Matija Murko’s correspondence in the Manuscript Collection of the National and University Library in Ljubljana

In its Manuscript collection, The National and University Library (NUL) in Ljubljana holds the largest part of the philologist Matija Murko’s legacy. The material is contained in two large units, “Correspondence” (catalogue number MS1119) and “Legacy” (catalogue number MS1392). The former, as its name suggests, consists of correspondence received by Murko and comprises 56 folders, or over 9,000 letters from more than 1,700 correspondents, both individuals and institutions. The second collection is even more extensive, comprising, in eleven sections, not only Murko’s works, notes, and other materials (which constitute the bulk of the contents of this unit), but also some of his letters, smaller correspondence, and foreign correspondence, as well as personal documents and other paraphernalia. This unit comprises more than 100 folders.

In this article, we would like to introduce the correspondence briefly. That unusual part of a scholar’s legacy steers away from the strict discursive forms required in scientific practice. Written in a first-person narrative, it differentiates significantly from the usual research work, where there is supposed to be no room for subjective experience. The letters as a whole form a very heterogeneous body of writing; family correspondence, that is, the most intimate correspondence, for example, is at least as substantial as the correspondence of his academic colleagues. Moreover, the latter is again not a homogeneous unit, since Murko’s research interests ranged from the more classically linguistic, and philological, literary historical to ethnographic and folkloristic ones. They are even less similar linguistically, with letters written (at least) in Slovene, Serbo-Croatian, German, Czech, Russian, French, and English. It is not uncommon for the same correspondent to have written a letter in one language and later another letter in another language, usually in a relationship between the minor language and the major language, German, in the imperial lands. The reasons for this are probably mainly to be found in imperial censorship.

A letter sent to Matija Murko by literary historian Ivan Prijatelj. (Source: Manuscript collection, Catalogue No.: MS1119, NUL, Ljubljana.)

Murko corresponded with individuals and institutions from various local and regional milieus. While he was institutionally anchored in the Central European academic milieu throughout his life, Murko was also in touch with university professors, school teachers, magazine editors, etc. from Russia, the whole of Yugoslavia, Northern Europe, and elsewhere. A mapping of the letters would probably reveal Murko’s strong ties with political and academic centres in German-speaking countries, as well as his strong involvement in intellectual exchanges with the Southern and Eastern (semi-)peripheries of the former Austro-Hungarian monarchy, or with the Slavic countries that emerged thereof.

It is perhaps not surprising that the most extensive single correspondence is, composed of 346 letters, the one with his brother Miha Murko. However, here we are more interested in his academic colleagues with whom he shared research interests. Thus, among Murko’s correspondents, we find a number of interesting scholars who have historically helped shape the humanistic landscape, both in what is present-day Slovenia and across Europe. Among the more extensive correspondence is that of the Slavist Vatroslav Jagić, the successor of Fran Miklošič at the helm of the Slavic Studies at the University of Vienna. An important contribution to understanding the pre-history of Slovenian comparative literature is to be found in the correspondences of some literary historians, in particular Ivan Prijatelj and France Kidrič. The correspondence with the literary historians Fran Ilešič and Fran Levec, important figures associated with the Slovene Society (Slovenska matica), is also worth mentioning. As many as 155 letters were sent to Murko by the Indo-European philologist Rudolf Meringer, a professor at the University of Graz from 1899 to 1930 (Murko was his colleague there from 1902 to 1917), who became famous for his pioneering research into speech disorders. His famous and controversial contemporary Sigmund Freud based his own psychoanalytic research on speech disorders or »slips« on Meringer’s research. Even a few more letters, 164, were written to Murko by the Slavic philologist Vatroslav Oblak, whose research interest was rooted in South Slavic dialects. Oblak, whom Murko held in high esteem, died at the age of only thirty-one, shortly before his appointment as associate professor of Slavonic philology at the University of Graz. In the years between the First World War and its immediate aftermath, Murko received several letters from his student in Graz, the Russian linguist and philologist Nikolai Preobrazhensky, an interesting figure in the academic milieu in Slovenia. In the wake of the First World War, he tried to obtain a professorship at the newly founded University of Ljubljana but was rejected. Nevertheless, from 1922 onwards, he was a lecturer in Russian there, and later also lectured on modern Russian literature. The correspondence of the Croatian Slavist, classical philologist, and literary historian Milivoj Šrepel is also extensive. The twelve letters sent to Murko by the philologist, literary historian, and translator Camilla Lucerna are also noteworthy, as she was one of the few women scholars (especially if one does not take into account his kinship) with whom he corresponded. In addition to the individuals with a larger number of letters, there are quite a few correspondents in Murko’s correspondence, represented only by a letter or two, who deserve special attention. Murko often corresponded with linguists, historians, and philologists from the entire South Slavic region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In these letters, we find interesting reports on the state of oral epic in various local environments. Murko was involved in the project ‘Das Volkslied in Österreich’ [Folk Song in Austria] initiated by the Austrian government, which began in 1901 but remained unfinished (and largely unexplored) after the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is worth noting that Murko’s correspondence contains thirty letters from the linguist, Slavist, and collector of Slovenian folk songs Karel Štrekelj, who was the head of the Slovenian working committee of the above-mentioned project (after Štrekelj’s death Murko succeeded him in this position).

The NUL catalogue of the manuscript unit “Correspondence” is deficient in a few places, as it does not contain the names of all the correspondents who actually appear in the folders. Thus, in the catalouge we do not find Anton Funtek, the editor of the Ljubljanski zvon magazine, who, with eighteen letters, is not the most modestly represented of Murko’s correspondents. In one place, however, there is a major omission. Thirty-two correspondents are missing from the list, between the names Viktor Halcker and Friedrich Heide (all of them in the fifteenth folder).[1]

The entire archival unit “Correspondence” (MS1119 ) has been digitised as part of the research project “Matija Murko and his international collaborators” and will soon be freely available to the interested public on the Digital Library of Slovenia (dLib) portal. This step is necessary if we do not want archives – paradoxically – to remain the places where both the preservation of historically accumulated knowledge and the organisation of its oblivion are condensed, as archived materials often live an isolated life, alienated even from the research community.

[1]   Missing names include Karl Hadaczek (1 letter), Jovan Hadži (2 letters), Risto Hadži-Ristić (2 letters), Frieda Hager (1 letter), A. Halban (1 letter), Albert Halbe-Wagner (2 letters), Jakob and Anna Hameršak (2 letters), Karel Hameršak (1 letter), Martin Hameršak (3 letters), Gustav Hanausek (8 letters), Handelshochschule Munich (14 letters), E. Hanisch (2 letters), Erwin Hanslik (12 letters), Josef Hanus (2 letters), Johann Haring (2 letters), Wilhelm Hartel (2 letters), Count Harrach (5 letters), Otto Harrassowitz (4 letters), F. Hartmann (1 letter), Fritz Hartmann (1 letter), Lude Meritz Hartmann (2 letters), Richard Hartmann (3 letters), Karl Hassack (10 letters), Berthold Hatschek (1 letter), Adolf Hauffen (2 letters), Edmund Hauler (7 letters), Fr. Hauptmann (6 letters), Johann Sebastian Hausmann (1 letter), Miecislav Havel (1 letter), Rudolf Heberdey (3 letters), Max Hecker (1 letter), Franz Heger (8 letters).

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