Le Prime Quattro Edizioni Della Divina Commedia Letteralmente Ristampate Per Cura Di

G. G. WARREN LORD VERNON. Londra : Presso Tommaso e Guglielmo Boone. M DCCC LVIII. 4to. pp. xxvi., 748.
THE zeal with which the study of Dante has been followed by students in every country of Europe, during the last forty years, is one of the most illustrative facts of the moral as well as of the intellectual character of the period. The interest which has attracted men of the most different tempers and persuasions to this study is not due alone to the poetic or historic value of his works, however high we may place them in these respects, but also and especially to the circumstance that they present a complete and distinct view of the internal life and spiritual disposition of an age in which the questions which still chiefly concern men were for the first time positively stated, and which exhibited in its achievements and its efforts some of the highest qualities of human nature in a condition of vigor such as they have never since shown. Dante himself combined a power of imagination beyond that of any other poet with an intensity and directness of individual character not less extraordinary. The tendency of modern civilization is to diminish rather than to strengthen the originality and independence of individuals. Autocracy and democracy seem to have a like effect in reducing men to a uniform level of thought and effort. And thus during a time when these two principles have been brought into sharp conflict, it is not surprising that the most thoughtful students should turn to the works of a man who by actual experience, or by force of imagination, comprehended all the conditions of his own age, and exhibited in his life and in his writings an individualism of the noblest sort. The conservative and the reformer, the king and the radical, the priest and the heretic, the man of affairs and the man of letters, have taken their seats, side by side, on the scholars’ benches, before the same teacher, and, after listening to his large discourse, have discussed among themselves the questions in religion, in philosophy, in morals, politics, or history, which his words suggested or explained.
The success which has attended these studies has been in some degree proportioned to the zeal with which they have been pursued. Dante is now better understood and more intelligently commented than ever before. Much remains to be done as regards the clearing up of some difficult points and the explanation of some dark passages,—and the obscurity in which Dante intentionally involved some portions of his writings is such as to leave little hope that their absolute meaning will ever be satisfactorily established. The history of the study of the poet, of the comments on his meaning or his text, of the formation of the commonly received text, and of the translations of the “Divina Commedia,” affords much curious and entertaining matter to the lover of purely literary and bibliographic narrative, and incidentally illustrates the general character of each century since his death. As regards the settlement of the text, no single publication has ever appeared of equal value to that of the magnificent volume the title of which stands at the head of this notice. Lord Vernon has been known for many years as the most munificent fosterer of Dantesque publications. One after another, precious and costly books upon Dante have appeared, edited and printed at his expense, showing both a taste and a liberality as honorable as unusual.
The first four editions of the “ Divina Commedia,” of which this volume is a reprint, are all of excessive rarity. Although each is a document of the highest importance in determining the text, few of the editors of the poem have had the means of consulting more than one or two of them. The volumes are to be found united only in the Library of the British Museum, and it is but a few years that even that great collection has included them all. They were printed originally between 1470 and 1480 at Foligno, Jesi, Mantua, and Naples ; and their chief value arises from the fact that they present the various readings of three, if not four, early and selected manuscripts. The doubt whether four manuscripts are represented by them is occasioned by the similarity between the editions of Foligno and Naples, which are of such a sort (for instance, correspondence in the most unlikely and odd misprints) as to prove that one must have served as the basis of the other. But at the same time there are such differences between them as indicate a separate revision of each, and possibly the consultation by their editors of different codices.
