Stephen Copley Research Report: Elisa Cozzi on Italy and the Irish Romantics

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Italy and the Irish Romantics: Networks, Nations, and Literary Encounters 1798-1848

Figure 1: Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, now the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs. Formerly known as Mount Cashell House, the Dublin residence of the Earl of Mount Cashell.

My doctoral project explores the literary connections between Italy and Ireland in the fifty years spanning the 1798 United Irishmen Rebellion and the European waves of revolutions of 1848. It hinges on the recuperation of previously unexamined manuscript material that circulated across a series of interconnected literary networks in Ireland and Italy. The Moira House set in Dublin, the Shelley circle in Pisa, and the Accademia dei Lunatici, also active in Pisa, are among the coteries discussed in my thesis. Thanks to the support of a BARS Stephen Copley Research Award, I was able to travel to Ireland and Italy for two separate research trips: I spent three and a half days at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin in August 2023, and another three days at the Biblioteca Labronica in Livorno (Leghorn) in December 20231. The two trips had similar aims: consulting the unpublished papers of various members of the Moira circle and the Accademia dei Lunatici looking for evidence of circulation of Irish-Italian interests and ideas. I had previously focused on the Shelley circle, so I was keen to explore two lesser-known coteries.

Figure 2: The Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street, Dublin.

In Ireland, I examined the papers of the Irish antiquarian and Italianist Joseph Cooper Walker, whose pioneering research into the Italian literary tradition and Irish Gaelic antiquities had a pervasive influence on Irish Romanticism. A prominent member of the Whig circle of Lady Moira in Dublin, Walker left an extensive correspondence, held at the RIA. Walker’s letters to various members of his circle showcase the extent to which Italian literature, history, and current affairs were at the order of the day among the topics of discussion at Moira House, which acted as a seedbed for the development of the first wave of cultural nationalism in Ireland. Among Walker’s friends at Moira House, the Anglo-Irish writer Lady Mount Cashell (now mostly remembered as the pupil of Mary Wollstonecraft and a close friend of the Shelleys in Pisa) plays a central role in my thesis. Mount Cashell shared Walker’s interests in the recuperation of Gaelic culture, and her pioneering historical novel The Chieftains of Erin: An Historical Romance of the Days of Queen Elizabeth (unpublished) was originally inspired by Walker’s antiquarian works. Among Walker’s papers, I was thrilled to find proof of the fact that Mount Cashell had acted as a patron and supporter of some of his literary projects in the 1790s. 

Figure 3: One of the upper reading rooms in the Labronica.

After the dispersal of the Pisan circle following P.B. Shelley’s death, Mount Cashell founded an exclusively Italian coterie (active between 1827 and 1832) in her Pisan townhouse and baptised it ‘Accademia dei Lunatici’ (‘Academy of the Lunatics’). Despite the apparent levity of the Academy’s topics of conversation and literary output, Mount Cashell’s ‘Lunatici’ went on to become influential writers and politicians who played significant roles in the Italian Risorgimento, the movement for Italian Unification: Giuseppe Giusti, Angelica Palli, Giacomo Leopardi, and Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi, among others. The Guerrazzi papers in Livorno were the reason for my second trip. Guerrazzi became a transitory albeit influential member of the Lunatici during his formative years as a university student in Pisa, before rising to fame as a novelist, journalist, and revolutionary. His most popular historical novel, L’Assedio di Firenze (The Siege of Florence, 1836), set in Renaissance Tuscany, became a manifesto of the Risorgimento. Although Guerrazzi only began writing the novel after his time as an academician, I argue that the Lunatics first inspired him with the raw material and ideals that would animate his work. In Livorno, I was pleased to discover that Guerrazzi had, in fact, made use of primary historical reading material which was supplied by another member of the Academy, Mount Cashell’s son in law Bartolomeo Cini, and which informed significant portions of L’Assedio.   

Figure 4: Villa FabbricoM in Livorno, Italy, houses the Biblioteca Labronica F.D. Guerrazzi.

My time in Livorno and Dublin offered invaluable insight into the circulation of ideas, literary influences, books, and manuscripts across Italy and Ireland through the medium of coteries. I am very grateful to BARS for the Stephen Copley Research Award, which made these trips possible and allowed me to gather important primary archival material for two chapters of my thesis.

1 Both trips should have taken place in late August, but my journey to Italy was postponed due to the UK air traffic incident that occurred on 28 August.

Elisa Cozzi is a doctoral student in English Language and Literature at the Queen’s College, University of Oxford.

Twitter: @_ElisaCozzi