The Correspondence of Jan Amos Comenius [Komenský] (566 letters)

Primary Contributors:

Jiří Beneš, Marta Bečková, Markéta Klosová, Lenka Reznikova, Vladimír Urbánek, and Cultures of Knowledge


Jan Amos Comenius (Komenský), by Jürgen Ovens (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; source of image: Rijksmuseum).

Jan Amos Comenius [Komenský] (1592–1670)

The influence of the pedagogue and pansophist Jan Amos Comenius, who provided inspiration for much of the activity of the German-born intelligencer Samuel Hartlib and his circle, was felt the length and breadth of Europe. In his native Moravia, Comenius emerged as a figure emblematic of Bohemian difficulties and aspirations. A pioneering educational theorist, a visionary utopian reformer, the last bishop of the Czech Unity of Brethren, and a witness to the devastating impact of the Bohemian revolt of 1618–20 on the Protestant communities of his homeland, Comenius was a man whose itinerant career as a refugee intellectual took him through most of the Protestant world: from Moravia, through Bohemia, Silesia, Germany, Poland, Prussia, Hungary, Transylvania, Sweden, England, and the Dutch Republic.


Partners and Additional Contributors

As they work towards a new critical edition, the Prague research group, based in the Czech Academy of Sciences, has assembled a database of letters written by Comenius that may be located today in numerous libraries and archives across Europe and in printed formats. Under the auspices of the Cultures of Knowledge project, this original database has been upgraded, expanded and enhanced and (where necessary) translated and now is published in EMLO. Copyright permissions to reproduce all the material has been obtained and the database of Comenius’s correspondence has been complemented with digital facsimiles of the manuscript letters themselves. This upgraded resource that you find in EMLO will form the basis for the new, critical, and fully annotated edition of Comenius’s complete correspondence, to be published within the standard edition of his Opera Omnia currently being prepared by the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague.

The 483 Comenius records that featured initially in EMLO were checked and translated by the Cultures of Knowledge Postdoctoral Fellows Dr Iva Lelková and Dr Kateřina Horníčková, with the additional support of Dr Vladimír Urbánek, in association with the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences. The original Czech database was compiled by Jiří Beneš, Marta Bečková, Markéta Klosová, Lenka Reznikova, and Vladimír Urbánek. Letters added subsequently were entered by Iva Lelková as part of her work within the Czech Academy of Sciences project ‘Correspondence networks between Central and Western Europe: From Comenius and Kircher to Hartlib and Oldenburg’, which funds cooperation between the Institute of Philosophy at the Czech Academy of Sciences and the University of Oxford. Cultures of Knowledge would like to thank Sue Burgess for her help with the ingestion of the metadata from the original database into EMLO.


Contents

Today, the manuscripts of the letters recorded in EMLO, 566 in total, may be found in thirty-six institutions in thirty-two European cities. The letters span the years from 1622 to 1670, the year of Comenius’s death.

Detail from letter of 8 April 1662 from Jan Amos Komenský to Arnošt Maxmilián Lukavský z Lukavice (© Knihovna Národního muzea, Prague, shelfmark 1 Bb 1/65, ff 1a-2b).




Provenance

The largest clusters of Comenius’s surviving letters may be located now in the National Museum in Prague, amongst the Hartlib Papers at Sheffield University Library, and in the State Archives, Poznań. The Leszno collection, a significant portion of Comenius’s entire correspondence, which was discovered in the mid-nineteenth century, was purchased for the library of the National Museum in Prague, where it became the basis for what is now the largest single collection of his letters.


Scope of Catalogue

A brief history of attempts to assemble and edit Comenius’s correspondence, with a bibliography of published editions, compiled by Vladimír Urbánek

The long-standing Czech intention to assemble and publish a critical, annotated edition of Comenius’s correspondence has been frustrated by a variety of factors. In the first place, Comenius lacked anything like the institutional base enjoyed by figures such as John Wallis. On the contrary, he witnessed twice the destruction of his library and personal papers: once in Fulnek (Moravia) after 1620, and again in Leszno (Great Poland) in 1656. Instead, wandering across the face of Europe, he found contacts and left letters scattered everywhere: to date, fragments of his correspondence have been located in thirty-six institutions in thirty-two European cities — the largest of these are the collections assembled in the National Museum in Prague, the papers of his friend, Samuel Hartlib, now in the Sheffield University Library, and in the State Archives in Poznań.