Unfortunately, there is no edition of the “ Divina Commedia ” which can claim any special authority,—none which has even in a small degree such authority as belongs to the first folio of Shakspeare’s plays. The text, as now received, rests upon a comparison of manuscripts and early printed editions; and as affording to scholars the means of an independent critical judgment upon it, a knowledge of the readings of these earliest editions is indispensable. But reprints of old books are proverbially open to error. The reprint of the first folio Shakspeare is so full of mistakes as to be of comparatively little use. The character of the Italian language is such that inaccuracies are both easier and more dangerous than in Fnglish. Unless the reprint of the first four editions were literally correct, it would be of little value. To secure this correctness, so far as was possible, Lord Vernon engaged Mr. Panizzi, the chief librarian of the British Museum, to edit the volume. A more competent editor never lived. Mr. Panizzi is distinguished not more for his thorough and appreciative acquaintance with the poetic, literature of his country than for the extent and accuracy of his bibliographical knowledge and the refinement of his bibliographic skill. There can be no doubt that the reprint is as exact as the most rigid critic could desire. It is a monument of patience and of unpretending labor, as well as of typographic beauty,—the work of the editor having been well seconded by that well-known disciple of Aldus, Mr. Charles Whittingham.
Nor is it only in essential variations that these four texts are important, but also in the illustration which their different spelling and their varying grammatical forms afford in regard to the language used by Dante. At the time when these editions appeared, the orthography of the Italian tongue was not yet established, and its grammatical inflections not in all cases definitely settled. Printing had not yet been long enough in use to fix a permanent form upon words. Moreover, the misprints themselves, which in these early editions are very numerous, often give hints as to the changes which they may have induced, or as to the misplacing of letters most likely to occur, and consequently most likely to lead to unobserved errors of the text.
The style of the printing in these first editions, and the aid it may give, or the difficulty it may occasion, are hardly to be understood without an extract. We open at Paradiso, xv. 70. Cacciaguida has just spoken to his descendant, and then follows, according to the Foligno, the following passage ;—
Io mi uolfi abeatrice et quella udio
pria chiu parlaffi et arofemi un cenno
che fece crefcer lali aluoler mio
Poi cominciai cofi leefftto elfenno
come laprima equalita napparfe
dun pefo per ciafchun di noi fi fenno
Pero chel fole che nallumo et arfe
colcaldo et conlaluce et fi iguali
che tutte fimiglianze fono fcarfe.
This looks different enough from the common text, that, for example, of the Florentine edition of 1844.
I’ mi volsi a Beatrice, e quella udio
Pria ch’ io parlassi, ed arrisemi un cenno
Che fece erescer l’ ale al voler mio.
Poi cominciai così: L’ affetto e il senno,
Come la prima egualità v’ apparse,
D’ un peso per ciascun di voi si fenno;
Perocchè al Sol, che v’ allumò ed arse
Col caldo e con la luce, eu si iguali,
Che tutte simiglianze sono scarse.
“I turned to Beatrice, and she heard before I spoke, and smiled on me a sign which added wings to my desire. Then I began thus: Love and wisdom, as soon as the primal Equality has appeared to you, become of one weight in each one of you; since in that Sun, which illuminates and warms you with heat and light, they are so equal, that every comparison falls short.”
The three other ancient texts are each quite as different from the modern one as that which we have given, nor is the passage one that affords example of unusual variations. It would have been easy to select many others varying much more than this, but our object is to show the general character of these first editions. The second line of the quotation offers a various reading which is supported by the arrossemi of the Jesi edition, and the arossemi of that of Naples, as well as by the text of the comment of Benvenuto da Imola, and some other early authorities. But even were the weight of evidence in its favor far greater than it is, it could never be received in place of the thoroughly Dantesque and exquisite expression, arrisemi un cenno, which is found in the Mantua edition. The napparse and the noi of the fifth and sixth lines and the nallumo of the seventh are plainly mistakes of the scribe, puzzled by the somewhat obscure meaning of the passage. Not one of the four editions before us gives us the right pronouns, but they are found in the Bartolinian codex, fas well as many others,) and they are established in the rare Aldine edition of 1502, the chief source of the modern text. In the eighth line, where we now read eniguali, the four give us et or e si iguali, a reading from which it is difficult to extract a meaning, unless, with the Bartolinian, we omit the che in the preceding line, and suppose the pero chel to stand, not for perocchè al, but for perocchè il,—or, retaining the che, read the first words perocch’ è il Sol, and take the clause as a parenthesis. The meaning, according to the first supposition, would be, “Love and wisdom are of one measure in you, (since the Sun [sc. the primal Equality] warmed and enlightened you,) and so equal that,” etc. According to the second supposition, we should translate, “ Since it [the primal Equality] is the sun which,” etc. Benvenuto da Imola gives still a third reading, making the e si iguali into ee si iguale, or, in modern orthography, è sì iguale; but, as this spoils the rhyme, it may be left out of account. There seems to us to be some ground for believing the second reading suggested above,
Perocch’ è il Sol che v’ allumo ed arse
Con caldo e con la luce, e si iguali,
to be the true one, not only from its correspondence with most of the early copies, but from the rarity of the use of en by Dante. There is but one other passage in the poem where it is found (Purgatory, xvi. 121).
