The Commonplace Book of Marie Louise of Austria, Duchess of Parma

Image of an open manuscript book with a red cover

Contributor: Diego Saglia and Francesca Sandrini

Location: Salone delle Feste, tavolo 3; Museo Glauco Lombardi, Parma.

Description: This object, a commonplace book, speaks to a number of questions: What did a European female ruler from the Romantic period read? And how did she respond to the works? And was this reading also a creative, ‘writerly’ act?

Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise of Austria, Duchess of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla from the Congress of Vienna (1814/15) to her death in 1847, was a keen reader who kept several diaries, akin both to English commonplace books and the French practice of extraits et mélanges. There she transcribed longer and shorter extracts from the books she read, as well as her own observations and reflections. This commonplace book in our exhibition is the most significant and representative of them. This kind of artefact was in fact a relatively common phenomenon among women (and men) of the middle and upper classes all around Europe; yet, this specific example offers insights into a woman whose life blended public and private aspects, officialdom and intimacy, in peculiar and significant ways. Mixing reading and writing, reception and creation, Marie Louise’s commonplace book may be argued to be ultimately a vehicle for authoring both one’s own book and, in turn, one’s own Romantic self.

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Kościuszko’s Mound

Image of Kościuszko's Mound in the distance surrounded by trees

Contributor: Monika Coghen

Location: Sikornik Hill, also known as the Hill of Blessed Bronisława, Kraków, Poland

Description: Kościuszko’s Mound (constructed 1820-1823) is an earthen barrow built on the hill called Sikornik in the west of Kraków (1). Following Kościuszko’s death in 1817, it became a matter of national urgency to construct a memorial to honour his memory. Kościuszko was recognized not only as the commander of the last military effort aimed at preserving Polish statehood, but also as a national spiritual leader urging progressive social reform. Kraków, where Kościuszko’s Insurrection broke out in 1794, was an obvious choice for the location of the monument. Wawel Cathedral, the burial site of the Polish kings, was the most appropriate place for his remains. Its role as a shrine for national heroes was inaugurated in 1817 by the funeral of Prince Józef Poniatowski, the commander of the Polish troops under Napoleon. Kościuszko was buried beside him in 1818.

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Herries & Co Circular Note

Contributor: E.J. Clery

Location: Lloyds Bank Archive and Museum, UK

Description: This creased and uncharismatic scrap of paper bears a name to conjure with, Robert Herries, visible in the design at either end: in addition to the Herries armorial bearings there are three ‘hurcheons,’ otherwise known as hedgehogs. This is a ‘circular note,’ precursor to the travellers’ cheque. It is a rarity; these notes were routinely destroyed after cancellation but this one is unused and therefore uncancelled. It was scanned from a guard book [ref A/26/b/3] by Karen Sampson of the Herries archive at Lloyds Bank. We do not know its provenance.

The template is in French, the international language of the day, and indicates that payment can be drawn at the Paris headquarters of the bank. The bank also had offices in Dover and London. On the note, there are spaces for the addition of a date and the customer’s signature. Upon completion, with presentation of a letter of ‘indication’ or identification, and after a wait of ‘sept jours,’ the circular note would yield cash in the local currency at banks and businesses in a network stretching from Calais to Moscow, and even further afield. It permitted a new, more informal, style of travel across Europe in the Romantic period.

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A Fragment of a Letter in Jane Austen’s Hand

