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NOTE
Those that in their travels in France have had the good-fortune to visit the Abbey of Bonne Aventure in Poitou can hardly fail to be familiar with the many and varied treasures of the abbey library. Most of these treasures were brought together by the erudite Dom Gregory, who had, among the other honorable passions of a scholar, an enthusiastic desire for the amassing of rare manuscripts. Perhaps one of the rarest of all the manuscripts in his great collection is that one which claims to be written by the Italian poet Lappo Lappi, and to set forth in something like narrative form an account of the loves of Dante and Beatrice. Students and scholars who have studied this manuscript have differed greatly in their conclusions as to its authenticity and its value. The German Guggenheim is emphatic in his assertion that the work is a late eighteenth-century forgery, and he bases his conclusions on many small inaccuracies of time and place and fact which his zeal and pertinacity have discovered. On the other hand, Prof. Hiram B. Pawling, whose contributions to the history [Pg 344]of Italian literature form some of the brightest jewels in the crown of Harvard University, is inclined, after careful consideration, to believe that the manuscript is, on the whole, a genuine work.

Undoubtedly the sheets of parchment upon which the remarkable document is written are older than the fourteenth century, some time in whose first half Lappo, if he be the author, must have written the book. The keen scrutiny of powerful magnifying-glasses has revealed the fact that much of it is inscribed on skins which had formerly been used for the recording of a series of Lives of the Saints, whose almost effaced letters belong, without question, to the latter part of the twelfth century. Whoever wrote this story of Dante must have been at the economical pains to erase carefully the ecclesiastical script, thus curiously avenging so many palimpsests of Greek poets and Latin poets, whose lyrics have been scrubbed away with pumice-stone to make room for homilies and liturgies and hagiologies. If the writer of the story be indeed Lappo Lappi, it would be quite in keeping with his character, as we know it, to imagine him enjoying very greatly this process of obliterating some saintly relation in order to set down upon the restored surfaces his testimony to the greatest love-story of Italy. It is, however, unfortunately impossible to maintain with certainty that the writing is actually from the hand of Lappo. Though it appears to be a clerkly [Pg 345]calligraphy of the fourteenth century, such things have been imitated too often to enable any but the rashest and most headstrong of scholars to give a definite and unquestionable opinion. One may cherish with reason a private belief that the thing is indeed Lappo's work in Lappo's writing, but with the memory of some famous literary impositions fresh upon us, very notably the additions to Petronius, we must pause and pronounce warily. It may be, indeed, that although the book be genuine enough in its creation, it was never intended to be regarded as a serious statement of facts, but rather to be taken as an essay in romance by one who wished the facts were as he pictured them. If this be so, the narrative is even less historically reliable than the Fiametta of Boccaccio.

In any case, the manuscript, whenever written, wherever written, and by whom written, is in a far from perfect condition. Though the care of Dom Gregory had encased it in a wrapping of purple-colored vellum, it still seems to have suffered from time and careless treatment. Probably its greatest injuries date from that period when, during the stress of the French Revolution, the treasures of the abbey library were hurriedly concealed in underground cellars, and suffered no little from damp and dirt during the period of their incarceration. Many portions of the narrative are either wholly absent or exist in such a fragmentary condition [Pg 346]that, like a corrupt Greek text, they have to be restored by the desperate process of guesswork. Those, therefore, who thirst for the exact text of the tale, must either wait in patience for Professor Pawling's long promised edition, or satisfy their curiosity by a visit to the Abbey of Bonne Aventure in Poitou.

THE END


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