Such is an example, taken at random, of the doubts suggested and the illustration afforded by these editions in the study of the text. Of course such minute criticism is of interest only to those few who reckon Dante’s words at their true worth. The common reader may be content with the text as he finds it in common editions. But Dante, more than any other author, stimulates his student to research as to his exact words ; for no other author has been so choice in his selection of them. He is not only the greatest modern master of condensation in style, but he has the deepest insight into the value and force of separate words, the most delicate sense of appropriateness in position, and in the highest degree the poetic faculty of selecting the word most fitting for the thought and most characteristic in expression. It rarely happens that the place of a word of any importance is a matter of indifference in his verse, no regard being had to the rhythm; and every one sufficiently familiar with the language in which he wrote to be conscious of its indefinable powers will feel, though he may be unable to point out specifically, a marked distinction in the quality and combinations of the words in the different parts of the poem. The description of the entrance to Hell, in the third canto of the Inferno is, for instance, hardly more different from the description of the Terrestrial Paradise, (Pur-gatory, xxviii.,) in scenery and imagery, than it is in the vague but absolute qualities of language, in its rhythmical and verbal essence.
But, leaving these subtilties, let us look at some of the disputed passages of the poem, upon which the texts before us may give their evidence.
In the episode of Francesca da Rimini, Mr. Barlow has recently attempted to give currency to a various reading long known, but never accepted, in the line (Inferno, v. 102) in which Francesca expresses her horror at the manner of her death. She says, il mode ancor m’ offende, “ the manner still offends me.” But for il modo Mr. Barlow would substitute il mondo, “ the world still offends me,”— that is, as we suppose, by holding a false opinion of her conduct. Mr. Barlow’s suggestions are always to be received with respect, but we cannot but think him wrong in proposing this change. The spirits in Hell are not supposed to be aware of what is passing upon earth; they are self-convicted, (Purgatory, xxvi. 85, 86,) and Francesca being doomed to eternal woe, the world could not do her wrong by taxing her with sin; while, further, the shudder at the method of her death, lasting even in torment, seems to us a far more imaginative conception than the one proposed in its stead. Our four texts read elmodo.
In the famous simile (Inferno, iii. 112— 114) in which Dante compares the spirits falling from the bank of Acheron to the dead leaves fluttering from a bough in autumn, giving, as Mr. Buskin Says, “ the most perfect image possible of their utter lightness, feebleness, passiveness, and scattering agony of despair,” our common texts have
infin che il ramo
Rende alla terra tutte le sue spoglie,
“ Until the branch gives to the earth all its spoils ”; but the texts of Jesi and Mantua, as well as those of the Bartolinian and the Aldus, and many other early authorities, here put the word Vede in place of Rende, giving a variation which for its poetic worth well deserves to be marked, if not to be introduced into the received text. “Until the branch sees all its spoils upon the earth ” is a personification quite in Dante’s manner. A confirmation of the value of this reading is given by the fact that Tasso preferred it to the more common one, and in his treatise on the “Art of Poetry" praises it as full of energy.
