and literary autographs of the first half of the 20th century. 2. Zweig's significance is largely unknown and unappreciated in the English-speaking world. 3. This volume is the first attempt to catalogue Zweig's impressive collection and reprint some of his scattered writings on autographs. Keep in mind, too, that the bulk of this book is an annotated list of Zweig's autograph holdings, and with a bit of patience even the most determined non-German speaker can decipher the basic terminology and enjoy studying Zweig's fabulous holdings. If all this still fails to persuade by all means surf away, for you are immune to temptations to which an autograph collector should not be immune.

Die Welt von Gestern (The World of Yesterday), Zweig's poignant 1942 memoir of growing up Jewish in turn-of-the-century Vienna, captured this reviewer's imagination as a college student in Vienna in the early 1980s. Intense fascination followed as I devoured Zweig's popular biographies (Balzac, Erasmus, etc.) and some of his fiction, as well as biographies of him and studies of his work. Sights connected to him were tracked down. A "Stefan Zweig Gesellschaft" (Stefan Zweig Society) that appeared in the Vienna telephone book was telephoned almost weekly for months by the budding Zweigophile eager to share his enthusiasm, but no one ever answered.

Zweig, ever the romantic, brought his psychoanalytic style of writing – not surprising for a Viennese in the Vienna of Sigmund Freud! – to autograph collecting. He delighted in collecting working manuscripts laden with crossouts, corrections, additions – the more the better. He felt that such documents truly revealed the writer's psyche and laid out the creative process before your eyes. As a beginning writer himself, he felt that studying such manuscripts gave him better insight into the creative process and made him a better writer. Naturally he began by acquiring such pieces from fellow writers and artists, but then quickly began purchasing historic pieces from dealers and at auctions. Such heavily marked manuscripts are well appreciated today, but in Zweig's day collectors looked askance at such scribblings, favoring the carefully penned Autograph Quotation Signed over any working draft. Zweig pioneered this changing attitude.

Ich kenne den Zauber der Schrift opens with Matuschek's lengthy essay, "Stefan Zweig als Autographensammler" (Stefan Zweig as Autograph Collector), a fascinating study of Zweig's evolution into philographer par excellence. This is followed by 25 brief essays by Zweig, most several pages in length, on various aspects of autograph collecting – the first time these far-flung writings have ever been gathered together under one roof, so to speak. The most famous of these by far is "Die Autographensammlung als Kunstwerk" (The Autograph Collection as a Work of Art). A superbly done facsimile of the original heavily corrected 7-page typescript of this piece (signed at the top of the first page in the purple ink Zweig often favored) is even laid in a sleeve inside the rear cover. Nice touch, indeed!

But the meat an' taters of Ich kenne is of course the 991 alphabetical autograph descriptions that fill 233 of its pages, handily divided into two sections: "Katalog Literatur, Geschichte [history], Wissenschaft [science], Kunst [art]" followed by "Katalog Musik." Each entry consists of a brief description (name of writer, type of document, number of pages, size, etc.), where acquired, current location if known. A fair number are accompanied by illustrations. (Speaking of which, among them are pictured some of Zweig's custom-printed "Autographen-Sammlung Stefan Zweig" catalogue cards, filled in by Zweig, and a detailed notebook he kept for his collection – as thrilling to see as some of the documents themselves.)

Zweig's tastes are clearly catholic, knowing few time or geographical boundaries. Plucking some names randomly from the first section, one finds choice documents from Baudelaire, William Blake, Lord Byron, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Johann Goethe (many!), Adolf Hitler… on and on, including more English and American pieces than I expected. The second section is rich in heavyweights: Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Wagner. Here Deutschland is indeed uber alles and English and American material is noticeably absent.

So even if your German is limited to Fahrvergnuegen (if you watch television or drive a V.W.) and Fingerspitzengefuehl (if you read Rostenberg and Stern's books) or is as encrusted as my once-fair Wiener Deutsch, Matuschek's Ich kenne den Zauber der Schrift is worth scraping off the barnacles and making the effort. The magic of handwriting manages to shine through.