Image of a two-page manuscript letter

Contributor: Kathryn Sutherland

Location: Jane Austen’s House, Chawton, Hampshire, England

Description: This fragment is a single leaf, pages 1 and 2 (20 + 20 lines; 281 words) of a letter bifolium, of which the second leaf is missing. The paper is weak at the original folds, with a short tear at the head. There is no signature, no date, and no address. An origin-address and date [‘From Hans Place | Nov. 29 1814’] have been added in pencil in another hand at the upper edge of page 1. The ink (iron gall) is bright, showing little evidence of light exposure. Written in Jane Austen’s clear, round hand, the leaf corresponds to the first section of Letter 112 in the authoritative Oxford edition. Austen writes from her brother Henry’s London home to her niece Anna Lefroy. The fragment opens ‘I am very much obliged to you, my dear Anna’; it ends at the foot of page 2 with the words: ‘& hugs Mr Younge delightfully’. In between, Austen discusses her social life during a London stay that includes a disappointing trip to the theatre (‘I fancy I want something more than can be. Acting seldom satisfies me. I took two Pocket handkercheifs, but had very little occasion for either’). These two pages are a resilient survival of an act of loving destruction, representing the largest part of a four-page letter, dismembered for keepsakes, into at least five portions, one of which is now lost; two are in the British Library’s Charnwood Autograph Collection; and a further portion was sold at Sotheby’s into private hands on 11 July 2017, at which time the present portion failed to sell. We might see the dismemberment, private, and public fortunes of this letter as an expression in miniature of the fate and import of Austen’s letters, and indeed celebrity author’s letters, more generally.

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The Hellespont

Image of The Hellespont. A hilly horizon with blue water below and blue sky above

Contributor: Catriona Seth

Location: Turkey

Description: The name ‘Dardanelles’ might make you think of a busy shipping canal or of the site of a deadly first World War campaign. The ‘Hellespont’, which refers to the same body of water, might lead you to Hero and Leander’s sad story, recounted in classical sources, but also revived by Christopher Marlowe in (1598) or by Leigh Hunt in 1819. Both terms refer to a single strait. At its narrowest—where its currents are extremely strong—it is 1.2 kilometres across. Whilst it was made famous in myth and in history for tragic deaths, the site is also important for having offered Byron an occasion to accomplish a seemingly heroic act—swimming safely across—and use this as an occasion for self-publicity which tells us something about how he viewed himself as an individual and as an author.

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Leigh Hunt’s Parlour at Surrey Gaol

Two engravings of Leigh Hunt sitting at his desk in his cell at Surrey Gaol.

Contributor: Serena Baiesi

Location: Surrey Gaol, Horsemonger Lane, London. Detail from Edmund Blunden, ed., Leigh Hunt. A Biography (Archon Books, 1930)

Description: In 1812 Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) wrote that the Prince Regent was a violator of his word and a disreputable libertine in an article published in The Examiner — a radical newspaper he edited with his brother John. As a result he was sentenced to prison for two years from 1813 until 1815 for seditious libel and sent to Surrey Gaol, Horsemonger Lane. After a month spent in a small dwelling, Hunt was moved to a two-room suite in the prison infirmary. Here Hunt spent his days reading, writing, meeting with friends who constantly visited him, and enjoying the company of his wife and children. Even though during his prison days Hunt suffered several nervous attacks, characterised by palpitations, headaches, and uncontrollable anxiety, he describes this period in his autobiography, in many letters, and in reported conversations, as very convivial. Secluded in prison, Hunt became very productive, constantly contributing to The Examiner, writing poetry later collected in Foliage, composing the long poem The Story of Rimini, and beginning his drama The Descent of Liberty. He also became the centre of a very animated literary and liberal intellectual circle, which became legendary as a model for Romantic intellectual sociability.

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Mount Vesuvius

Painting showing the eruption of the Vesuvius volcano

Contributor: Cian Duffy

Location: Gulf of Naples, Italy (40°49N’ 14°26’E)

