In 1805, at the peak of cultural and political changes of the Napoleonic Era, the adolescent daughter of an esteemed accountant in Pavia, Francesca "Cecchina" Sioli, was defamed, under unclear circumstances, by a rejected and vengeful suitor. The Siolis sent her away from Pavia, probably hoping that time would shut down the rumors. Cecchina was entrusted, as an adoptive daughter, to Cesare Dones, an erudite man from Milan. He was the former holder of a "patriotic" printing office: Pavia was the first stopover of a long journey on his way to Orzinuovi, near Brescia, where he had just gotten the position of Secretary of the Municipality. Dones became a caring adoptive parent to the girl and, after a period in Orzinuovi, they lived together in Milan for a couple of years and then they came back to Pavia, where, in 1810, Dones obtained the tenured professorship of History and Geography at the Military School. The "inexplicable" detail of this adoption was certainly the relatively small age gap between father and daughter: Dones was born in 1777 and Sioli in 1788, so there were just eleven years between them and, however, this was not the only missing prerequisite required by the Napoleonic Code for adoption. It is no surprising that the law never recognized them as father and daughter, but, despite the lack of official recognition, Dones’s love for Cecchina - according to Cecchina and to their friends - never went beyond the parental role: indeed, they apparently never even considered the possibility of marrying. This essay analyses the private correspondence between Sioli and Dones, and their relatives, friends, neighbors, admirers of her, colleagues of him - some of high stature. The letters, kept by the Archivio Storico Civico of Pavia, have become snapshots of two intricate and sometimes mysterious lives.
Keywords: Adoption, marriage, Napoleonic Code, Military School of Pavia, Milan, Orzinuovi