The value of this work of Lord Vernon’s to the students of Dante, in enabling them to secure accuracy in their statements in regard to the early texts, has been illustrated to us by finding that Blanc, in his useful and excellent “ Vocabolario Dantesco,” has not unfrequently fallen into error through his inability to consult these first editions. For example, in the line, (Inferno, xviii. 43,) Perciò a figurarlo i picdi affissi, as it is commonly given, or, Perciò a figurarlo gli occhi affissi, as it appears in some editions, Blanc, who prefers the latter reading, states that gli occhi is found in “toutes les anciennes éditions.” But the truth is, that those of Foligno and Naples read ipedi, that of Jesi has in piedi, and that of Mantua i pie. The Aldine of 1502 is the earliest edition we have seen which has gli occhi.
In the episode of Ugolino, (Inferno, xxxiii.,) the verse which has given rise to more comment, perhaps, than any other is that (the 26th) in which the Count says, according to the usual reading, that the narrow window in his tower had shown him many moons before he dreamed his evil dream : Più lune già, quand’ i‘ feci il mal sonno, “Many moons already, when I had my ill slumber.'’ But another reading, found in a majority of the early MSS. and editions, including those of Jesi and Mantua, gives the variation, più lume; while the editions of Foligno and Naples give lieve, which, affording no intelligible meaning, must be regarded as a mere misprint. In spite of the weight of early authority for lume, the reading lune is perhaps to be preferred, as giving in a word a brief expressive statement of a weary length of imprisonment,—while lume would only serve to fix the moment of the dream as having been between the first dawn and the full day. It is rare that the difference between an n and an m is of such marked effect.
In the sixth canto of Purgatory, verse 58, Virgil says, “Behold there a soul which a posta looks toward us.” Such at least is the common reading, and the words a posla are explained as meaning fixedly. But this signification is somewhat forced, a posla, or apposta, being more properly used with the meaning of on purpose or deliberately,—and the first four editions supply a reading without this difficulty, and one which adds a new and significant feature to the description. They unite in the omission of the letter a. The passage then bears the meaning,—“ But behold there a soul which, fixed, or placed, alone and all apart, looks toward us.” This reading, beside being supported by the weight of ancient authority, finds confirmation in the context, in the terms in which Sordello’s aspect is described: “ How lofty and disdainful didst thou stand ! how slow and decorous in the moving of thy eyes! ”
A curious example of the mistakes of the old copies is afforded in the charming description of the Terrestrial Paradise in the twenty-eighth canto of the Purgatory. Dante says, that the leaves on the trees, trembling in the soft air, were not so disturbed that the little birds in their tops ceased from any of their arts,—
che gli augelletti per le cimo
Lasciasser d’ operare ogni lor arte.
The lines are so plain that a mistake is difficult in them ; but, of our four editions, the Jesi is the only one which gives them correctly. Foligno and Naples read angelleti for augelletti, while Mantua gives us the astonishing word intelletti. Again, in line 98 of the same canto, all four read, exaltation dell’ acqua, for the simple and correct esalazion dell’ acqua. And in line 131, for Eunoe si chiama, Jesi supplies the curious word curioce si chiama.
These examples of error are not of great importance in themselves, and are easily corrected, but they serve to illustrate the great frequency of error in all the early texts of the “ Divina Commedia,” and the probability that many errors not so readily discovered may still exist in the text, making difficulties where none originally existed. They are of value, furthermore, in the wider range of critical studies, as illustrating in a striking way the liability to error which existed in all books so long as they were preserved only by the work of scribes. Here is a poem which was transmitted in manuscript for only about one hundred and fifty years, the first four printed editions of which show differences in almost every line. It is no exaggeration to say that the variations between the editions of Foligno, Jesi, and Mantua, in orthography, inflection, and other grammatical and dialectic forms, not to speak of the less frequent, though still numerous differences in the words themselves, greatly exceed, throughout the poem, the number of lines of which it is composed. Yet by a comparison of them one with another a consistent and generally satisfactory text has been formed. The bearing of this upon the views to be taken of the condition of the text of more ancient works, as, for instance, that of the Gospels, is plain.
