Letter from CHARLES ELIOT NORTON to GEORGE PERKINS MARSH, dated May 9, 1863.

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Publication InformationShady Hill, Cambridge.9 May, 1863.

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My dear Sir

It is a long time since I have had the pleasure of writing to you, or the greater one of hearing from you. In reading your last volume I gained so much instruction & interest that I wished to express my thanks to you. My special object in writing now is to ask a favor from you.

It has occurred to Lowell & myself that it would be an agreeable thing to send some literary contribution from America to the festival in honor of Dante which it is proposed to hold

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in Florence in May 1865. We have thought, too, that it might in a small way serve the cause of our country abroad to show by some work of scholarship, that such studies were not neglected even under the pressure of civil war. The particular task which we have thought to undertake, is the editing of the Comment on the D. C. of Benvenuto da Imola, which, as you know, has never been printed in full, and yet in some respects has a value beyond that of any other of the fourteenth century commentaries. There is of course a difficulty in the way from the fact that a reprint made here, must be made from

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a copy of one of the mss. of the Comment in Italy; & that we should have to depend on the accuracy of the copyist, and should not have the advantage of collation with other mss. in cases of difficulty. For a portion of the work we should, however, have the text printed by Muratori to compare with. It would not be worthwhile to undertake this work unless a copy of a good ms. could be obtained upon which we might depend for exactness. DeBatines, Bibliografia Dantesca, II. 305-307. gives such an account of the two manuscripts in the Laurentian library, as to lead me to believe that a copy from either one of

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them, collated carefully with the other & the various readings where they affect the sense, transcribed at length, would afford a sufficient basis for a useful edition.

But DeBatines (II. 303.) says: "Posso con lieto animo annunziare che Lord Vernon tornando al disegno del Castelvetro, apparecchia un' edizione in 3 vol. in 8 gr. del Comento di Benvenuto, e che il primo e' quasi condotto a fine. Si fa l'edizione a cura del Sig. Vincenzo Nanucci sui codici del Laurenziana, raffrontandola col celebre Codice Estense di Modena." I cannot learn that the proposed edition was completed. If, however, anything was done concerning it, and if it is still in progress after 17 years,

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it would not be worthwhile to go on with a new edition without first learning the state of the one undertaken so long ago. I do not know if Signor Nannucci is still alive. If it would not be giving you too much trouble, will you have the kindness to make enquiry of anyone likely to know concerning this work, and to ascertain if possible how far it was carried forward, & the reason of its discontinuance.

If it should appear that Lord Vernon gave up the design, and that no one is at present in Italy engaged on an edition of the Comment, will you take the further trouble to have made for me a copy, which may be depended upon, of the Inferno, of one of the

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Laurentian mss., confronted with the other. It would be easy to tell from a study of a few cantos of such a copy whether it would be worthwhile to attempt an edition here, or whether there would be insuperable difficulties in the way. If you should order a copy to be made for me, would you have the kindness to have the first ten or fifteen cantos sent before the rest is completed, that I may decide from them whether to have a copy of the whole Comment made or not. If it should be inconvenient for you to attend to this for me will you be so kind as to decline my request as freely as I make it. I should be very sorry

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to give you any real inconvenience or to have you feel obliged, out of kindness, to give attention to a request that was in any way an annoyance.


Let me turn to other, more important matters. The moral condition of public affairs is far more satisfactory than it was a few months since, than it has been, I think, at any time during the rebellion. A great deal of nonsense, (of shallowness of thought, & shallowness of feeling,) has been knocked out of the nation by hard experience. The questions of most importance which are involved in the war, are gradually being settled in the right way by force

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of circumstance. Our defeats and disappointments have been of more importance in this respect than our successes. The state of society at the South is becoming more & more disorganized. The Emancipation policy acts slowly but effectively. The rapid enrollment of freedmen as soldiers; the system of paid black labour now working to advantage, in spite of many hindrances, in parts of Louisiana, are both most certain agencies for the destruction of slavery.