The discovery of a substantial portion of his correspondence in Leszno in the mid-nineteenth century contributed significantly to Czech research on Comenius in the subsequent period, which then began to recognize Comenius not only as an important writer on education but also a crucial influence on the development of Czech culture and a figure paradigmatic of Czech history more generally. The Leszno collection was purchased for the library of the National Museum in Prague, where it became the basis for what is now the largest single collection of his letters. The first edition of Comenius’s correspondence edited by Adolf Patera, published in 1892 and supported financially by the Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts, was based primarily on this collection. It was followed by two volumes in 1898 and 1902 edited by Jan Kvačala, who collected material during an astonishingly wide-ranging and often rather hectic series of research trips in the 1890s to a great number of libraries and archives, most notable amongst them the British Library. A number of letters from Patera’s and Kvačala’s editions were reprinted later by Kvačala in a volume of the Monumenta Germaniae Pedagogica in 1903–04 with the aim of increasing their accessibility to German scholars. Kvačala’s last book devoted to Comenius’s correspondence was his Analecta Comeniana of 1909, which added further letters from Paris, Poznań, and Wilno.

Since the major collections by Patera and Kvačala, numerous letters have been discovered in scattered archives, many appearing for the first time in small clusters published within a wide variety of specialist journals and rare pamphlets which are difficult to obtain. Substantial progress in editing Comenius’s correspondence was made after the Second World War thanks mainly to the rediscovery of the Hartlib Papers by G. H. Turnbull. Czech scholars such as Dagmar Čapková, Marie Kyralová, Julie Nováková, and especially the Czech-Norwegian biographer of Comenius, Milada Blekastad, continued these editorial efforts. The short period of liberalization of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia in the late 1960s enabled some of these scholars to travel abroad to collect transcripts and photocopies of some material from the Hartlib Papers and also to acquaint themselves with the early work of Charles Webster, which helped them contextualize Comenius’s correspondence with Hartlib and his circle and greatly enhanced its significance. These contacts, however, were interrupted at the early 1970s due to political purges within Czech academic circles. As late as in the mid-1970s, the outstanding expert in Comenius’s correspondence and manuscripts, Mirjam Bohatcová, noted that all attempts to collect Comenius’s letters had been largely incidental and uncoordinated, lacking a systematic approach. Her own contribution — the most detailed and systematic list of Comenius’s correspondence yet compiled — was based on published letters, since the conditions of the Cold War placed insurmountable political obstacles in the way of any coordinated search of European libraries and archives on an international basis.

Building on this work, the group of Comenius scholars based at the Institute of Philosophy in the Czech Academy (including Jiří Beneš, Marta Bečková, Markéta Klosová, and Vladimír Urbánek) set out between 1995 and 1997 to create an electronic database of all known letters from Comenius. Most of the items in this database have now been checked against original manuscripts in a manner impossible before 1989 — a process greatly facilitated especially during the mid-1990s by the close cooperation of British scholars working on the Hartlib Papers Project in Sheffield.


Further resources

Published Editions

Hessels, J. H., ed., Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae archivum, vols 2–3 (Cambridge, 1889–97); seven letters from the elders of the Unity of Brethren (including Comenius) or from Comenius personally to the Dutch Church in London (now in the Guildhall Library, London).

Korrespondence Jana Amosa Komenského, ed. Adolf Patera (Prague, 1897); 175 letters from Comenius to various addressees, 23 letters from various persons to Comenius, 46 letters of other persons (Dury, Skytte, Figulus, Pell, de Geer, amongst others) related to Comenius (mostly from the collections of the National Museum in Prague, but also from other sources, for example Swedish archives and libraries).

Korrespondence Jana Amosa Komenského, ed. Jan Kvačala, 2 vols (Prague, 1898–1902); 113 letters from Comenius to various addressees, 55 letters from various persons to Comenius, 288 letters of other persons (Hartlib, Hübner, Dury, J. V. Andreae, J. Mochinger, P. Figulus, J. Pell, R. Boyle, A. Bourignon, Hesenthaler, Leibniz, de Geer, among others) related to Comenius (from various Polish, English, Hungarian, Swedish, Swiss, Dutch, German, Danish, and Czech collections).

Patera, Adolf, ‘Dopisy J. A. Komenského k Drabíkovi’, Časopis Českého Musea, 73 (1899), pp. 59–74; eleven letters between Comenius and Drabík.

Kvačala, Jan, ed., Die pädagogische Reform des Comenius in Deutschland bis zum Ausgange des XVII Jahrhunderts, Monumenta Germaniae Paedagogica, 26 and 32 (Berlin, 1903–04); numerous letters from Patera’s and Kvačala’s editions were reprinted here (including 35 letters from Comenius).

Zollinger, Fr., Joh. Jak. Redinger und seine Beziehungen zu Johann Amos Comenius (Zürich, 1905), pp. 157–66; nine letters between Comenius and Redinger, from the Staatsarchiv in Zürich.

Kvacala, J., ed., Analecta Comeniana: Briefe des Comenius und seiner Freunde aus der Elbinger Zeit (Jurjev, 1909–10); twelve letters from Comenius to various addressees (Mersenne, Hevelius), from Poznań, Vilno, and the Bibliotheque National, Paris.

