Great Men in the Age of Revolutions

The Heritage Collections in Dunedin City Library preserve hundreds of folders with unpublished materials related to Alfred Hamish Reed: his personal papers, his private and more official correspondence, as well as personal objects. The library also preserves hundreds of autograph letters belonging to his collection, that Reed did not have the time to research and classify in albums. Among those, the French and Italian letters are of great interest.

A red thread connects the French and Italian letters, and links the nineteenth century personalities who wrote them. These disparate writings guide us through a troubled century, and among nations in search of their national identities.

Some letters unveil very delicate moments in the history of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Europe. The tormented years of the French Revolution appear through the lines of acute witnesses of their time.

The letters by Giuseppe Garibaldi exemplify remarkably the rebellious spirit agitating the old continent in those years: a spirit that was searching with determination for stability, identity and peace for the European nations.

Famous writers, historians and philosophers of the stature of Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas fils, or Vincenzo Gioberti and Giuseppe Mazzini enliven the ranks of those notable personalities. Through the letters they sent to their publisher in Switzerland, Giuseppe Massari, Giuseppe Ferrari and Vincenzo Gioberti uncover a lesser-known facet of the movement for Italian unification – the issue of censorship. These authors attempted with determination sometimes mixed with anxiety to make their works available through a secret network of friendships. Their solidarity is certainly palpable in their written exchanges.

Other examples direct us to the private sphere of some leaders of nineteenth century history: dinner invitations; business cards with just a few friendly words; messages of thanks, for a gift received or a moment shared, are also exhibited here.

The curation of this online exhibition and the physical exhibition on which it is based was led by Dr. Valerio Cappozzo, Assistant Professor of Italian at the University of Mississippi. He was assisted by Dr. Louise Arizzoli, who curated the French letters, and Lorraine Johnston, Heritage Collections Librarian at Dunedin Public Libraries.

Download the European Treasures Catalogue (1.7Mb in PDF format)

There is a limited run of print copies of the catalogue available on request from Heritage Collections in the Public Library.