lady who knew Italy and the Italian people well, some thirty
years ago, once remarked to the writer that Longfellow must have
lived in every city in that county for almost all the educated
Italians "talk as if they owned him."
And they have certainly a right to a sense of possessing him, to
be proud of him, and to be grateful to him, for the work which he
did for the spread of the knowledge of Italian Literature in the
article in the tenth volume on Dante as a Translator.
The three volumes of "The Divine Comedy" were printed for private
purposes, as will be described later, in 1865-1866 and 1877, but
they were not actually given to the public until the year last
Naturally enough, ever since Longfellow's first visit to Europe
(1826-1829), and no doubt from an eariler date still, he had been
interested in Dante's great work, but though the period of the
incubation of his translation was a long one, the actual time
engaged in it, was as he himself informs us, exactly two years.
The basis of the work with its copious, information and
illuminating notes, expositions and illustrations was his courses
of Lecutre on Dante given in many places during many years; in
these Lecture it was his early custom to read in translation, the
whole or parts of the poem chosen for his subject, with his
notes, expositions and illustrations interspersed. With what
infinite pains and conscientious care the work was done, and how
thoroughly he was penetrated with the thought and expression of
the poet, his Diaries, his Life and his Letters abundantlyu show,
and the work as it stands is a Masterpiece of scholarly and
sympathetic rendering, interpretation and exposition.
When at last the task of translating, revising and re-revision,
weighin and re-weighting, criticising and re-criticising every
phrase, every possible interpretation, and every allusion was
done,--first in the seclusion of his own study, and then with the
sympathetic aid of his friends, Charles Eliot Norton, James
Russell Lowell and others, the work was sent to the printer in
1864. Ten copies of "The Inferno" were privately printed in 1865
in time for one of them to be sent to Florence for the
celebration of the six hundredth anniversary of Dante's birth.
The seconds volume was printed in the following year in like
manner and the third in the year after. In that year (1867), as
we have already said, the whole work was given to the public as
it is now presented in this edition and substantially as it
appeared in the privately printed copies.
So thoroughly has Longfellow done the work of elucidating his
version of the text of Dante, that there is absolutely nothing
left for other commentators to do.--Every biblical and every
classical allusion is annotated and referenced, every side light
that can possibly be needed is thrown upon the work all through;
and his "footlights of the great comedy" as he himself called his
notes and illustrations are illuminating it for all time.
We have however added to his notes the arguments prefixed to the
Cantos by the Rev. Henry Frances Carey, M,.A., in his well-known
version, and also his chronological view of the age of Dante
under the title of What was happening in the World while Dante
Oft have I seen at some cathedral door
A laborer, pausing int he dust and heat,
Lay down his burden, and with reverent feet
Enter, and cross himself, and ont he floor
Kneel to repeat his paternoster o'ver;
Far off the noises of the world retreat;
The loud vociferations of the street
become an undistinguishable roar.
So, as I enter her from day to day,
And leave my burden at this minster gate,
Kneeling in prayer, and not ashamed to pray,
The tumult of the time disconsolate
To inarticulate murmurs dies away,
While the eternal ages watch and wait. 1
1 This and the following sonnets were originally
printed in the volume entitled "Voices of the Night."
How strange the sculptures that adorn these towers!
This crowd of statues, in whose folded sleeves
Birds build their nests; while canopied with leaves
Parvis and portal bloom like trellised bowers,
And the vast minster seems a cross of flowers!
But fiends and dragons on the gargoyled eaves
Watch the dead Christ between the living thieves,
And, underneath, the traitor Judas lowers!
Ah! from what agonies of heart and brain,
What exultations tramplin on despair,
What tenderness, what tears, what hate of wrong,
What passionate outcry of a soul in pain,
Uprose this poem of the earth and air,
Thsi mediaeval miracle of song!