In 1954, a Council of Ministers order
founded the Petőfi Literary Museum with the aim of collecting and preserving
records of Hungarian literature. The name of the Museum presented itself
naturally, since the poesy of Sándor Petőfi, who died young in the 1848–49 War
of Independence, symbolises Hungarian poetry to the general reader both within
and beyond the borders of the country. With the establishment of the new,
national institution, an important consideration was that the Museum should –
as the legal successor of the Petőfi House, protector of the Petőfi legacy –
continue and, at the same time, operate on a new basis.
Functioning as an exhibition and research centre from
1909 until 1945, Petőfi House was established partly with the intention of
fostering the Petőfi cult, and partly as a consequence of the realisation that
the authorial documents were not of collection interest to contemporary
libraries, museums and archives at the end of the 19th century. The
preservation launched by the Petőfi Society extended not only to the collection
of Petőfi manuscripts, books and relics available at the time, but also to the
purchasing of the Bajza Street house of Petőfi’s fellow-writer, the extremely
popular novelist, Mór Jókai. Jókai had lived there with his son-in-law, Árpád
Feszty – thus the house also became the guardian and preserver of the Jókai
records and cult. In 1945 the Petőfi House suffered bombardment, after which
the Budapest History Museum was charged with the management of the collection.
From the beginning of the 1950s onwards, in addition to Petőfi and Jókai, the
Petőfi House also collected the documents of two outstanding figures of
20th-century Hungarian poetry: Attila József and Endre Ady. This resulted in
the Petőfi House outgrowing its own limits and presented the need for the
establishment of an independent literary museum.
The task of the new, national museum was not only to process and preserve the
inherited collections under modern conditions, but also to collect materials of
museum value from contemporary Hungarian literature. Acquisition is generally
characterised by conscious, scholarly-founded, ideology-free expansion. Even
today we work hard so that the writers’ and poets’ legacies, correspondence,
libraries, sound and video recordings, photographs, furniture, personal
belongings, etc., the documents of the editorial offices of literary
periodicals and literary-type publishing houses – that is, the representatives
of Hungarian literature both within and beyond the borders – should become part
of our collection.
The present structure of the institution, specialised in the reception of
complex authorial, literary legacies, professional processing, restoration and
storage took shape in 1970. Besides the collection departments – the Manuscript
Archive, the Library, the Art and Relics Collection and the Audiovisual Library
– the newly created Public Relations Department and the Marketing Department
organise the Museum’s programmes.
The Museum’s tasks have included the supervision of literary collections and
exhibitions in areas outside Budapest ever since the institution was
established. As a result, the Museum of Literature Petőfi has become an
institution with nationwide authority in the field of Hungarian literary
museology; it offers help with the organisation of exhibitions in memorial
houses and memorial rooms in areas outside Budapest, and also remains in touch
with memorial places abroad.
Since its establishment, the Museum of Literature has organised almost 500
exhibitions and issued more than 300 scholarly and popularising publications
and exhibition catalogues. We hope that our work over the past fifty years has
earned us a position in scientific life. We make use of the intellectual value
of our collections, catalogues and databanks in critical editions, philological
and textological research. Our museologists participate in university education
as lecturers, and our volumes of essays and studies appear in the technical
literature of cult research and literary museology.