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“La Vita Nuova ” is a very interesting little book, for, apart from the fact that it contains, in the words of Dante himself, a history of his love for Beatrice, told in a candid and ingenuous manner, and with all the enthusiasm and poetical fervour of his ardent soul, is also the first work of genius written in the Italian language. It must be admitted, however, that at times our young Florentine bard indulges in rhetorical exaggerations, and that at others he involves himself into mysticism and scholastic disquisitions, defects which must be excused in him, owing to the character of the times in which he lived, and partly due to the intense sensitiveness of his nature, and the force of the passionate love which seems to have had an undisputed control over him. But, notwithstanding all this, no unprejudiced reader of “ La Vita Nuova” can help believing in the reality of Dante's love for Beatrice, and admiring the high moral tone which pervades the book from beginning to end; so much so, that it is surprising to find that there have been serious critics who have not only failed to appreciate Dante's way of expressing his feelings and sentiments for Beatrice, but have even doubted the very existence of that lady.
In addition to the interest which is attached to “ La Vita Nuova " itself, the study of this book is absolutely necessary to anyone who is desirous of reading our author's great work, “La Divina Commedia ;” inasmuch as both the noble character of Dante and the angelic attributes of Beatrice are beautifully and powerfully exhibited in the minor work, the last paragraph of which contains so strong an intimation of Dante's intention to write some great work in honour of Beatrice, that it may be said that “La Vita Nuova” is a preface to “ La Divina Commedia.”
Yet, notwithstanding what has just been said, comparatively few persons in England, even among those who have read and studied “ La Divina Commedia,” know anything about “ La Vita Nuova.” Now, as it cannot be supposed that they have been deterred from reading the latter work by any unsurmountable difficulties to be met in it, the explanation of the neglect of reading a book at once so interesting and important, can only be that it has hitherto been published either absolutely without notes, or saddled with too many critical disquisitions and dissertations; in either case the intending reader was stopped at the threshold by the somewhat mediæval form of the first paragraphs, for want of proper help to proceed.
These are the reasons that have induced me to publish this edition of “La Vita Nuova," with such notes and comments as, I think, will be found to give the English student sufficient help for the thorough understanding of the text.
The “Vita Nuova " consists of one-and-thirty poems, (twenty-five sonnets, five canzoni, and one ballad), preceded by dissertations, and followed by analyses, which
may be considered as introductions to, and comments upon the said poems; the whole is so welded together as to form, to some extent, a consecutive narrative. The poems bear internal evidence of having been written at different times, and at a much earlier date than the prose, which most probably was written between the years 1292-1294. As it is clearly stated in the last words of paragraph XXXI. (page 70), Dante dedicated this, his first book, to his first and most intimate friend Guido Cavalcanti.
Although Dante made no division in the subject matter of " La Vita Nuova," modern editors of the book, for the sake of reference, have wisely divided it into forty-three sections. The first twenty-eight sections treat of Beatrice when she was alive, the last fifteen treat of her after she was dead.
With regard to the text, I have compared the best editions of " La Vita Nuova," which have been published in recent years, and have impartially adopted from them the reading which best recommended itself to my judgment.
KING'S COLLEGE, LONDON.
November 8th, 1892.