The Crewe Collection comprises books in several different languages. The works in Italian, amounting to just 121 volumes, represent a tiny fraction of the total, but are nevertheless of great interest, and provide a reliable insight in the collecting habits of Richard Monckton Milnes (1809-1885). Although several books bear the bookplate of Richard’s son, Robert Crewe-Milnes, it can be inferred from their publication dates that Robert inherited the Italian collection directly from his father.
Autographs and bookplates reveal that several Italian books originally belonged to other members of the Milnes family, such as Richard’s sisters Henrietta and Annabella; to Foster Cunliffe-Offley, a relative of Richard’s wife; and also to members of the Crewe family, such as Elizabeth Emma Crewe, all pre-dating Robert Milnes inheritance of the Crewe estate and title.
Two books have a dedicatory note to Richard Monckton Milnes written by the respective authors: Isabella Teotochi Albrizzi (1760-1836) gave a copy of her Ritratti, printed in 1826, “a l’amabile giovanetto signor Ricardo Milnes”. Several years later, around 1865, the German writer Ludmilla Assing (1821-1880) dedicated a copy of her biography of the Italian patriot Piero Cironi “to Lord Houghton, the friend of Italy, with the highest esteem”.
The earliest Italian book is La vita el transito & li miracoli del beatissimo sancto Hieronymo, a translation of Eusebius of Cremona’s Vita et transitus Hieronymi, printed in Venice by Guglielmo Fontaneto da Monferrato in 1519, and featuring a large woodcut of St. Jerome, which is not known to exist in other copies. There are a few more cinquecentine, i.e. books printed in the sixteenth century, and some particularly rare editions from the seventeenth century. Just over thirty books were printed in the 1700s; the rest, constituting the majority, is dated from the nineteenth century.
Aside from past and contemporary Italian classics (Boccaccio, Dante, Petrarca, Ariosto, Metastasio, Alamanni, Goldoni, Foscolo, Manzoni…), which form the core of the Italian collection, the other subject areas include romantic novels and erotic literature. The collection also contains stories of crime and punishment. In particular, the famous parricide Beatrice Cenci, the Inquisition, witches trials, and the use of torture –, and books that had a troubled history, due to censorship laws and the strict religious control over the printed word that influenced, sometimes dramatically, the life of the writers active in those times.
The most famous among the banned books is La retorica delle puttane (The whores rhetorick) by Ferrante Pallavicino. Printed in Venice in 1642, it is a parody of Cipriano Suarez’s De arte rhetorica, a manual used in Jesuit schools. Written in dialogue form, it contains fifteen lessons that an aged prostitute delivers to her apprentice, with parallels between erotic seduction and rhetorical persuasion. After publication, Pallavicino had to flee Venice and was persuaded to travel to France, where he was betrayed, arrested, and eventually hanged in Avignon in 1644, a few days before his 29th birthday. The book is anonymous, and has a false imprint (“In Cambrai”). At the end of the preface, the author signs himself “Quello che ben sapete”, which translates as “you know well who I am”.
Among the books dealing with crime, a relatively rare transcription of a famous trial against four briganti, i.e. outlaws resisting Italy’s unification in the late 1850s, is worthy of attention. Processo dei quattro briganti dell’Aunis contains a portrait of the four rebels who ended up at the centre of a diplomatic incident between Italy and France in 1863.
The erotic literature includes both novels and poetry, among which is worth highlighting the poem La Corneide, written by il dottore Cornografo, annotated by Cornelio Tacito il Moderno; printed in Cornicopoli, by Luca Cornigerio all’Insegna del Capricorno. The author’s, editor’s and printer’s names are fictional, and based on the Italian word corno (horn/horny). This book was actually printed in Livorno in 1773 and written by Giovanni De Gamerra, a famous librettist.
Another fascinating work of this kind is Girolamo Baruffaldi’s Baccanali, a collection of seemingly innocent poems printed in Bologna in 1758. The work, in three volumes, includes a poem titled I sughi (The sauces): a fake recipe for a soup, ending with the verses E se nell’autunnal dolce stagione / la tua cuoca l’impara, io vo’, che anch’essa / possa el nome portar di Dottoressa. (If in the sweet Autumn season the lady cooking for you learns this recipe, I would like her to be honoured with the title of Doctor.)
All Italian Crewe books are catalogued and a full list is available on the Trinity Library’s catalogue (classmarks 166-169).