Danysz, A., ‘Nieznany list Jana Amosa Komenskiego’, Muzeum, 26 (1910), I, pp.24–8; one letter from Comenius to Leszczynski from the Czartoryski Library, Cracow [repr. J. Macůrek, ‘Z korespondence pobělohorské emigrace', Sborník prací Filosofické fakulty Brněnské university, 23–24 (1975), C, p. 164].

Odložilík, Otakar, ‘Z pansofických studií J. A. Komenského’, Časopis Matice Moravské, 52 (1928), pp. 125–98; four letters from Comenius in the Public Record Office, London, now in a private collection.

Volf, Josef, Ein unbekannter Brief des J. A. Comenius an Martin Opitz (n.p., 1928); one letter of Comenius to Martin Opitz from the University Library, Wroclaw, published as an independent pamphlet including the Latin original, a German translation, and a facsimile edition of the letter.

Young, R. F., ‘Comenius and the Royal Society’, The Times Literary Supplement, 11 Oct 1928, p. 736; one letter from Comenius to Oldenburg, in the archives of the Royal Society of London.

Hrubý, František, ‘Prosebný list 36 českomoravských kněží emigrantů knížeti Kryštofu Radziwillovi z r. 1629′, Český časopis historický, 38 (1932), pp.109–13; one letter from 36 Bohemian and Moravian exiled ministers (incl. Comenius) to Krzysztof Radziwill, from the Kornik Library (Polish Academy of Sciences), Poland, see pp. 111–13.

Young, R. F., ‘Nový list Komenského’, Časopis Národního Musea, 107 (1933), pp. 107–09; one letter from Comenius to J. H. Ott, from the library of the French Hospital La Providence in Horsham, Sussex.

Odložilík, Otakar, ‘Dva listy Komenského Gdanskému kazateli Arn. Andreae’, Archiv pro badání o životě a spisech J. A. Komenského, 14 (1937), pp. 3–6; two letters of Comenius to Ernst Andreae in the British Library, published in the predecessor of Acta Comeniana.

Ryba, Bohumil, ed., ‘K latinské korespondenci J. A. Komenského’, Listy filologické, 73 (1949), pp. 178–86; one letter from Comenius to J. Wolzogen, in the National Museum Library, Prague, see pp. 181–3.

Čapková, Dagmar, ed., ‘Unpublished Letters by Comenius’, Acta Comeniana, 2 (1970), pp. 285–94; three letters from Comenius to Hartlib and Moriaen, from the Hartlib Papers.

Forster, L. W., ‘A Note on Comenius’s Letters to Martin Opitz’, Acta Comeniana, 2 (1970), pp. 295–7; one letter from Comenius to Opitz, in the Cambridge University Library, see p. 296.

Molnár, Amedeo, ed., ‘Dva dopisy J. A. Komenského’, Sedm statí o Komenském (Prague, 1971), pp. 110–15; two letters of Comenius to T. Zwinger and the Basel church, from the University Library, Basel.

Nordström, Stig G. and Sjöstrand, Wilhelm, eds, Comenius’ självbiografi — Comenius about Himself (Uppsala, 1976), pp. 267–83; letters of individuals largely within the de Geer correspondence network, including Comenius, Dury, Matthiae, and Oxenstierna, mostly from the Swedish archives.

Blekastad, Milada, ed., Unbekannte Briefe des Comenius und seiner Freunde, 1641–1661 (Ratingen, 1976); 33 letters from Comenius to Hartlib, Beale, Figulus, and Arthur Annesley, and nine letters from Johann Moriaen to Comenius and Hartlib, all from the Hartlib Papers; five letters from Figulus to Axel Oxenstierna, from the Riksarkivet in Stockholm.

Nováková, Julie, ed., ‘Fragment d’une letter de Coménius envoyée en France en 1666′, Acta Comeniana, 5 (1983), pp. 157–9; the fragment of a Comenius letter to unknown addressees, perhaps the counsellors of Louis XIV, preserved in his manuscript Clamores Eliae, the State Archives in Poznań.

Čapková, Dagmar and Kyralová, Marie, eds, ‘Unpublished Letters of J. A. Comenius (Komenský)’, Acta Comeniana, 6 (1985), pp. 16–78; four letters from Comenius, in the Hartlib Papers.

Nováková, Julie, ed., ‘Der Brief des Johann Christoph Pergar an Samuel Hartlib vom 24. 12. 1638′, Acta Comeniana, 6 (1985), pp. 179–83; one letter of Comenius’s Moravian compatriot J. C. Berger von Berg to Hartlib, from the Hartlib Papers.

Čapková, Dagmar and Kyralová, Marie, eds, ‘Unpublished Letters of J. A. Comenius (Komenský) II’, Acta Comeniana, 7 (1987), pp. 179–84; three further letters from Comenius, in the Hartlib Papers.

