skip to content

Cambridge University Libraries are gradually reopening. Access support and services to help you learn, teach and research.

Cambridge University Library

 

Over half of the eighty books in the Dante collection are from the library of Arthur John Butler (1844-1910), Dante scholar and mountaineer, and were presented by Butler's widow in 1910. The collection is strong in early printed editions as well as later translations into English. The three incunables in the bequest were placed in the Library's special collection for pre-1501 books, Inc, and are the editions of Venice: Vindelinus de Spira, 1477 (contains manuscript notes by Francesco di Galleri recording the births of his children in Loreo, 1482-1516); Florence: Nicolaus Laurentii, Alamanus, 30 Aug. 1481 (some manuscript annotations and a manuscript index in Latin at the end); Venice: Octavianus Scotus, 23 Mar. 1484. Butler's edition of the Commedia, with English prose translation and copious notes, was published by Macmillan, 1880-1892.

Several of the items in Butler's library were formerly owned by another Dante translator, the physician and writer John A. Carlyle (1801-1879), brother of the historian Thomas Carlyle. Carlyle's prose translation of the Inferno appeared in 1849, with a second, revised edition in 1867. His translations of the Purgatorio and Paradiso were never completed, and Butler saw his own work as taking up where Carlyle had left off. Amongst the editions formerly owned by Carlyle are Dante alighieri fiorentino historiado, with the commentary of Cristoforo Landino (Venice: Bartolomeo de Zanne, 1507). The copy contains some annotations in a contemporary hand, and its missing leaves are supplied in manuscript.

The collection also includes the English translation by Henry Francis Cary, The vision, or, Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, of Dante Alighieri (London: printed for the author by J. Barfield, 1814) (CCE.1.13-15). Cary had published his translation of the Inferno only, with facing Italian, in 1805-1806. This later translation of the entire Commedia was privately printed at Cary's own expense and initially attracted little attention. However, in 1817 Cary met the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Coleridge's praise of Cary's translation in a lecture the following year led to a boom in sales and a second edition in 1819. Cary's translation opened up the poem to English readers, and has been published ever since, often with illustrations by Botticelli, Flaxman, Blake, or Doré. Butler's copy contains pencil annotations and corrections to the translation.

The Dante collection at CCA-CCE.1 has been augmented by works presented by other Dante scholars, such as those books given by Paget Toynbee (1855-1932) in June 1913, including Sonetti e canzoni di diversi antichi autori toscani in dieci libri raccolte (Florence: Heirs of Filippo Giunta, 1527); the 1521 edition of the Convivio; the edition of De vulgari eloquentia published in Ferrara, 1583; and the three-volume edition of the Commedia published by A. Zatti in Venice, 1784. Toynbee was a member of the Oxford Dante Society, and the bulk of his Dante collection went to the Bodleian Library in gifts between 1912 and 1917, in 1923, and in a bequest. Other notable items in the collection include two copies of a Dante map by Mary Hensman (London, 1894) (CCD.1.23-24), one copy of which has been hand coloured. The map shows Italy at the time of Dante and indicates places named in the poet's writings or thought to have been visited by him, and is accompanied by a small booklet.

The CCA-CCE.1 collection was built up around the Butler bequest, but of course there are numerous other Dante editions scattered throughout the Library's collections. Amongst several incunables is the editio princeps of Foligno, 1472, donated in 1933 by the barrister A.W. Young (1852-1936), who had studied at Trinity College. Young's benefaction contained twenty-seven incunables, including a copy of the 42-line Bible and the Fust and Schoeffer Bible of 1462 (for further details, see the Young collection). Also of special interest is Sir Geoffrey Keynes's copy of the second English translation of the Inferno (Dublin: P. Byrne, 1785), which contains annotations to the introduction by William Blake, and was also formerly owned by the artist Samuel Palmer. Blake's sequence of watercolour illustrations for the Commedia was commissioned in 1824 by his friend and patron John Linnell. By the time of his death in 1827 Blake had produced 102 illustrations, in varying stages of completion, and had made engravings of seven of these. Some of the illustrations were republished in the Folio Society edition of the Inferno (London, 1998) (S740.a.200.1).

Links

Books from our Dante collections were featured in the exhibition Visible language: Dante in text and image, held at Cambridge University Library, 17 January-1 July 2006 (catalogue at Cam.b.2006.23).