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A Slavic Republic of Letters

The Correspondence between Jernej Kopitar and Baron Žiga Zois


Luka Vidmar

This book discusses the correspondence between Jernej Kopitar, a co-founder of Slavic studies and proponent of Austro-Slavism, and Baron Žiga Zois, an Austrian nobleman and patron of the Slovene national revival. The author treats their letters (composed between 1808–19), which are for the most part unpublished, both as historical sources and as texts. In the first part of the book, he situates them in history and within the genre of the letter, especially in the context of Classical and Enlightenment epistolography; in the second, he deals with their importance for the development of Slavic cultural nationalisms; in particular, he argues that this correspondence successfully bound Slovene, Czech, Polish, Dalmatian, Croatian, and Serbian literati into a Slavic «republic of letters».
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Josef Dobrovský


The founder of modern Slavic studies, Josef Dobrovský, was the Zois circle’s most important foreign ally. Dobrovský, originally a Jesuit, devoted himself entirely to philology after the order was dissolved, with the support of noble patrons. He took an interest in Slovene no later than 1778 but for a long time had no contact with Slovenes (Šlebinger 1904: 5; Kidrič 1930: 117, 119). He had an opportunity ← 149 | 150 → in 1794, when he traveled through the Slovene lands, but did not make good use of it. While in Ljubljana, he tried to visit only Kumerdej, who happened not to be home. When Dobrovský was in Vienna at the end of 1796 and beginning of 1797, he visited Pohlin in the monastery of Discalced Augustinians in Mariabrunn. A shortlived correspondence followed the visit (Kidrič 1930: 121–122).

Not until Vodnik’s 1806 letter to Dobrovský was a firm connection established between the Czech and Slovene revivals (Kidrič 1930: 125). However, Vodnik did not occupy the position of Dobrovský’s chief correspondent with the Slovenes for long. Kopitar wrote Dobrovský in March 1808 and reported in detail about the status of the Slovene revival (Jagić, ed. 1885: 1–19), but out of self-interest neglected to inform either Zois or Vodnik about it (Kidrič 1930: 125). Dobrovský’s response of 1809 engendered a friendly connection that lasted until Dobrovský’s death in January 1829. Kopitar even became the Prague Slavist’s favorite correspondent (Prijatelj 1935: 45). The Dobrovský-Vodnik correspondence was...

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