Letter from CHARLES ELIOT NORTON to GEORGE PERKINS MARSH, dated June 6, 1881.
My dear Mr. Marsh
It gave me great pleasure to receive your letter some weeks since. Your views of the
prevailing tendencies of society in Europe & in America are dark, but not
darker than my own. In America, at least, it seems to me evident that material
forces have for the time overbalanced the moral & intellectual, and that the
result is to be a display of wide-spread physical comfort, of
general & often excessive luxury, and of indifference to all the higher interests of life, such as has never been seen before. There will be of course great establishments of charity, splendid churches, largely endowed scientific establishments, rich museums, & everything that can contribute to the external ease & display of life, but no more vigor of thought, no more interest in immaterial things, no more elevated ideals than those of Rome in the third century.
But this is not what I have to write to you. My object in writing today is to ask you to be so good as to do a favor to me and the other members of a Dante Society recently founded here.
Some three years ago I made enquiries through Stillman who
was then in Florence as to what it would cost to have a copy made of the manuscript
of the Comment on the D. C. by Benvenuto da Imola which
exists in the Laurentian Library. Stillman found the man who made a copy for Lord Vernon some twenty years ago,
and he agreed
to do the work for Francs 1500.--
Stillman enclosed to me a memorandum by this person (whose name he did not give me) in the following terms:
"Sono N 3 Codici in fol. di circa Carte 140 ciascuno, scritte a due colonne, ossia quattro colonne per carta di linee 55 per ciascheduna.
La copia di ciascuno dei suddetti tre codici approssimativamente potrà ascendere a franchi 500, così per tutti e tre franchi 1500."
I could not have the copy made at that time; but now the Dante Society, through Mr.
Longfellow's liberality, is in condition to have
a copy, with the intention of printing the work.
I have been asked to take the necessary steps to secure the copy. I should write to
Stillman about it, but I suppose him to be absent from Florence. I therefore turn to
you,--to ask you if you will be so good as to have enquiry made at the Laurentian
Library, if the copyist of the Comment for Lord Vernon is known there, and, if so,
to have the further goodness, to see him, and ask him if he will undertake to make
the copy for 1500 frcs? It is of course understood that the copy must be literally exact, and that if the original manuscript contain a text of the poem this must be included. If he will undertake the work for this sum, will you be kind enough to secure permission to have the copy made, and to set the copyist at work? The copyist shall be paid one third of the sum on delivery to you of each of the three parts of the poem, provided you approve the general character of the copy. We should be glad
to have the work begun as soon as possible, and to have each part of the poem sent to us as it may be concluded.
I am not sure that it may not be well to have the ms. from which the copy is made collated, or rather to have the copy itself collated with the other manuscript in the Laurentian. I should be extremely obliged if you would enquire in regard to this of some one of the Dantesque scholars at Florence.
The fragments published by Muratori practically afford means
for collation of a consider-
able part of the ms. at Modena.
I hope that I am not asking too much of you, and that what I have asked will not put you to any great trouble.
I saw Longfellow last night. He was well, & looked fresh and vigorous for a man in his 75 year.
I beg you to offer my best respects & kindest remembrances to Mrs. Marsh,--and to believe me, always, with sincere respect, Most truly Yours
References in this letter:
William James Stillman (1828-1901), an American artist and journalist, was a special correspondent of the London Times in the Balkans and Italy 1875-98.
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.
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.
"There are three codices in folio of about 140 each, written in two columns, or rather four columns per sheet of 55 lines each. The copy of each of the aformentioned three codices could be made for approximately 500 francs, thus 1500 francs for all three".
George John Warren, Baron Vernon (1803-1866), lived mostly in Florence and published numerous Dante texts and commentaries.
Lodovico Antonio Muratori published Antiquitates italicae medii aevi in 1738.