About Improvised Poetry in the Romantic Period

Il n’est question dans ce moment que d’improvisation et d’improvisateurs; c’est le plaisir, et même le besoin du jour. – Le Diable Boiteux, no. 79 (19 March 1824)

Improvising poetry on stage or in private venues was a popular pastime during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Long associated with Italian performers and the Italian language, this mode of performance spread throughout Europe and was imitated in many other languages. Improvised performances are described in hundreds of travel accounts, diaries, letters, and periodical articles from the period 1750-1850, many of them by the era’s most prominent writers, artists, and public figures.

This website documents the art and performance of poetic improvisation in Europe during the “Romantic century.” Sources that describe, record, and allude to performers and performances of improvised poetry are included here. Wherever possible, transcriptions from texts that were written and/or published during the period 1750-1850 are presented together with bibliographic information and brief summaries.


The compilation of this archive was generously supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. This SSHRCC project also produced the book Romanticism and Improvisation, 1750-1850 by Angela Esterhammer (Cambridge UP, 2008). The website design is the work of John E. Kozub. Many Research Assistants at the Universities of Western Ontario, Munich, Zurich, and Toronto contributed to collecting, transcribing, and translating the materials presented here; credit and thanks are due to Naqaa Abbas, Francesca Broggi, Christopher Bundock, Duru Eldahudy, Laura Ene, Adrian Mioc, Mary O’Handley, Diane Piccitto, Frank Rastel, Mitchell Rowat, Christa Schönfelder, Adrienne Todd, Yoshimi von Felbert, and Michelle Witen. Special thanks to Elisabeth Wilhelm and Isabelle Zhu for their extensive work on this database during the summer of 2016 as researchers supported by University of Toronto Excellence Awards.

How to cite this archive

Esterhammer, Angela, and John E. Kozub. The Improvisation of Poetry, 1750-1850. [Date Accessed] <romanticimprov.utoronto.ca>.

©2016 Angela Esterhammer and John E. Kozub