The Rhaeto-Romance Collection of Cornell University Library

August - September, 1998

During August and September 1998, books from the Rhaeto-Romance Collection of Cornell University Library are on exhibit in the public reference room of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (2B60 Kroch Library). Visitors are welcome to view the exhibit Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Questions about the exhibit or the Rhaeto-Romance Collection may be directed to Patrick J. Stevens, Curator of the Fiske Collections, 607-255-3530 or

The Rhaeto-Romance dialects constitute the seventh, albeit uncoalesced, Romance language. They are spoken and published principally in the Alpine regions of Switzerland and Italy. Romansch is one of Switzerland's four official languages; Friulano is the principal non-Italian dialect of the Friuli region, northeast of Venice, and has been a linguistic symbol of cultural expression in recent decades.

In his Catalogue of the Rhaeto-Romanic Collection (Ithaca, N.Y., 1894), D. Willard Fiske, Cornell University's first university librarian, relates that "[i]n the late summer of 1891 I was sent to the baths of Tarasp in the Lower Engadine, where ... I soon found time hanging heavy on my hands." A random sighting, in a neighboring village, of "some books in the Romaunsch, or Rhaeto-romanic Language" evolved into a series of forays into the Lower and Upper Engadine dialect regions to purchase available collections and individual volumes. These Fiske complemented with purchases from "the booksellers of Innsbruck, Trent, Udine, and Gorizia" for works in the Friulian and Tyrolean dialects. Willard Fiske presented the collection of over one thousand volumes to the university library in December 1891.

The Catalogue lists works in sixteen of the local Rhaeto-Romance dialects:

  • Bergell
  • Engadine
  • Fassa
  • Friulan
  • Gardena
  • Grisons
  • Istria
  • Lower Engadine
  • Münsterthal
  • Noce
  • Oberland
  • Rendena
  • Roveretano
  • Surmeir
  • Tyrol
  • Upper Engadine

This exhibition of books from the Rhaeto-Romance collection bequeathed by Daniel Willard Fiske was designed by Patrick J. Stevens, in consultation with Katherine Reagan. Roger Clearwater prepared the physical supports for the books. The Catalogue of the Rhaeto-Romanic Collection served as a source of essential bibliographic information on the books displayed.

The following works appear in this exhibit:

(1) [Bible. Rhaeto-Romance, Lower Engadine].
La Sacra Bibla, quai ais, tuot la Sancta Scrittüra : in la quala sun comprais tuots cudeschs dal Velg è Nouf Testamaint : cun l'aggiunta dall' Apocrifa / tschantada, vertida è stampada in lingua rumanscha d'Ingadinna Bassa, tras cumün cuost è la vûr, da Jacobo Antonio Vulpio ... et Jacobo Dorta à Vulpera ... -- [Scuol] : Stampad' in Scuol in Ingadina Bassa tras Jacob Dorta à Vulpera, juven F., Anno M.DC.LXXIX [1679].

This folio Bible is the first edition of the Lower Engadine dialect as well as the first book printed in the town of Scuol. There is an added, engraved title page with its title partly in red.

(2) [Bible. O.T. Genesis. Rhaeto-Romance, Lower Engadine]
Da la Biblia, ilg prüm cudasch dalg Songk Profeed Moisis, nominad Genesis ... / traas Joan Pitschen Salutz ... -- [Tury] : Stampad in Tury, tras Heinrich Hamberger ... , Anno 1657.

The prose translation is preceded by a synopsis in verse of all fifty chapters of Genesis.

(3) [Bible. O.T. Psalms. Rhaeto-Romance, Oberland]
Ils Psalms d'ilg Soinc Prophet a Reg David : suenter las melodias franzosas, cun iv. vuschs da cantar par ædificar la Baselgia da Deus, messi giu / enten vers rumonschs da la Ligia Grischa tras Johann Grass ... -- A Turig : Tras David Gessner, Anno MDCLXXXIII [1683].

(4) Carisch, Otto.
Kleine deutsch-italiänisch-romanische Wörtersammlung zum Gebrauch in unsern romanischen Landschulen. Erstes Heft. -- Chur : Gedruckt bei A.T. Otto, 1821.

This vocabulary of German substantives indicates their nominative plural endings and offers equivalent terms in Italian and in the Oberland and Lower Engadine dialects.

(5) [Cudasch musicale]. 1838.

Manuscript in the Upper Engadine dialect, which the Catalogue of the Rhaeto-Romanic Collection describes as a "collection of hymns, with words and music." The manuscript was written "in Chiamuoesch, l'anno 1838" and apparently owned by one Elias A. Manzinoia.

(6) Lazzarini, G. E. Malis lenghis : commedia in 3 atti in dialetto friulano. -- Udine : Tipografia Jacob e Colmegna, 1876.
"Premiata al Concorso drammatico friulano, Udine 1875."

The dramatis personae and the staging notes and instructions are in Italian.

(7) Virgil.
[Georgica. Rhaeto-Romance, Friulan]
La Georgica di P. Virgili Maron / tradotta in ottava rima friulana da Zuan Josef Busiz ... -- II. edizion / rivioduda, coretta e pubblicada da Z.B. Filli. -- Gurizza : Stamparia di Z. Paternolli, editor, 1866. Daniel Willard Fiske

Daniel Willard Fiske

Daniel Willard Fiske

Daniel Willard Fiske, first University Librarian of Cornell University, was born at Ellisburg (New York) 11 November 1831 and died at Frankfurt am Main 17 September 1904. From early student days he was a traveler and avid student of languages, particularly the Nordic tongues, and resided in Denmark and Sweden for several years, foregoing a college degree in favor of his studies.

Fiske was at various times a librarian, bookseller, journalist and junior diplomat. He nurtured an early passion for chess and persisted in his travels, visiting the Middle East before receiving appointment as "Professor of North-European languages, and Librarian, at Cornell University." (1)

Married to Jennie McGraw in 1880, widowed in 1881, Fiske presently left the University and spent the rest of his days traveling and amassing his magnificent book collections at his permanent residence in Florence.

Four of his collections Willard Fiske bequeathed to Cornell: the Petrarch and Dante collections, the Rhaeto-Romance collection and what is now called the Fiske Icelandic Collection. The National Library of Iceland received Fiske's collection of books on chess.

Fiske combined an insatiable love of books with a superb capacity for learning languages. (2) He was fluent in Swedish, gave a formal address in Icelandic at a dinner in his honor during his 1879 visit to Iceland, left behind letters in Italian and learned Egyptian Arabic sufficiently to develop a romanization scheme for that dialect. Along with Bayard Taylor, Andrew Dickson White and other associates of his, Willard Fiske was among the leading American intellects of the late nineteenth century.

(1) White, Horatio S. Willard Fiske, Life and Correspondence. New York, Oxford University Press, 1925. p. v.

(2) Ibid. See pp.84-85 for a description of Fiske's knowledge of languages.