Sunday, October 23, 2022


Where Are They Now?

Hugh Kenner (1923-2003), The Pound Era (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971; rpt. 1974), pp. 76-77:
Some things were current once that are current no longer. A public for an inexpensive bilingual Dante — Italian text, notes, and a facing version in unpretentious prose — was once discoverable in England in sufficient numbers to circulate thousands upon thousands of elegant pocket-sized volumes, price one shilling. Rossetti, not Milton, had prepared that taste, and J.M. Dent began the Temple Dante with the Paradiso. With its gravure frontispiece “after Botticelli,” it was issued in 1899 and reprinted 1900, 1901, 1903, 1904, 1908, 1910, 1912. . . . An afternote cites a Dante Primer also priced (1899) at one shilling. Inferno and Purgatorio followed, then the Convivio, then the Latin Works. By 1906 The Vita Nuova and Canzonieri completed a six-volume set. It was not presumed that the reader knew Italian, but that, “possessing some acquaintance with Latin or one of the Romance languages,” he would welcome a prose guide “to the very words of the master in the original.”


In 1902 the numerous students of Dante (where are they now?) could buy H.J. Chaytor’s The Troubadours of Dante, which offered as much as any one is likely to require who does not propose to make a special study of Provencal.” This meant working through 46 poems with a glossary, a grammar, and notes, unassisted by translations. People with Latin and French, who had been sipping at old Italian, seem not to have thought this formidable.


The collapse of that public, its supersession by folk absorbed in introspection and politics, is an unwritten story. The printing history of the Temple Paradiso affords an informal graph. The 13 years up to 1912 required eight printings. After a wartime hiatus demand began to slack off: five printings in 11 years. The copy from which I take these data was printed in 1930, not sold until 1946.

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