There is still, & this is perhaps the most dangerous element in our present condition, a strong belief in a peace to be concluded with the rebels, & a considerable hankering after it. Some event is looked

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for on which a peace or a settlement, or a reconstruction of some sort is to follow. The desire for this would be still stronger than it is were not the war a source of profit to a large part of the moneymaking & selfish classes. There is no pressure or general suffering from the war anywhere at the North, and the resources of the country are more surprisingly great than any of us knew. If we can root out the idea of peace as between two forces, from the mind of the North, if we can make it clear that there is no such thing as peace to be sought for or to be had with rebels,--that our

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only demand of them, and the only thing that they have any right to offer us is unconditional submission,--and that this submission must be got at any price,--if we can make the mass of the people see this, & prepare consequently for a long war, I think everything will go well. We must thoroughly subjugate & if necessary exterminate the slaveholding class, leaving them no power politically or socially, & this is not a quick process. I think the people is coming, at any rate will be brought to this view.

At present there is little risk of war with England to interfere with our success here. The ill-

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temper, the foolish bluster, the indolence & the excitement in England,--Mr. Roebuck's arrogant insults & Mr. Milnes's hardly less arrogant compassion,--are met by profound calmness here, except in rare instances. Our people have made up their minds not to be blustered into a war with England now; they mean to have a war with her before long, but at their own time.

Some time since I ordered the clerk of the N. E. Loyal Publ Soc to send you copies of slips, issued every week to several hundred (nearly 1000) loyal papers throughout the Free States. We have found this an efficient mode of securing a wide circulation

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for sound doctrine. The slips may from time to time give you the means of forming inference as to the drift of public opinion here, or in some cases as to the direction which we desire to give to it. I am actively engaged in this work,--and it is not without satisfaction to feel than [that] one is doing something, however little, to promote the success of the good cause.


My Mother & sisters desire me to present their kindest regards to Mrs. Marsh & yourself. My wife wishes to join with them in this message of regard. I beg you to present my best respects to Mrs. Marsh, and to believe me,

With sincere respect,Most truly YoursCharles Eliot Norton.

References in this letter:

Marsh's The Origin and History of the English Language, and of the Early Literature It Embodies, was published in 1862; a revised edition appeared in 1885.

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), poet, critic, and professor at Harvard, was editor, with with Norton, of the North American Review1863-72.

Benvenuto Rambaldi da Imola's commentary in Latin on the Divine Comedy was one of the earliest and most valuable discussions of Dante's great work.

Lodovico Antonio Muratori published Antiquitates italicae medii aevi in 1738.

Count Paul Colomb de Batines published Bibliografia dantesca in two volumes in 1845-46.

"I can announce with pleasure that Lord Vernon is undertaking an edition in three volumes in octavo of the commentary of Benvenuto, and that the first volume is almost brought to completion. The edition, under the editorship of Signor Vincenzo Nannucci, is based on the codices of the Laurentian library and collated with the famous Este Codex of Modena."

The library of the Medicis in Florence, the Reale Biblioteca Laurenziana was founded by Cosimo the Elder in 1444 and named after his grandson Lorenzo the Magnificent.

Several works by the philologist Vincenzio Nannucci are in Marsh's library.

George John Warren, Baron Vernon (1803-1866), lived mostly in Florence and published numerous Dante texts and commentaries.

John Arthur Roebuck (1802-1879) was a radical member of Parliament 1849-68. Over his career, his views vacillated from radical to conservative, from promoting a policy which would cause the expropriation of the property of the Church of England, to the debate in which he warned against placing political power in the "hands of the ignorant".

Richard Monckton Milnes (1809-1885), first Baron Houghton.

The New England Loyal Publication Society was founded by Norton and others to influence public opinion in favor of the Union by selecting articles from periodicals, printing them as broadsides, and sending them to editors of northern and border-state newspapers.