Giovanni Andrea Scartazzini. Dante Handbook. Translated and annotated by Thomas Davidson. 4.3 (May, 1887): 123.




[Harvard Monthly 4.3 (May, 1887), 123]


SCARTAZZINI’S DANTE HANDBOOK. Translated and annotated by Thomas Davidson. Boston: Ginn & Co.


This is one of the safest guides to the study of Dante, made safer still by a person whom we heard characterized the other day, as “the finest scholar in his own esteem in the country.” The notes to this book go to prove that Mr. Davidson’s estimate of himself is not unfounded; although the wonder he expresses at Dante’s identifying Provençal with Spanish betrays Mr. Davidson’s limitations.


The book is divided into two parts: The Life; The Works; of which the first is by far the abler and more useful. The second part necessarily contains a deal already said in the first. It would be better were the new material in the second part incorporated in its proper place in the first; for the division of a man into his life and works is much more a characteristic of the aesthete in human character than of the proper student of literature.


It is one of the admirable qualities of this book, however, that it so little is a chapter of hero-worship. Sgr. Scartazzini is enough a modern man not to believe that a genius is a person whose head the Lord shaped most carefully, whose heart he made a ball of fire, and whose body he sketched with a crudeness more than “pre- Raphaelite.” After reading Mr. Plumptre’s recent effusion on the possible Dante, it is a positive pleasure to read Sgr. Scartazzini on the real Dante. At times when the author flies too high, as in his piece of special pleading for the perfectness of Dante’s marital relation, Mr. Davidson checks him in a way that will delight the sane lover of Dante.


The book is rich in bibliographic material, of which there is enough to lead one deep into the selva selvaggia of Dante research.


It remains for us to note one instance of several that betray a lack of historic perspective in the author’s view. We quote it, underlining what most amuses us:— “The name ‘Roman’ crossed the Alps, being usurped by a people whom the Romans had conquered and enslaved. It seemed a fine thing to these slaves to assume the name of their masters, and beautiful Ausonia, naturally enough, had strong charms for a people which at all times had shown a strong liking for a seat at others’ boards. Assuming the pompous title of ‘the Holy Roman Empire of the Germanic Nations,’ the stranger imagined that he had therewith acquired the rights once exercised by those who had made themselves lords of the world.”