I’ve just fallen madly in love. I’ve never been in love before (sorry guys, I lied…), so I suppose I didn’t know what to expect. Let me tell you, it’s not all hearts and flowers. I feel sick, I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, it feels like my life up to this point has been completely empty. And the object of my affections, you ask?
The object of my affections is a the 19th Century edition of Dante’s Vita Nuova, translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and located in the Brotherton Library IN LEEDS! It’s a first edition, published by Harrap & Co. (London), and is just absolutely breath-taking. It has gold-gilt edges and illuminations throughout and – this is possibly my favourite bit of it – sandwiched between the front bindings and the inner flyleaf, there are three little slips of paper which give details of the book’s history and provenance. They are catalogue entries from previous auctions, which tell us that the last three owners of the book paid £12.00, £30.00, and £35.00 respectively for the pleasure of owning this little gem. I know times are hard what with the double-dip recession and the post-Christmas squeeze and all that, but I would sell the clothes off my back if I thought they would bring in £35.00 to buy this book. I have a sneaky feeling that it might just be worth a teeny bit more than twelve quid now though…
While I was in the Special Collections library, drooling over the pictures in the Vita Nuova (I’m all about the illustrations…), I also had the pleasure of meeting some of the other amazing treasures in the Dante collection, which include an adorable leather-bound quarto edition of the Commedia, which was printed in Florence in 1506.
Really, FIFTEEN – OH – SIX. That’s over half a millenium ago!! It still has its original bindings and everything! Handily, someone has thought to keep it in its own little oak case to protect it from general wear and tear so it’s in really amazing condition to say a) how old it is, and b) how much it’s been used. You can tell it’s been read quite closely by its previous owners because there are reader annotations completely surrounding lots of the cantos of Inferno.
Admittedly, it’s not as pretty as the Rossetti one, and it only has the one illustration, but you can’t really compare the two books fairly because they were obviously made for very different purposes. The gorgeous golden one is very much the early-Victorian equivalent of the “coffee-table book” – you’re not meant to actually *read* it; it’s sort of like a statement piece, if the statement you want to make is that you have a lot of money and are sufficiently educated to read Dante. The little 1506 edition, though, is definitely a reading copy. Not only is it portable enough to slip into your medieval calf-skin clutch bag, but the focus is very much on the text: lots of space is taken up by a commentary and essays which explain various parts of the poem. It’s not fussy in its decoration, either.
I love them both, but I think the picture book gets my vote this time, because I’m shallow and think looks are important ♥