a small collection of Dante
's letters, the recovery of the larger number of which we owe to Professor Witte
They are all interesting, some of them especially so, as illustrating the prophetic character with which Dante
The longest is one addressed to Can Grande
della Scalla, explaining the intention of the Commedia
and the method to be employed in its interpretation.
The authenticity of this letter has been doubted, but is now generally admitted.
We shall barely allude to the minor poems, full of grace and depth of mystic sentiment, and which would have given Dante
a high place in the history of Italian literature, even had he written nothing else.
They are so abstract, however, that without the extrinsic interest of having been written by the author of the Commedia
, they would probably find few readers.
All that is certainly known in regard to the Commedia
is that it was composed during the nineteen years which intervened between Dante
's banishment and death.
Attempts have been made to fix precisely the dates of the different parts, but without success, and the differences of opinion are bewildering.
Foscolo has constructed an ingenious and forcible argument to show that no part of the poem was published before the author's death.
The question depends somewhat on the meaning we attach to the word ‘published.’
In an age of manuscript the wide dispersion of a poem so long even as a single one of the three divisions of the Commedia
would be accomplished very slowly.
But it is difficult to account for the great fame which Dante
enjoyed during the latter years of his life, unless we suppose that parts, at least, of his greatest work had been read or heard by a large number of persons.
This need not, however, imply publication; and Witte
, whose opinion is entitled to great consideration, supposes even the Inferno