Letter from CHARLES ELIOT NORTON to CAROLINE CRANE MARSH, dated July 27, 1881.
Dear Mrs. Marsh
I had the pleasure of receiving last night your second kind letter in regard to the Benvenuto da Imola Comment. I thank you and Mr. Marsh sincerely for the trouble you are taking in the matter. Now that you have got hold of the copyist who worked for Lord Vernon I hope that your trouble is almost at an end.
It is curious that there should apparently be at the
Laurentian a lack of information in respect
to the history and character of this Comment. I send, addressed to Mr. Marsh, a few copies of a circular issued by the Dante Society which gives some account of it, & of the motives for its publication.
In order to secure the publication we must obtain one hundred and twenty five subscribers to the work, and I shall be greatly obliged to Mr. Marsh and to you if you will have the kindness to put these circulars in the hands of any persons who may be willing to assist in our undertaking.
Signor Bencini is, I believe, mistaken in supposing that there
has been any question as to the authorship of Benvenuto's comment. His error may have arisen from the fact that near the end of the 15 century Vendelin da Spira printed a comment falsely ascribed to Benvenuto Rambaldi da Imola, and that this has been found to be in great part the same with the comment that goes under the name of Jacopo della Lana.
I believe that in my first letter to Mr. Marsh on the subject I gave the exact
description of the manuscript of which we want a copy. I am now writing at my summer
home, and have not
my books to refer to, but I expect to go to Cambridge in a few days and I will then look up the exact number of the manuscript in the Laurentian, and send it to you for the sake of guarding against error. I have little doubt that Signor Bencini knows the manuscript, so that there will be slight risk in putting him to work at once. The terms agreed upon are, as I understand, the payment of five hundred francs to him after the delivery and acceptance of the copy of each of the three codici,--making fifteen hundred francs for the whole work.
As the value of the copy will
depend altogether on its literal exactness, may I ask you to impress upon him the necessity of particular pains in this respect? The acceptance of his work will depend upon its standing the test of a comparison of passages, chosen at random, with the original, by a competent person employed for the purpose. Is it asking too much of you to request you to find for us such a person, who, for a proper compensation, would be willing to undertake this comparison? I should not venture to ask this if it were a mere personal concern, but it is a matter in which Mr. Longfellow and
others are greatly interested, and for the credit of American scholarship it is essential that, if we print the comment, the text should be trustworthy.
In your first letter you are good enough to put to me an interesting question in the
interpretation of Dante. In the verses you cite, Purg.xxx.13-15, there can hardly be
a doubt that your "fair friend" is right in taking to
mean "the last trump." And I find in the only copy of Mr
Longfellow's translation that I have here (Tauchnitz edition, 1867) that
he renders the verse correctly enough,--"Even as the Blessed ."
If in other editions of his translation the verse appears as
"Even as the Blessed in the new covenant"
we may, perhaps, suppose it an error which he detected and corrected. In regard to the second point, whether verse 15 should read--
La rivestita voce alleluiando,
La rivestita carne alleviando,
there is good manuscript authority for each reading. Witte, the highest living authority in the matter of the text, gives the first reading. (I have here only his smaller edition, which gives the text only, & not the material for comparison of disputed readings.) King John of Saxony, one of the
most careful students of the Divine Comedy, also follows this reading in his translation. But still I incline to think Mr. Longfellow right in his preference of . The 15 chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians seems to have been in Dante's mind,--the suggests the 52 verse of this chapter, while the recalls the "clothed upon" of 2 Corinthians, ch. v. 2,4.; and the metaphor is more appropriate to carne than to voce. Moreover la rivestita voce alleluiando appears to me a strained construction. Both Witte & King John interpret as if it were la rivestita voce alleluiando; but is this permissible even with Dante's subjection of words to such
use as he chose to make of them? And yet this is better than to suppose that he meant, singing praise to God because their voices were restored. The only other way of understanding the words is to take as in apposition with , and to translate "their renewed voices singing hallelujah,"--but this is unsatisfactory. On the contrary is simple in construction & in meaning.
You are sharing with us in the painful suspense of these weeks. Yesterday the
accounts from Washington made us very anxious,--today there is a little relief. It
may yet be a long time, even if the President is to recover,
before we can
feel assured of his convalescence. The effect upon popular feeling of the attempt upon General Garfield's life has been deep and wholesome.
I hope that Mr. Marsh and you are in tolerable health. Your letters have been a great pleasure to me in renewing old associations which I value highly, and as giving me the opportunity of telling you of my faithful & grateful remembrance of your old kindness to me and mine. I wish I could hope for the pleasure of seeing you,--but I am kept close at home by many duties.
My sister desires me to thank you for your kind message to her, and she joins me in
and respectful remembrances & regards to you and Mr. Marsh.
Believe me, my dear Mrs. Marsh, Very faithfully YoursC. E. Norton.
References in this letter:
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.
George John Warren, Baron Vernon (1803-1866), lived mostly in Florence and published numerous Dante texts and commentaries.
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.
Bencini was the copyist employed to transcribe Benvenuto Rambaldi da Imola's commentary on Dante.
Marsh owned the commentary on the Divine Comedy by Jacopo della Lana, written between 1321 and 1333, as part of an edition of the Comedy comprising volumes 38-40 of Collezione di opere inedite o rare dei primi tre secoli della lingua, published in Bologna 1863-89.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his translation of Dante's Divine Comedy865-67.
Karl Witte (1800-1883), a German jurist and Dante scholar, published a critical edition of Dante's Divine Comedy in 1862.
Johann II (1801-1873), who was king of Saxony 1854-73, translated the Divine Comedy into German.
President James A. Garfield was shot in the railroad station in Washington, D.C., on July 2, 1881, and died on September 19.