Count Samuel Teleki De Szek, lived a long, eventful and extremely productive life. A passionate polymath, he dedicated his life to public service, improving education and creating a world class library. In each of these endeavors he met with great success. He could open a book and be transported to another world, one of knowledge and imagination. His passion for collecting books consumed him. Count Teleki felt a duty to share his collection with the public in order to educate and inform. His was a life of learning filled with fascination and joy, but the gifts of the mind could only compensate so much when those he loved so dearly were challenged by physical frailty.
Count Teleki’s family shared his passion for knowledge and the intellectual life. They were bound together forever by love of knowledge and love of one another. Unbeknownst to many, he was also a family man, devoted to his wife and children. Sadly, his family did not enjoy the same long life as Count Teleki. The Count outlived almost everyone, including family members and contemporaries, during a life of eighty-three years spanning parts of two centuries. He was lucky enough to see his greatest dream come true and unfortunate enough to see other dreams die before his very eyes. He knew both professional success and personal tragedy, the latter occurring most frequently in family affairs. Though the great human loves of his life did not live nearly long enough, Count Teleki ensured that they were never to be forgotten. He would make their legacy his own, specifically in the great library of knowledge that was to bear the family name and honor the contributions they made to learning.
A Rich Heritage, An Aristocratic Lineage – Library Of A Lady
Of all the astonishing books and prints that can be found today in the Teleki-Bolyai Library (Teleki-Teka in Hungarian/Bibliotheca Telekiani in Romanian) in Targu Mures (Marosvasarhely), one of its most unique aspects is an altogether separate collection, that of Zsuzanna Bethlen de Iktar, the wife of Count Teleki. Zsuzanna came from a rich intellectual heritage and an exalted aristocratic lineage. Her father was a Bethlen and her mother a Wesselenyi, two of the most powerful families in Transylvania. Her female forebears had been involved in collecting books long before she was born. Her mother and grandmother managed to amass quite a collection. This would be left for Zsuzanna to expand, which she did with great skill by acquiring 2,000 books and prints. Unlike her husband, who collected books in a wide variety of languages, Zsuzanna focused on Hungarian works. She eventually accumulated upwards of 1,200 books written in her mother tongue. Among these were two copies of the world famous Vizsoly Bible, the first one written in the Hungarian language.
The library collection of Zsuzanna Bethlen is notable for two reasons. It is entirely intact, an exceedingly rare condition for any library in Eastern Europe, particularly one from the 17th and 18th centuries. It is also the only library of a Transylvanian noblewoman from that era. As such, the library offers a window into the intellectual life of a wealthy female aristocrat. Many works are religious in nature, but there are also ones dealing with practical issues such as domestic life. As the only library of its type, it is a revelation for scholars and researchers. The family life of Zsuzanna Bethlen is just as fascinating as her library. Triumphs of the intellect could not outweigh the great sorrows that she and Count Teleki experienced in trying to raise a family. Only three of their nine children lived into adulthood. Unfortunately, this situation was not unheard of for infants and youth during that time. Some of the couple’s heartbreak was mitigated by the intelligence and erudition displayed by their son, Domokos Teleki.
From Father To Son – Intellectual Explorations
Domokos Teleki was the oldest surviving child of the couple. His intellect rivaled that of his father. He was conversant in a range of academic interests that included such eclectic subject matter as logic, aesthetics, philology and numismatics, among many others. The world was quite literally an open book for him. He not only explored it with the printed word, but also through travel. He authored the first travel guide to Hungary, known as the Account of Some Travels Throughout the Country. His intellectual curiosity was insatiable. Domkos also followed in his father’s footsteps with humanitarian pursuits, focusing on the value of education to better the lives of those who lived on the family estates.
Domokos looked well on his way to a life rivaling his father’s for intellectual accomplishments until tragedy struck. In the year 1798 he died of an unknown illness. This was the second in a line of tragedies that tested Count Teleki’s reserves of mental and spiritual strength. Only a year earlier, Zsuzanna had died. She was only forty-three at the time. Domokos had been twenty-five. Count Teleki would survive this ordeal. He would go on to live a life longer than that of his son and wife combined. For all his intellectual gifts, Count Samuel Teleki would live out the latter third of his life without the two dearest members of his family. If he could no longer be with them in this world, he could at least honor them by preserving their legacy within a library. This was where his love of books and family could be brought together as one.
The Inheritance – A Love That Lasts Forever
Twenty-five years after Zsuzanna Bethlen died, her husband was nearing the end of his life as well. The Teleki Library had already been moved several times in order to avoid the capriciousness of war. A suitable final resting place for the collection had been decided upon by Count Teleki. Beginning in 1802, it was housed in a property that had been owned by Zsuszanna, the Wesselenyi House in Marsovasarhely (Targu Mures). Zsuzanna had inherited the Baroque house from her aunt, Countess Kata Wesselenyi. Count Teleki had come into possession of the building after his wife’s death. This would become the repository for the family’s beloved collection of books. In one of Count Teleki’s final acts regarding the library, he annexed his wife’s collection to the library. Today, it stands in an anteroom, where it can be seen by the public and used by scholars. In this way, the literary legacy of Zsuzanna lives on, a donation of love and learning.