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A Poet's Struggle for a New Adriaticism in the Nineteenth Century

  • Dominique Kirchner Reill


These stanzas are from an 1842 poem titled “Origin of the Bora,” which recounted the mythical genesis of the strong northeasterly winds that since time immemorial have plagued Adriatic sailors. In the poem, the Bora was no mere weather pattern, but instead the reincarnation of the Slavic nation searching for its slain heroes, the Uskoci pirates made famous in the writings of the seventeenth-century Venetian philosopher Paolo Sarpi and twenty-first-century historian Wendy Bracewell. In typical nineteenth-century Romantic style, the “Origin of the Bora” revealed how the winds (the soul of the sisters of the Uskoci, the Dalmatian womenfolk) blew upon the waters frantically searching for the corpses of their menfolk whom the Venetians and Germans had slain. These winds were relentless—they would never stop their frenzied quest—until the Uskoci heroes were returned home and their spirits were once again able to wield their swords along the “Illyrian contradas.” In the meantime, the poem warned, “Woe to any German or Venetian boat that advances … Their sails will fall in a heartbeat,/ And with the opposition of the wind they will be done for.”


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1 “Resta, sorella, e lasciane/ Ir senza te sul mare/ L'armi tedesche e venete/ Uniti ad affrontare.” “Nove fratelli aspetto, e da più lune/ Vanno pugnando sull'adriatico mar. / Vanno pugnando per la patria terra, / E m'han commesso una canzon di Guerra.” Dall'Ongaro, Francesco, Fantasie drammatiche e liriche (Florence, 1866), 8999.

2 Bracewell, Catherine Wendy, The Uskoks of Senj: Piracy, Banditry, and Holy War in the Sixteenth-Century Adriatic (Ithaca, 1992); Sarpi, Paolo et al. , La Repubblica de Venezia, la Casa d'Austria e gli Uscocchi (Bari, 1965).

3 “Tempo verrà che l'anime/ Dei nove estinti prodi/ Saran beate, e libera/ Dagli imprecati nodi/ Ripiglierà la spada/ L'illirica contrada. / Allora la Vila il cantico/ Di gloria, un di concetto, / Intonerà alla patria:/ Nè più sarà rejetto/ Dalla terribil Bora/ Chi volge a noi la prora.” Dall'Ongaro, Fantasie drammatiche e liriche, 89–99. “Illyria” and “Illyrian” is usually associated with the mid-nineteenth-century Slavic revival movement led by the Croatian, Ljudevit Gaj. Before Gaj's movement, it referred to the northwestern part of the Balkan Peninsula. Illyricum was the name of the Roman province that stretched south to the Drina River in modern Albania, north to Istria, and east to the Sava River. Though originally used to characterize a non-Slavic tribe, by the eighteenth century “Illyrians” were commonly regarded as the Slavic-speaking peoples of the western Balkans. Napoleon also used the term in naming his Kingdom of Illyria in 1809, composed of Trieste, modern-day Slovenia, and most of Croatia (Dalmatia, Istria, much of the Military Zone, and the Kingdom of Croatia). Also, as a sidenote, in this article I consistently refer to the (South) Slavic national movement and (South) Slavic language practices. I use the term “Slavic” instead of Croatian, Yugoslav, South Slav, Serb, or Illyrian because this was the national identification that contemporaries, especially along the shores of the Adriatic, used most often to identify their nationhood and language. Using any other term for the first half of the nineteenth century would be ahistorical and offer more confusion than clarification, as the words “Croatian,” “Yugoslav,” and “Serb” denoted particularly different qualities in the early nineteenth century than they do today.

4 “Guai se tedesco o veneto/ Legno s'avanza intanto,/ E degli eroi contamina/ Il funeral compianto!/ Cadon le vele a un tratto,/ E avverso il vento è fatto.”