Description: Located just outside the Italian city of Naples, the volcano Vesuvius was one of the most spectacular instances of the ‘natural sublime’ typically visited as part of the Grand Tour of Europe. Vesuvius was in a more-or-less constant state of activity throughout the Romantic period and had a least six significant eruptions between 1774 and 1822. In a letter of December 1818, the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) describes it as ‘after the glaciers [of the Alps] the most impressive expression of the energies of the nature I ever saw’ and his response is visible in the volcanic landscapes and imagery of Prometheus Unbound (1820). (1) Influential Romantic-period travel writing, such as A Classical Tour through Italy (1812) by John Chetwode Eustace (1762-1815) and Remarks […] During an Excursion in Italy (1813) by Joseph Forsyth (1763-1815), offered extended descriptions of the volcano and its environs for the increasing numbers of tourists who visited as well as information about the latest speculations in natural philosophy. Eruptions of Vesuvius were made the subject of numerous paintings, including celebrated works by the British artists Joseph William Mallord Turner (1775-1851) and Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-97), by the German Jacob Philipp Hackert (1737-1807), and by the Frenchman Pierre-Jacques Volaire (1729-99), who died in Naples. They were often depicted in panoramic exhibitions in London and other European capitals – and, of course, they feature in countless works of fiction, poetry, and drama by authors across Europe. Arguably, Vesuvius drove the explosion (if the pun may be forgiven) in the use of volcanoes and volcanic eruptions in Romantic-period cultural texts right across Europe as metaphors and similes for everything from poetic inspiration to political revolution. Hence Lord Byron (1788-1824) no doubt had Vesuvius in mind when he lamented, in the thirteenth canto of Don Juan (1823), what he saw as the clichéd ubiquity of volcanic imagery: ‘I hate to hunt down a tired Metaphor –/ So let the often-used Volcano go;/ Poor thing! how frequently be me and others/ It hath been stirred up, till its Smoke quite smothers’ (ll. 285-8).

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Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence

Interior of the Basilica of Santa Croce

Contributor: Francesca Benatti

Location: Piazza Santa Croce, Florence

Description: The Basilica of Santa Croce is a late 13th-century Gothic church in Florence, probably designed by architect Arnolfo di Cambio. Home to the Franciscan order in Florence, it contains significant artworks by, among others, Giotto, Donatello, Brunelleschi and Vasari. From the mid 15th century onwards, Santa Croce became the burial place of some of the most prominent literary, artistic and scientific figures from Tuscany and later, the rest of Italy. In the early nineteenth century, it boasted the tombs of Niccolò Machiavelli, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Galileo Galilei and Vittorio Alfieri, the latter completed by Antonio Canova in 1810. These burials attracted the attention of Romantic authors across Europe, who variously interpreted them as metaphors of the state of Italy and for the nature of artistic fame.

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Mount Etna

The Eruption of Etna (oil on canvas)

Contributor: Cian Duffy

Location: Sicily, Italy (37°45.3N’ 14°59.7’E)

Description: With a current elevation of c.3350m (as of June 2019), Mount Etna is an active stratovolcano on the east coast of the island of Sicily. Etna was much less frequently visited during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries than the more accessible Vesuvius, outside Naples, the usual terminus of the European Grand Tour (the main route to Sicily was via boat from Naples). The mountain had nevertheless been ‘famous from all antiquity for its vomiting up fire’, as John Dryden the younger (1688-1701), the son of the poet, reminds us in his posthumously-published Voyage to Sicily and Malta (1776). During the Romantic period, Etna and its eruptions were made the subject of many paintings and panoramas and featured also in numerous works of prose, verse, and drama produced and consumed across Europe.

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Teresa Guiccioli’s Travelling Chest

Teresa Guiccioli’s Travelling Chest

Contributor: Diego Saglia

Location: Istituzione Biblioteca Classense, Ravenna (Italy)

Description: This sizeable travelling chest (48.2 x 80.7 x 19.2 cm) belonged to Countess Teresa Guiccioli, née Gamba (1800-73), the co-protagonist of what Iris Origo called Lord Byron’s ‘last attachment’. A little battered, perhaps, it hides its secrets well. Read carefully, it nonetheless expresses continuity with systems of aristocratic identity construction familiar from the ancien régime, describes the consumerist self-styling of the travelling woman, and testifies to its central role in Teresa’s construction of her relationship with Byron.

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