Mout, Nicolette, ed., ‘A Letter of Mikuláš Drabík to the Earl of Pembroke (1664)’, Acta Comeniana, 7 (1987), pp. 185–92; from Koninklijk Huisarchief, The Hague.

Blekastad, Milada, ed., ‘Peter Figulus: Letters to Samuel Hartlib’, Lychnos (1988), pp.201–45; 27 letters from Figulus to Hartlib, all from the Hartlib Papers.

Kumpera, Jan, Pasáčková, Eva, and Jelenová, Jarmila, eds, ‘Pozvání Komenského do Francie v roce 1642. Dopisy Saint Romaina de Seneva (Senevas) a Antoina Rossignola’, Studia Comeniana et historica, 19 (1989), no. 37, pp. 20–30; three letters of Saint Romain de Seneve and Antoin Rossignol to Comenius from the Hartlib Papers (already published by Turnbull; freshly transcribed here with Czech translations and brief footnotes).

Pasáčková, Eva and Kumpera, Jan, eds., ‘Z anglických komenian (Tři Komenského dopisy Hartlibovi z let 1657-1662)’, Studia Comeniana et historica, 20 (1990), no. 42, pp. 41–57; three letters of Comenius to Hartlib, from the Hartlib Papers (one of them already published in Acta Comeniana, 7; here with Latin originals and Czech translations).

Kyralová, Marie. ed., ‘Der erste Bericht von Comenius über den Brand von Leszno im April 1656′, Acta Comeniana, 17 (2003), pp. 183–9; one letter of Peter Figulus to Pavel Oniáš which includes an extract from a letter by Comenius describing the destruction of Leszno, from the State Archives in Poznan.

Kármán, Gábor, ed., ‘Comenius and Sweden 1655–1656: New Sources from the Riksarkivet (Stockholm)’, Acta Comeniana, 18 (2004), pp. 179–211; sixteen letters, from the Riksarkivet in Stockholm, see pp. 189–211.


Further Reading

Valuable lists of primary and secondary sources on Comenius are provided on the websites of the Deutsche Comenius-Gessellschaft and the Oddělení pro studium a edici díla Jana Amose Komenského. As an introduction to the field, a few of the most basic resources are itemized below:

Dílo Jana Amose Komenského [Johannis Amos Comenii Opera Omnia] (Prague, 1969–). The standard edition of Comenius’s works, currently in production at Czech Academy of Sciences.

Blekastad, Milada, Comenius. Versuch eines Umrisses von Leben, Werk und Schicksal des Jan Amos Komenský (Oslo–Prague, 1969). The standard biography: voluminous and wide-ranging.

Comenius, J. A., De rerum humanarum emendatione culsultatio catholica, ed. J. Červenka and V. T. Miškovskà, 2 vols (Prague, 1966). The editio princeps of Comenius’s unfinished and long-lost summative work, not yet included in DJAK.

Heydorn, Heinz-Joachim, ed., Jan Amos Comenius. Geschichte und Aktualität 1670–1970 (Glashütten im Taunus, 1971), vol. 1. The most comprehensive bibliography of Comenius’s works.

Michel, Gerhard and Beer, Jürgen, eds and tr., Johann Amos Comenius: Leben, Werk und Wirken. Autobiographische Texte und Notizen (Sankt Augustin, 1992). A valuable introduction collection of largely autobiographical texts, arranged chronologically.

Urbánek, Vladimír, ‘The Network of Comenius’s Correspondents’, Acta Comeniana, 12 (1997), pp. 63–78. The most comprehensive overview of Comenius’s circle of correspondents.

Acta Comeniana. Internationale Revue für Studien über J. A. Comenius und Ideengeschichte der Frühen Neuzeit/International Review of Comenius Studies and Early Modern Intellectual History (Prague: Filosofia, 1995-). The latest incarnation of the oldest Comenian journal. (Originally published as Archiv pro badání o životě a spisech J. A. Komenského, 15 vols, Brno, 1910–1940. Continued with vol. XVI (1) by Acta Comeniana. Archiv pro bádání o životě a díle Jana Amose Komenského, 1957–1994.)

Studia Comeniana et historica. Časopis Muzea J. A. Komenského v Uherském Brodě (1971–). Journal of the Comenius Museum of Uherský Brod, ed. Pavel Floss. Contributions mainly in Czech, with some in English and German.

Comenius-Jahrbuch. Herausgegeben im Auftrag der Deutschen Comenius-Gesellschaft von Andreas Fritsch, Werner Korthaase, Renate Lachmann, Thomas Leinkauf (Baltmannsweiler, 1993–). Another valuable journal, with an annual international bibliography.

Launch Catalogue

Please see our citation guidelines for instructions on how to cite this catalogue.