The flamboyantly dressed man in the photo below is Baron Kurd von Hardt (1889–1958). The pale woman in the black dress is the author Mary Shelley (1797–1851).
Thanks to Baron von Hardt, I am going to take the train to Switzerland on Saturday to meet my fellow colleagues of Topos and Topography (the project on the history of guidebooks to Rome, about which you can read here) in the small village of Einsiedeln, south of Zürich, in the Schwyz canton.
But how is Baron von Hardt connected with Einsiedeln, and what’s Mary Shelley got to do with it? The answer is a tale of beautiful coincidences, manuscripts and mystical revelations, and begins in the building below.
On Sunday afternoon, our research group will meet in front of the Einsiedeln Abbey, a majestic benedictine monastery with origins in the 10th century, and it has been active ever since then – very active, buzzing through the centuries with monks, scholars, saints and pilgrims. The monastery library contains around 250,000 items – books and manuscripts – and on Monday, we are going to get a guided tour in the library, with one very special manuscript on the agenda: the one in the photo below.
The manuscript no. 326 is tiny. A page measures 12,5 x 18 cm – a pocket book of a sort. On Monday, we will be able to look inside this treasure, and read what may be the oldest guidebook in the world, a guidebook to Rome, written around the year 800. This is one of my study objects within the Topos and Topography project, and to see the manuscript with our own eyes and (hopefully) touch it with our own hands (as medieval beholders of wondrous things used to express it) is an inevitable part of our aim to identify the birth of the guidebook genre.
But Einsiedeln is only a stop on the way of our Grand Swiss Tour. After having examined the manuscript, we will take the train to Geneva, and that’s where both Baron von Hardt and Mary Shelley enter the picture.
In 1816, the so-called ”year without a summer” (due to a cold climate as a consequence of a volcano eruption), lord Byron, Mary soon-to-be Shelley and Percy Shelley spent some rainy weeks in Geneva, telling ghost stories to each other during the evenings in Villa Diodati. Here, Mary had her waking dream experience of a re-animated corpse, a vision which a couple of years later would result in the publication of her novel ”Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus”.
Now, just a few hundred metres away, just around the time when the gothic tales were told in Villa Diodati, another villa had recently been built. This house is today the location of Foundation Hardt, created by Baron Kurd von Hardt as a research center for Classical Studies in 1949.
Here, the last workshop of the Topos and Topography project will be held next week – we will, as an utter luxury, have the place all to ourselves, and discuss our articles and research results about the history of the guidebook. Who knows what visions may come to us late at night, strolling in the garden or leafing through books in the library…
The journey, our Swiss Grand Tour, promises to be representative of the joys of academia when at it’s best – to travel, experience and discuss together with gifted researchers, to explore new and exciting views both metaphorically and literally, as well as to enjoy splendid isolation, immersed in books and peaceful thoughts.
Can you resist joining us, sailing beside us on the swift waves of the Internet? If not, simply stay tuned! Soon, the adventures of a cold summer (well, without any volcanic eruption it really has been an unusually cold summer so far here in the north) are about to begin…