Sonetti umoristici di Giuseppe Gioachino Belli

With the same title Sonetti Umoristici, two volumes were published in 1864:

- Sonetti umoristici [1] - Without any typographical indication (date, place of edition, publisher) and without indication of the authors. Volume of 119 numbered pages with 104 sonnets, of which 77 in dialect, and index. One sonnet is printed twice, with the title La Risoluzione, on pages 51 and 78 of the volume. Various bibliographical sources, even the most recent ones, state that of the 104 sonnets 51 are certainly by Belli. Some copies of the book have a red cover, without any title, others have a green cover and bear the typographical indication Sonetti umoristici.

- Sonetti umoristici [2] - Without any typographical indication, like the previous one. It is a pamphlet of only nine pages with nine sonnets of mainly erotic, or rather pornographic, content, as Spatafora classifies them, of which six are in dialect. According to Fumagalli, three sonnets are definitely by Belli.

Information on the two books can be found in various bibliographic sources. Jannattoni, in his Bibliografia dei sonetti Romaneschi, based on Bandini's writings published in the journal L'Urbe in 1937 and 1941 (Una stampa clandestina dei Sonetti del Belli nel 1864 In: L'Urbe Roma, dicembre 1937 ; pp. 19-22. With a note by Ceccarius, pp. 19-24) and Lizzani's G. Gioacchino Belli stampato alla macchia - In: L'Urbe Roma, Oct. 1941 ; pp. 26-27. With a note by Ceccarius, pp. 26-28), documents the circumstances and methods of the publication of the Sonetti Umoristici: "Making use of a voluminous collection of Memoirs and documents left by the Roman Filippo Spatafora (1830-1913), who under the name of Brutus and with other war names, was in the years from 1862 to 1865 at the head of the organisation of the Roman Action Committee (CRd'A), he succeeds in proving that the two pamphlets were printed illegally, on the initiative of the Roman Committee itself, by the Architect Felice Cicconetti".

Although Lizzani, in his note in URBE 1941, put forward the hypothesis that the printing may have been done in a tiny printing press of the Roman Committee, which was located in 'a room beyond the inner courtyard of a house in Via della Frezza, recently demolished', the story of the printing of the Sonnets finds more credible documentation in Filippo Spatafora's memoirs.

Then, Spatafora writes in his Ricordi (Memories),”'we thought of some extraordinary resource, and the idea arose to put together a hundred sonnets by Gioacchino Belli, have them printed and sell them for the benefit of the democrats imprisoned in the papal prisons. The architect Felice Cicconetti, a friend of the poet Belli, gave great help in this operation. Once the collection was complete, the manuscripts were sent to Naples to be printed”. [Filippo Spatafora, Il Comitato d'Azione di Roma dal 1862 al 1867. Pisa, Nistri - Lischi, 1982; Vol. 2°, p. 920].

The printing of the Sonetti in Naples is also confirmed by Gino Bandini who, in his article on the Urbe of 1937, reconstructs the affair by referring to two Neapolitans, Giovanni Mattina and Giuseppe Fanelli, who were passing through Rome at the end of October 1964 and established close contacts with the Roman Committee. According to Bandini, these two characters acted as the Neapolitan point of reference for sending the manuscripts. The printing of the sonnets, according to Bandini, took place in November-December 1864 and the introduction of the two pamphlets in Rome took place gradually over a long period of time.

Spatafora himself emphasises in his memoirs how the matter of the printing and distribution of the sonnets turned out to be rather complicated: “As for us, all calculations and hopes were on the sale of Belli's Sonnets that were being printed in Naples. But these, as Ugolini assured us, have not yet arrived”. [The reference is to a letter from Fulvio Ugolini dated 25 January 1865]. And again on 15 February 1865, in his memoirs, Spatafora refers to the shipment of sonnets from Naples: “with the sale of the booklets of Belli's sonnets, the shipment of which has already begun, other needs will be met”. In August, the matter of the shipping of the Sonetti from Naples was still somewhat problematic. In a letter from Fulvio Ugolini himself, dated Poggio Catino, 30 August 1965, addressed to Fedele Spatafora, we read: "What surprises me is not seeing the goods arrive [Belli's Sonnets, as Spatafora points out], which you have been telling me have been sent from Naples for several days. Have they not misunderstood the address? I'd better get back to writing".  

The matter of the expedition seemed to be concluded when in a letter dated 10 October 1865 Fulvio Ugolini wrote to Spatafora: “I have received two boxes of books that I am sending back to you, minus two copies that I keep for reading in bed if my fever returns”.

However, the sale of the Sonetti was not very successful if Spatafora himself confirmed in a letter of 20 April 1866 that “the sale of the pamphlets of Belli's sonnets is reduced to almost nothing”.

Spatafora gave a definitive account of Belli's sonnets in his Memorie: “I have already spoken of these sonnets by Gioachino Belli, and said that they were printed in Naples and sold in Rome for the benefit of our political prisoners and their families. There were 600 copies in Rome: five hundred political and one hundred pornographic [Spatafora refers to the second issue of the Sonetti umoristici (Humorous Sonnets), with the nine erotic sonnets]. 160 of the former and 40 of the latter were sold, together for the sum of 440 lire; the former at 2.50 lire, the latter at 1.00 lira a copy. The unsold copies, deposited in the rooms I kept in Via della Passeggiata di Ripetta, were destroyed when I was imprisoned in June 1867”.

The entire manuscript corpus of the two works: 107 sonnets, an index, a note from the printer and a letter from the editor Felice Cicconetti are for sale by Libreria Marini.

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