The work before us is so full of matter interesting to the student of Dante, that we are tempted to go on with further illustrations of it, though well aware that there are few who have zeal or patience enough to continue the examination with us. But the number of those in America who are beginning to read the “Divina Commedia,” as something more than a mere exercise in the Italian language, is increasing, and some of them, at least, will take pleasure with us in this inquiry concerning the words, that is, the thoughts of Dante. Why should the minute, but not fruitless criticism of texts be reserved for the ancient classic writers ? The great poet of the Middle Ages deserves this work at our hands far more than any of the Latin poets, not excluding even his Own master and guide.
The eleventh canto of the Paradiso is chiefly occupied with the noble narrative of the life of St. Francis. Reading it as we do, at Such a distance from the time of the events which it records, and with feelings that have never been warmed into fervor by the facts or the legends Concerning the Saint, it is hard for us to appreciate at its full worth the beauty of this canto, and its effect upon those who had seen and conversed with the first Franciscans. Not a century had yet passed since the death of St. Francis, and the order which he had founded kept his memory alive in every part of the Catholic world. A story which may be true or false, and it matters little which, tells us that Dante himself in his early manhood had proposed to enter its ranks. There is no doubt that its vows of poverty and chastity, its arduous but invigorating rule during its early days, appealed with strong force to his temperament and his imagination, as promising a withdrawal from those worldly temptations of which he was conscious, from that pressure of private and public affairs of which he was impatient. The contrast between the effects which the life of St. Francis and that of St. Dominic had upon the poet’s mind is shown by the contrast in tone in which in successive cantos he tells of these two great pillars of the Church.
In lines 71 and 72, speaking of Poverty, the bride of the Saint, he says,—
Sì che dove Maria rimase giuso,
Ella con Cristo salse in sulla croce:
“ So that whilst Mary remained below, she mounted the cross with Christ.” Such is the common reading. Now in all four of the editions which are in Lord Vernon’s reprint, in Benvenuto da Imola, in the Bartolinian codex, in the precious codex of Cortona, and in many other early manuscripts and editions, the word pianse is found in the place of salse: "She: lamented upon the cross with Christ.” The antithesis, though less direct, is not less striking, and the phrase seems to us to become simpler, more natural, and more touching. Yet this reading has found little favor with recent editors, and one of them goes so far as to say, “ che non solo impoverisce, ma adultera l’ idea,”
Passing over other variations, some of them of importance, in this eleventh canto, we find the last verses standing in most modern editions,—
E vedrà il coreggier che argomenta
U’ ben s’ impingua, se non si vaneggia.
And the meaning is explained as being,— “And he who is girt with a leathern cord (i. e. the Dominican) will see what is meant by ‘ Where well they fatten, if they do not stray.’ ” But to this there are several objections. No other example of coreggier thus used is, we believe, to be found. Moreover, the introduction of a Dominican to learn this lesson is forced, for it was Dante himself who had had a doubt as to the meaning of these words, and it was for his instruction that the discourse in which they were explained was held. We prefer, therefore, the reading which is found in the editions of Jesi, Foligno, and Naples, (in part in that of Mantua,) and which is given by many other ancient texts : Vedrai or E vedrai il correger che argomenta: “ Thou wilt see the reproof which ‘ Where well they fatten, if they do not stray,’ conveys.” This reading has been adopted by Mr. Cayley in las remarkable translation.
