Sunday, November 20, 2016

18 November 1830: Death of Adam Weishaupt, founder of the Illuminati

On 18 November 1830, Adam Weishaupt (b. 1748), founder of the Illuminati, died, age 82. Rarely does the modest achievement of a man stand in such disproportion to his historical reputation: the Illuminati stand at the center of one of the world's most enduring conspiracy theories, stretching from the debates over the French Revolution to today's popular culture. (Look it up yourself: it will be a good exercise in information literacy, i.e. separating real historical knowledge from bullshit.)

What I am sharing here is the title page of a little treasure from my personal library: the second edition of the second volume of Weishaupt's Apology of Discontent and Dissatisfaction (1790) a rather tedious (by modern standards; the readers of the eighteenth century were made of hardier stuff) dialogue about religion, philosophy, social change, and the meaning of life: at 366 pages. The book is unbound and remains in its worn blue interim paper wrapper, as issued.

What makes it special to me is actually less the authorship (though that is important) than the ownership: the title page bears the signature of the Friedrich Christian, Hereditary Prince of Augustenborg, in Denmark. In 1791, he granted the great German poet Friedrich Schiller a three-year pension to support him during a period of ill health. Schiller expressed his gratitude by setting forth his evolving ideas about aesthetics in a series of letters to the Prince, which formed the basis for his influential philosophical treatise, On the Aesthetic Education of Mankind (periodical publication, 1795; book edition, 1801).

Friedrich Christian reigned as Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg from 1794 until his death in 1814. The stamp of the famous Fyens (=Funen) Diocesan Library of Odense appears on the title page and inside cover, and a manuscript note on the latter indicates the book passed to that institution in 1816.

Created in 1813, the library reflected the theological needs of the clergy but was dedicated to "maintaining the scientific spirit and increasing the sum of knowledge for anybody in the province who loves science." By the 1830s, the Citizen's Library operated out of the same building. In the course of the twentieth century, the collection was merged first with that of the Odense Central Library and then the Library of the University of Southern Denmark.

The theological volumes (3,000 out of the total collection of 30,000) passed to the Library of Fuller Theological Seminary in 1948. How this particular book made it to the United States, I do not know, but now it sits on my shelf.

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[updated images 24.XI.]

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