A grand total of 166 letters written by, or addressed to Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt are known to us. With great variations in frequency, they spread over the course of 32 years (from 1509 to 1541). It is notable that no less than 53 are addressed to Georg Spalatin (1484-1545). They alone comprise almost one third (32%) of the entire existant correspondence.
We owe the survival of these Spalatiniana to Johann Gottfried Olearius (*1635 – †1711) whose printed edition of various sixteenth century authors appeared in Halle in 1671 [Scrinium]. The edition starts with 49 of Karlstadt’s letters to Spalatin, the originals no doubt having been kept by Spalatin. In addition there is a letter from Eck to Karlstadt, together with his reply.
In the Preface (20 May 1671) to his first edition Olearius indicates that he had received Carolstatinas epistolas from his erstwhile lecturer, Jacob Thomasius (*1622-†1684), who was now his patron and friend. He cites a letter to him from Thomasius:
“After you had recently left me … I came across some… additional letters of Karlstadt to Spalatin, which had escaped my attention. I am sending them on to you now, so that you can publish them with the others… I would ask you to press ahead with this project quickly… You will spur on Mr. Spitzel to rescue the letters of Phillip (Melanchthon) to Spalatin which he owns for so long, from the dungeon and to set them at liberty…”
While the letters of Melanchthon to Spalatin, which were not edited at that time by Spitzel, found their way into the University Library in Basle, one can only speculate about the whereabouts of Karlstadt’s letters to Spalatin.
More than 300 years have elapsed since their publication by Olearius yet there has never been any reference to the whereabouts of the originals of this Karlstadt letters. One gathers from the correspondence between Olearius and Wilhelm Ernst Tentzel (*1659-†1707) that it was the wont of the Arnstadt Superintendent, Olearius, to treat rare and precious original documents with great respect; he insisted on returning them to their owner. Hence it seems to me quite misleading to assume that after the publication of the texts Olearius may have destroyed the collection of original manuscripts of his revered teacher. Rather one would surmise that Olearius returned this bundle of approximately 70 papers to his friend and patron Thomasius.
The survival of the autographs of at least 14 of the other documents edited in his Scrinium Antiquarium is another argument for the careful preservation of old manuscripts by Johann Gottfried Olearius. (letters of Hieronymus Weller and others in the British Museum and Leipzig University libraries.)
How are we to account for the lack of any references to the whereabouts of the collection of Karlstadt letters transmitted to Olearius by Jacob Thomasius? One’s initial assumption would be their loss or destruction following their appearance in print. Another more exciting possibility would be that the collection of letters went into someone’s private possession. An example of this possibility is the “Brücknerische” collection which for two centuries was assumed to have disappeared. Johann Gottfried Olearius had made copies from it as well in his time. A third possibility would be the sale of a collection such as this, to collectors elsewhere in Europe.
Given the progress in global communication between libraries and archives (even Antiquarian sale-catalogues) as a result of digitilisation there is, I believe, a real prospect that references to this “Karlstadt collection”, which has been believed lost for 342 years now, may be unearthed, and that it may even perhaps be recovered.
Alejandro Zorzin (Oktober 2013)