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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 The author treats their letters (composed between 1808–19), which are for the most part unpublished, both as historical sources and as texts.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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Žiga Zois


Baron Žiga (Sigmund, Sigismund, Sigismondo) Zois von Edelstein was born on 23 November 1747 into a prominent and wealthy family of Italian descent in Trieste (Trst), the Habsburg Monarchy’s main port. The family was engaged in trade and iron production. Zois’s father Michelangelo, who had moved to the Austrian provinces from the Bergamo area, received a noble title in 1739 from Emperor Charles VI for his service in state trade. In 1760, Maria Theresa made him a baron.14 At his father’s wish, Žiga Zois attended the bishop’s collegium in Reggio nell’Emilia between 1761 and 1765. There he received a good education in the humanities, and was trained in singing, rhetoric, fencing, and drama (Kacin 2001: 43−83). When he returned to Ljubljana, he prepared to manage his father’s businesses, and for this reason studied mathematics, physics, natural sciences, and the technical fields important in mining and iron production with the Jesuits Gabriel Gruber and Joseph Maffei (Richter 1820: 7). He traveled in Italy and Germany in 1779, acquainting himself with contemporary practices in trade, iron production, and manufacturing. He also studied the natural sciences and literature. In 1782, he went on another educational trip, one that took him to Tyrol, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Germany (Valenčič et al. 1991: 832; Šumrada 2000: 8, 10).

Zois gradually took over the trading company in Trieste from his father after 1768, along with a subsidiary in Venice, a chain of mines and ironworks in Carniola and Carinthia (including...

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