5 Francesco Dall'Ongaro, “Letter by Francesco Dall'Ongaro to Niccolò Tommaseo, Trieste: 12 December 1840,” (Florence National Library: Tommaseo Carteggi 73.30.10, 1840); idem, “Letter by Francesco Dall'Ongaro to Niccolò Tommaseo, Trieste: 24 July 1840,” (Florence National Library: Tommaseo Carteggi 73.29.12, 1840); idem, “Una madre dalmata,” La Favilla VI, no. 17 (1841).

6 Francesco Dall'Ongaro, “Lettera da Tremeacque,” La Favilla VI (1841).

7 Luigi Carrer (1801–1850) was considered the great literary hope of early-nineteenth-century Venice. He is most famous today for founding and editing the influential literary journal Il Gondoliere.

8 Dall'Ongaro, Francesco, Odi quattro alla amica ideale (Venice: Tipografia di G. Antonelli, 1837); idem, Il Venerdi Santo: Scena della vita di L. Byron (Padova, 1837).

9 Alison Frank is currently preparing a volume studying the rise of Trieste in the nineteenth century. Until the publication of her book, for more information on the city's nineteenth-century “boom,” see: Cervani, Giulio, La borghesia triestina nell'età del Risorgimento. Figure e problemi, vol. 4, Civiltà del Risorgimetno (Udine, 1969), 4546; Coons, Ronald E., Steamships, Statesmen, and Bureaucrats: Austrian Policy Towards the Steam Navigation Company of the Austrian Lloyd 1836–1848 (Wiesbaden, 1975), 34; and Cervani, Giulio, Stato e società a Trieste nel secolo XIX-Problemi e documenti (Udine, 1983). Although it deals with the eighteenth century, Dubin's book is very useful in seeing the role the Habsburgs played in Trieste's rise: Dubin, Lois C., The Port Jews of Habsburg Trieste: Absolutist Politics and Enlightenment Culture (Stanford, California, 1999).

10 Karl von Bruck (1798–1860) was a Prussian-born businessman and one of the most important financial leaders in the Habsburg Empire. Originally from a lower-middle-class family, Bruck served as a soldier in the Prussian army against Napoleon and then made his fortune and name in Trieste, where he traveled in 1821 on his way to Greece to help in the Greek independence movement. Recognized immediately by Trieste's commercial circles as a man with great abilities, Bruck was made secretary of Trieste's largest insurance firm, the Azienda Assicuratrice. In 1828, he married the daughter of the Azienda's co-director and was quickly propelled to take a leadership role in the insurance community. He helped found the Austrian Lloyd and used his position in Trieste to put into action Friedrich List's ideas that tariff barriers impeded trade. Francis Joseph appointed him commerce minister from 1848–1851 and then finance minister from 1855–1860. After the Habsburg's disastrous and highly costly losses in the Crimean War, Bruck committed suicide in reaction to accusations of financial mishandling.

11 For more about the growing bourgeoisie in Trieste, see: Cattaruzza, Marina, Trieste nell’Ottocento- Le trasformazioni di una società civile, vol. 38, Civiltà del Risorgimento (Udine, 1995); Cervani, La borghesia triestina.

12 Dall'Ongaro, Francesco, “Dall'Ongaro to Giambattista Bassi: 23 December 1837,” in F. Dall’Ongaro e il suo epistolario scelto, ed. Gubernatis, Angelo de (Florence, 1897).

13 Dall'Organo, Francesco, “Varietà. Il ventiquattro d'Agosto a Trieste,” La Favilla III, no. 4 (1838).

14 Negrelli, Giorgio, “Introduzione- Una rivista borghese nell'austria metternichiana,” in La Favilla (1836–1846)- Pagine scelte della rivista a cura di Giorgio Negrelli (Udine, 1985).

15 Valussi, Pacifico and Dall'Ongaro, Francesco, “Saggio d'una nuova versione dei canti popolari illirici,” La Favilla VIII, no. 22 (1843).

16 For an example of how Dall'Ongaro believed nationalism would cure municipal hatreds, see: Dall'Ongaro, Francesco, “Notizie. Sulla prima riunione scientifica italiana in Pisa,” La Favilla IV, no. 11 (1839).