One more instance of the value of Lord Vernon’s work, and we have done. The 106th, 107th, and 108th verses of the twenty-sixth canto of the Paradiso are among the most difficult of the poem, and have given rise to great variety of comment. In the edition of Florence of 1830, in those of Foscolo, and of Costa, and many others, they stand,—
Perch’ io la veggio nel verace speglio
Che fa di se pareglie l’ altre cose
E nulla face lui di se pareglio.
And they are explained by Bianchi as meaning, “ Because I see it in that true mirror (i. e. God) which makes other things like to themselves, (that is, represents them as they are,) while nothing can represent Him like to Himself.” Those who love the quarrels of commentators should look at the notes in the Variorum editions of Padua or Florence to see with what amusing asperity they have treated each other’s solutions of the passage. Italian words of abuse have a sonorous quality which gives grandeur to a skirmish of critics. One is declared by his opponent to have ingarbugliato the clearest meaning; another guasta il sentimento and sproposita in grammatica; a third brings up falso and assurdo to the charge, and, not satisfied with their force, adds blasfemo; a fourth declares that the third has contrived capovolgere la conseguenza; and so on ;—from all which the reader, trying to find shelter from the pelting of hard words, discovers that the meaning is not clear even to the most confident of the critics. But, standing apart from the battle, and looking only at the text, and not at the bewildered comment, we find in the editions of Foligno, Jesi, and Naples, and in many other ancient texts, a reading which seems to us somewhat easier than the one commonly adopted. We copy the lines after the Foligno :—
Per chio laueggio neluerace speglio
che fa dise pareglio alaltre cose
et nulla face lui dise pareglio.
And we would translate them, “Because I see it in that true mirror who in Himself affords a likeness to [or of] all other things, while nothing gives back to Him a likeness of Himself.” Hero pareglio corresponds with the Provencal parelh and the later French pareil,—and the Provencal phrase rendre le parelha affords an example of similar application to that of the word in Dante.
With us in America, criticism is not rated as it deserves; it is little followed as a study, and the love for the great masters and poets of other times and other tongues than our own fails to stimulate the ardor of students to the thorough examination of their thoughts and words. No doubt, criticism, as it has too often been pursued, is of small worth, displaying itself in useless inquiries, and lavishing time and labor upon insoluble and uninteresting questions. But such is not its true end. Verbal criticism, rightly viewed, has a dignity which belongs to few other studies; for it deals with words as the symbols of thoughts,—with words, which are the most spiritual of the instruments of human power, the most marvellous of human possessions. It makes thought accurate, and perception fine. It adds truth to the creations of imagination by teaching the modes by which they may be best expressed, and it thus leads to fuller and more appreciative understanding and enjoyment of the noblest works of the past. There can, indeed, be no thorough culture without it.
To restore the balance of our lives, in these days of haste, novelty, and restlessness, there is need of a larger infusion into them of pursuits which have no end of immediate publicity or instant return of tangible profit,—of pursuits which, while separating us from the intrusive world around us, should introduce us into the freer, tranquiller, and more spacious world of noble and everlasting thought. The greener and lonelier precincts of our minds are now trampled upon by the hurrying feet of daily events and transient interests. If we would keep that spiritual region unpolluted, we need to acquaint ourselves with some other literature than that of newspapers and magazines, and to entertain as familiars the men long dead, yet living in their works. As Americans, our birthrights in the past are imperfect; we are born into the present alone. But he who lives only in present things lives but half a life, and death comes to him as an impertinent interruption : by living also in the past we learn to value the present at its worth, to hold ourselves ready for its end. With Dante, taking him as a guide and companion in our privater moods, we may, even in the natural body, pass through the world of spirit.
It will be a good indication of the improvement in the intellectual disposition of our people, when the study of Dante becomes more general. Meanwhile, on the part of his few students in America, we would offer our thanks to Lord Vernon and to Mr. Panizzi for the aid which the liberality of the one and the skill and learning of the other have given to us, and for the honor they have done to the memory of our common Author and Leader.