Duke History Professor Thomas Robisheaux: "The Jantz Collection, along with the Faber du Faur Collection at Yale, which complements it, represents the most significant collection of late sixteenth, seventeenth and early eighteenth century printed German books outside Germany. . . . Jantz had an eye for the unusual: books on travel, politics, moral conduct, alchemy, magic, and wonders, religious devotion, and many other subjects. What was unusual then, however, has become mainstream and exciting today, as scholars have broadened their interests to study works that better reflect the everyday experience, thought, and culture from this period. One comes across works like these: an everyman's encyclopedia from 1750; a moral satire told with ribald Rabelaisian wit from 1610; a manual on correct political titles and forms of address in the Holy Roman Empire; a witch hunter's manual; the mysterious alchemical wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, one of the best-seller occult books of the 1600s; a stern and serious Jesuit morality play; a credulous tale of the all-powerful sorcerer, Dr. Faustus. There are also many works of fiction and poetry, German and Neo-Latin as well. Still, many of these works do not easily fit our notions of early print culture from this era, and this is what makes it a resource for discovery, a fabulous resource. . . ."
(from Special Collections Broadside, Spring 1998)
Duke Professor of German and Education Frank L. Borchardt: "The Jantz Collection was the chief monument of the life’s work of scholar and teacher Harold Jantz (1907-1987). He was educated into the great tradition of modern philology as a pupil of Alexander Hohlfeld at the University of Wisconsin. In his student years he started collecting old books, first German baroque literature. He loved to tell of those titles, vastly under-priced by modern standards, that got away in those years, just beyond the reach of a meager student budget in the 1930s.
The end of World War II found Jantz in Vienna and soon thereupon as a Fulbright professor at the University of Hamburg, where he was charged with the task of reviving American Studies in the new West Germany. In both cities, he kept dealers in old and rare books in business as one of their very few knowledgeable, and flush, customers. Any thought that these book dealers may have resented parting with their treasures at bargain basement prices was dissipated one year , much later, when he was teaching at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He gave a list of those very book dealers to a student heading for Europe for a summer. The student was exploring the women’s novel of the eighteenth century. She returned from the trip quite empty handed. Harold returned the same summer with piles of women’s novels of the eighteenth century. The dealers kept such things under their counters until Jantz had had a chance to look them over.
In the chaotic years before World War II, a normative library of early modern German literature made its way to the United States in the form of the fine von Faber du Faur collection at Yale. The Yale collection focused on the great and famous writers in first and early editions. Jantz’s collecting had a different shape, attending less vigorously to the canonical masterpieces and concentrating on the great diversity of literary and paraliterary works which those authors and their successors were likely to have read. This included travel literature, utopias, sermons, commonplace books (encyclopedic handbooks to help the preacher write those sermons), histories, writings on the occult, witchcraft, and Rosicrucianism, on opera and literary theory, and illustrated books of all kinds. To the untutored eye, the array of topics may seem a mess. To the student of the era, it clearly represents what educated persons of the time would have had in their libraries, not just for edification and information but also for amusement and distraction.
Harold Jantz relished the jocus serius, the serious joke. He wrote three essays on literary history, “German Renaissance Literature” (1966), “German Baroque Literature” (1962), and “German Classical Literature,” which blew up the literary canon. The “what if” of the essays suggested: “What if we went and looked again at the broad spectrum of what writers actually wrote and read in our eras of literary study?” Maybe what the “canon” tells us might need to be looked at again. Each of the essays was based in large part on treasures, most rare, some unique, in the Jantz Collection, at the time, known only to Jantz.
Whatever other potential explosives the Jantz Collection may house, it will continue to provide the possibility of reconstructing in later times the day-to-day reality of an older time, insofar as that reality was captured in books."
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