17 Dall'Ongaro, Francesco, “Sulla poesia popolare dei popoli slavi,” La Favilla V, no. 15 (1840).

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid. Dall'Ongaro concluded his over-the-top celebration of everything Slavic by exclaiming: “I would like writers, poets, and artists to dedicate themselves to study these [Slavic] populations still so poetic: perhaps thereby leading to new aspirations for their ballads, new subjects for their work, without remaining eternally confined to the by-now-sickly-sweet (stucchevole) Middle Ages.” For a fascinating discussion of the La Favilla's relationship with the Slavic national movement in Dalmatia, see: Stulli, Bernard, “Tršćanska Favilla’ i Južni Slaveni,” (Trieste's Favilla and the South Slavs) Anali Jadranskog Instituta I (1956).

20 Dall'Ongaro, Fantasie drammatiche e liriche, 89–99.

21 To assure that his own upbringing did not pose an obstacle in attaining his goal, Dall'Ongaro consulted the Miovich-Cunich family of sailors, “Dalmatian by stock (stripe) and birth, but living in Trieste for over thirty years.” This family was a source of inspiration to Dall'Ongaro because he saw them as quintessentially Dalmatian in their relationship to the sea and the commercial capital of Trieste. He described them as “unaltered in accent, habits, heart, and Dalmatian virtue, though living in this city, of many languages and various imitative customs.” Dall'Ongaro, “Una madre dalmata,” La Favilla VI, no. 17 (1841).

22 Francesco Dall'Ongaro, “Letter by Francesco Dall'Ongaro to Niccolò Tommaseo, Trieste: no date, but probably early 1841,” (Florence National Library: Tommaseo Carteggi 73.30.4).

23 Kann, Robert A., The Multinational Empire: Nationalism and National Reform in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1848–1918 (New York, 1950). Though Kann sees the multinational project as a priority only after 1848, well before the revolutions, state pomp presented the Habsburg emperor as the “Father” of his many different peoples.

24 For a fascinating discussion on Habsburg policies of introducing official multilingualism to Dalmatia, see: Clewing, Konrad, Staatlichkeit und nationale Identitätsbildung: Dalmatien in Vormärz und Revolution, Sudosteuropaische Arbeiten 109 (Munich, 2001).

25 Dall'Ongaro, “Dall'Ongaro to Tommaseo: circa 1841.”

26 Dall'Ongaro, Francesco, I Dalmati (Turin, 1847), 10.

27 Ibid., 9.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid., 31.

30 Wolff, Larry, Venice and the Slavs: The Discovery of Dalmatia in the Age of Enlightenment (Stanford, 2001).

31 P. C., “Rimembranze di Viaggi. Il Montenegro,” La Favilla I, no. 32 (1837). The angry Dalmatian author of said article insisted that now was the time for Italian-speakers in Trieste to correct this long history of “slander” and start using the word “Slavi” (Slavs) like the rest of Europe.

32 Niccolò Tommaseo, “Letter from Niccolò Tommaseo to Francesco Dall'Ongaro, Venice: no date, but most likely mid 1845,” (Firenze- Biblioteca Nazionale: Tommaseo Carteggi 73.33.22a).

33 Said, Edward W., Orientalism, 1st Vintage Books ed. (New York, 1979).

34 Tommaseo, “Tommaseo to Dall'Ongaro circa 1845.”

35 Caprin, Giuseppe, Tempi andati (Trieste, 1891).

36 Dall'Ongaro, I Dalmati, 15.

37 Dall'Ongaro, “Varietà, Il ventiquattro d'Agosto a Trieste.” La Favilla III, no. 4 (1838).

38 For more information about the extent and variety of this mid-nineteenth-century effort to stabilize a multinational Adriatic regionalism, see: Reill, Dominique Kirchner, Nationalists Who Feared the Nation: Adriatic Multi-Nationalism in Habsburg Dalmatia, Trieste, and Venice (Stanford, 2011).

A Poet's Struggle for a New Adriaticism in the Nineteenth Century

  • Dominique Kirchner Reill


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