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Cover of Melville's Copy of Flaxman's Purgatoire du Dante

Melville’s prints from Dante’s Purgatory, like those from Aeschylus’s Persians, are preserved within the softbound covers of Réveil's 1833 edition of L’Oeuvre Complet de Flaxman. These prints, too, may have been acquired during Melville’s 1849 visit to Paris.

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Front cover of Melville’s copy of 1833 French edition of Purgatoire du Dante. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum

Comparison of the Réveil engravings for the 1833 French edition with the Piroli engravings for the 1807 English edition shows many differences in addition to the language in which they are printed. Réveil's rendering of Flaxman’s drawings differs in some noticeable way in almost every plate. Each engraver identifies the canto of the Purgatory to which each drawing refers, but Réveil's French-language titles for the respective plates tend to be much more elaborate than the laconic English titles. Each engraver reproduces a fragment from Dante’s text below the ledger line in Italian, but some fragments differ in length; occasionally Réveil cites a different passage from Dante than the one Piroli had used. In Piroli’s engravings, each Italian fragment from Dante’s text is accompanied by its English equivalent in Henry Boyd’s 1785 translation. In each of my catalog entries, the French title of the Réveil print owned by Melville is supplemented in brackets with the title of that print in the 1807 London edition plus its English translation of that print’s poetic fragment (for access to which I am grateful to the library of the Cincinnati Art Museum). 

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Back cover of Melville’s copy of 1833 French edition of Purgatoire du Dante

Melville’s prints are nos. 1-23 from the 38 plates in Réveil's edition of the Purgatoire, illustrating cantos 1-19 (Flaxman drew multiple images for cantos 1, 2, and 10). Although my discussion of these prints will focus primarily on the 1833 Réveil edition that Melville owned, Melville may well have had access to the Flaxman/Piroli English-language edition, either as published by Longman in 1807 or in subsequent reprintings. Such access would presumably have included all 109 prints of Flaxman’s Dante, not just the twenty-three from the Purgatory that currently “remain” from the French-language edition that he collected. The English edition of “Flaxman’s Dante” is likely to have been owned by both Evert Duyckinck (whose literary and fine arts library Melville consulted extensively in the late 1840s and again in the 1850s) and Richard Lathers (whose library and art collections were visited often by Melville in the 1870s).

Note on Cary’s Translation of Dante’s Vision:
To some post-Ciardi generations of readers of Dante in English, Cary’s nineteenth-century translation feels too formal in diction or flaccid in action. Other readers steeped in Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, as Melville was when he used the Cary edition in writing Mardi in 1848-49, feel the force of its elevated meter and diction. I have used Cary’s translation in Melville’s 1847 English edition for all my citations from the Purgatory in the catalog entries that follow, citing passages by canto and verse rather than page number for my reader’s ease in consulting English editions by other translators (or other editions of Cary’s translation, such as the 1980 reprinting of the 1909 Harvard Classics edition by Grolier Enterprises). Cary’s translation, first published in 1814, differs considerably from the 1785 translation by Henry Boyd used by Piroli and Flaxman (as can be seen whenever a passage that I cite from Cary’s translation within a catalog entry coincides with the passage that I reproduce in brackets from the Boyd translation in the 1807 London edition).